21 Sep 2021

Stakeholder engagement: Getting buy-in for your projects

Skills, Project communication
Stakeholder engagement: Getting buy-in for your projects

As you know, communication with stakeholders is one of the most important skills for any project management professional, and how good you are at it can make or break your career.

Projects generally have multiple stakeholders with different (and often competing) interests. It can be a minefield. Stakeholders can significantly influence the project’s success or otherwise, and often it falls to the project professional to manage them.

So, how can you set yourself up for success? A well-considered plan for stakeholder engagement can help.

 



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Stakeholder definitions

In this article, we’re specifically looking at stakeholder engagement, but first, let’s run through a few of the common terms used when talking about stakeholders:

  • Stakeholder: Anyone who has an interest in the performance or outcome of a project because they are involved in the work or impacted by the outcome.

  • Stakeholder analysis: A systematic collection and collation of qualitative and quantitative information about stakeholders.

  • Stakeholder management plan: A plan that sets out the preferred procedures, tools, and techniques to be used in managing stakeholders.

  • Stakeholder mapping or stakeholder matrix: Visual devices that assess each stakeholder in terms of their interest in the work and influence over the outcomes.

  • Stakeholder profile: Information about the stakeholders like contact details, views, attitudes, interest, and influence.

  • Stakeholder register: This is a register or database of all the individual people, groups, or organisations interested in the project.

 

So, what is stakeholder engagement?

Sometimes stakeholder engagement is confused with stakeholder management, but they are in fact different. Simply put, stakeholder management is organising, monitoring, and improving relationships with your stakeholders.

On the other hand, stakeholder engagement is the practice of influencing outcomes through consultation, communication, negotiation, compromise, and relationship building. It is therefore an important part of the stakeholder management process.

 

What are the benefits of stakeholder engagement?

Effective engagement with stakeholders can have huge benefits:

1. Engagement leads to better relationships: When you engage with your stakeholders, you better understand their perspectives. This helps you build strong, trusting relationships where stakeholders become advocates to help you achieve your goals.

2. Access to insights and information: When stakeholders are engaged, they are more likely to share insights, knowledge, and resources, propelling projects to more successful outcomes.

3. Improved planning and decision-making: With better intel, your planning and decision-making will be better informed. And good engagement ensures stakeholders are supportive of your project, so you’ll avoid conflict and roadblocks. This can lead to significant wins in terms of time, cost, and other resources.

 

What is a stakeholder engagement strategy?

A stakeholder engagement strategy is a formal plan that identifies the needs of key groups and helps you plan what, when, and how you will communicate to get support for your project. It usually contains the following:

Stakeholder register: Lists all stakeholders from team members and senior executives to investors, customers, and community members. 

Stakeholder profiles: Includes contact details, areas of interest, and level of power and influence.

Engagement approach: Details the type, frequency, and content of the planned communication. For example, weekly emails to update status.
 

How to manage stakeholder engagement in 3 easy steps

How do you go about building and implementing a stakeholder engagement strategy? Here’s our handy three-step process to improve your communication and ensure all your stakeholders are on your side.






 


Step 1: Analyse your stakeholders

Great communication is about understanding others first, before being understood. By analysing and understanding your stakeholders, you’ll discover how best to communicate with them and get them on board. In this step, start by creating your stakeholder register, capturing all internal and external individuals and groups.

Next, create stakeholder profiles, including their areas of interest, expectations, key concerns, power, and influence. At this point, stakeholder mapping can be useful to decide what level of effort is needed for each stakeholder. When your stakeholders are grouped, you can establish tailored communication plans targeted to their different needs. Mendelow’s stakeholder matrix is a great tool to use:

Step 2: Create alignment

The next step is establishing buy-in across the board. Before the project commences, engage with your stakeholder groups in a meaningful way, taking time to share the core objectives of the project, and listening to their feedback.

  • What are we looking to achieve?

  • ​What are the benefits of the project?

  • What are the success criteria for the project?

  • What are each of our roles in supporting the delivery of the project?

  • What are some of the roadblocks that we anticipate?

Step 3: Activate engagement

Communication with your stakeholders is most effective when you segment your audience and target the content, timing, and delivery to their specific needs. For example, let’s look at some internal stakeholders. The key members of the project team might need a daily 5-minute huddle to start the day, conducted via video conference. The senior executive team may prefer a fortnightly status report via email.

Your communication can be targeted to the level of detail that is needed, and your stakeholders will enjoy the predictability of knowing when to expect your updates, which boosts engagement. Here are some questions to get you started when establishing your stakeholder engagement strategy:

  • What elements of the project does the stakeholder need to know about?

  • Where does their interest lie?

  • How often do they want to be communicated with?

  • What medium works best?

  • What recurring meetings or regular emails should be established as part of the plan?

  • How will you communicate project issues and risks?

  • What is the escalation process to resolve any open concerns?
     

Stakeholder engagement examples

There are plenty of ways to engage with your stakeholders, and your stakeholder analysis will help you determine which method is most suitable. Here are some example ideas to get you started:

Interviews or focus groups: Conduct 1:1 or in small groups to have an open, two-way dialogue. You can deep dive into key issues to better understand the perspectives of your stakeholders. It’s a highly engaging method, but it is time-consuming, so use sparingly if resources are limited.

Surveys: Use to gather input from a wide variety of stakeholders.

Presentations: You can have a town hall session to communicate with multiple stakeholder groups at once. You can hold them in person or remotely, and include Q&A sessions for two-way dialogue.

Regular communication: Set up lines of communication that regularly share information and asks for feedback. This might be an email newsletter, social media posts, website updates, progress meetings, phone calls, or in-person visits.
 

The ever-important soft skills

It’s almost certain that you’ll encounter some tricky stakeholder engagement situations throughout your career. But as with most things in project management, having a solid plan from the outset will set you up for success. Keeping everyone happy is a tough ask, but if you focus on building your soft skills like communication, relationship building, and people management, you’ll be well placed to navigate challenging situations and end up with successful project outcomes.
 

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