In an ideal world, all projects would be delivered on time, within the budget and provide an end product that satisfies all stakeholders. Unfortunately, many projects fail due to poor communication and planning for stakeholder engagement.

Planning, effective communication and leadership are just a few essential project management skills that you need to make your next project easier for everyone involved.

In a previous article we discussed how to engage with different project stakeholders, so that you can build better relationships. Now we delve a little deeper into effective stakeholder management techniques to ensure the success of your next project.

What is stakeholder management?

Simply put, stakeholder management is organising, monitoring, and improving relationships with your stakeholders. Before you start a project, you should take the time to consider the needs of both the internal stakeholders, such as your project team and executive leadership, as well as external stakeholders including clients, approval authorities and contractors.

A stakeholder management plan (also can be known by other names, such as a communication stakeholder plan) is used for: planning the engagement of stakeholders, developing strategies to reduce or eliminate resistance and creating strategies to increase support and buy-in. Because planning for stakeholder management generates activities, this plan becomes an input to other subsidiary plans.

Keeping all stakeholders informed throughout the project should lead to higher satisfaction with the end result. A stakeholder management plan will serve as a guide for communications and stakeholder engagement throughout the life of the project and should be updated as communication needs change.

Stakeholder management techniques

1.Stakeholder mapping – identifying key relationships

When you consider the stakeholders to your project, it’s essential that you accurately identify their needs, expectations, concerns and communications requirements. Here are some questions to help you identify the stakeholders that will contribute to the success of your project.

  • Can your project move forward without the stakeholder?
  • What impact will the stakeholder have on your team’s performance?
  • What do you need from the stakeholder to get the project across the line?​​

​“When mapping stakeholders it’s important that you’re identifying their current knowledge of the project, area of interest and ability to influence outcomes and resourcing, so you can tailor your engagement to suit. Remember the person with the loudest voice isn’t necessarily the person with the highest level of influence.”

Tracy Mackay, Project Director NS Group and AIPM WA Chapter Councillor

2.Storytelling – Ensuring consistent messaging

Before the project commences take the time to create a stakeholder management plan that focuses on identifying stakeholders, understanding their area of interest and ability to influence project outcomes. This will enable you to tailor communications. Be sure to provide your stakeholders with consistent messaging. Here are some questions to help you.

  • What is the story you’re trying to tell your stakeholders?
  • How can you ensure consistency in your messaging?
  • How can you keep your messaging clear and be upfront to avoid confusion?

“Stakeholder management can’t be reactionary; it has to be planned. For example, with the Connect South Mends Street project, we delivered regular briefings to stakeholders, and delivered consistent messages about what has happened so far, what is planned to happen and how this may impact them.”

Tracy Mackay, Project Director NS Group and AIPM WA Chapter Councillor

3.Communication methods – Engaging through the right channel

It’s vital that you keep key stakeholders informed at each stage of the project. You will also need to decide the method of communication. Here are a few questions to help guide you.

  • How often and via what channel should you engage with each stakeholder?
  • What tool will you use to communicate (eg. email, Microsoft Teams, face to face)?
  • What are the key points you want to convey to each individual stakeholder?

“Each stakeholder will have different requirements, so adapt your communication method to suit the stakeholder. Some may require regular briefings in person, whilst for a wider audience a monthly email may be suitable.”

Tracy Mackay, Project Director NS Group and AIPM WA Chapter Councillor


Tips for better stakeholder engagement

While communication skills get mentioned time-and-time again, miscommunication is still a major issue across many organisations. That’s why developing the skills to communicate to stakeholders in a clear manner is essential. Here are a few ways to improve your stakeholder engagement:

Keep your message simple and clear: Do you work in an organisation that uses a lot of acronyms and jargon? Before you hit ‘send’ on a report, read over it, and consider whether a friend or relative of yours could understand its contents. If the answer’s no, then you need to make it clearer.

Be empathetic: Empathy is a skill that might not come naturally to some, and this is one reason why conflicts can arise. Try to empathise with each stakeholder, from business analysts to product owners to executives. Understanding everyone’s pain points will mean the project is more likely to succeed. Consider taking a leadership course if this is an area you think you need to develop.

Respond to stakeholders’ concerns: This follows on from the last point, as you won’t be able to properly respond to their concerns unless you’ve really listened to their point of view. Demonstrate that you understand their concerns however, don’t make promises that you know are impossible to follow through with, such as a deadline your team can’t meet.

Respect all stakeholders: While some stakeholders may be more pivotal to the success of your project than others, always be respectful when talking to people. Treat everyone equally and make sure that all stakeholders feel valued.

Don’t take things personally: Not everyone is going to like your ideas or suggestions, but don’t be disheartened. Instead of becoming defensive, listen to what your stakeholders have to say. Always stay professional and keep the project goal at the front of your mind at all times.

It’s inevitable in your career that you will encounter difficulty when managing stakeholder relationships. However, with the right skills and attitude, you can develop good working relationships. While keeping all stakeholders satisfied is no easy feat, project managers who are able to implement good stakeholder management techniques are able to communicate more effectively and are more likely to be chosen to work on more rewarding projects.