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Masooma Memon

Mastering Stakeholder Management: A Guide

An essential soft skill for all those who work on projects, stakeholder management can be the difference between plain sailing and severely stormy weather.

Stakeholder management is often thought of as an art — an innate skill that only selected folks have.

But the truth is: mastering stakeholder management isn’t an impossible nut to crack. Once you set your mind to it, start focusing on:

  • Understanding interested folks’ vested concerns
  • And, effectively managing your projects 

In doing so, you get a hang of possible objections you can potentially encounter, as well as immediate access to the data you need to counter those objections.

Sounds challenging? Let’s break down everything you need to know to efficiently manage stakeholders — even the most difficult ones.

What is stakeholder management?

Stakeholder management is the process of managing the expectations of people who have a stake (interest or influence) in your project.

These folks can be external stakeholders like clients or customers or internal such as leadership and the project team.

Typically, stakeholders who tend to be the most vested in a project’s success are those who invest the most money in it. As a result, they also have more influence. 

Benefits of managing stakeholder expectations

Effective stakeholder management is crucial to a project's success.

Without it, you’ll find yourself entangled in internal conflicts and client dissatisfaction. Left unchecked, these project blockers can derail project completion — eventually impacting your organization’s industry reputation.

In short, you need an effective stakeholder management strategy to:

  • Get buy-in early in the project planning phase to ensure success.
  • Meet and satisfy stakeholder expectations throughout the project lifecycle. In doing so, you can keep everyone happy and motivated.
  • Prevent internal conflict of interest to ensure smooth project progress. This also helps you cut back on project risks that can slow or stall progress altogether.
  • Monitor stakeholder engagement to ensure everyone is playing their desired role. Again, with clarity on roles and responsibilities from the get-go, you can increase the odds of your project success within the defined budget and set timeline. 

3 key aspects of stakeholder management

Between clear communication, trust building, and having clarity around everything project-related, there’s a lot that goes into the stakeholder management process.

Let’s look at these one by one:

1. Clear communication

Communicating effectively is key to stakeholder engagement.

Not only do you need to work on writing clear updates but also on your active listening and non-verbal skills (think: your tone, facial expressions, eye contact, and body language). 

Tools like Grammarly assist in improving written communication at work. Planning what you’ll say or how you’ll share information in project briefings, updates, and expectation-setting meetings also helps.

As for improving your active listening, cultivate a habit of pausing and carefully listening to what stakeholders say when they speak. This way, you can make them feel heard and understood. The approach also helps come up with solutions that stakeholders agree with.

Lastly, reflect on your voice and tone to improve your non-verbal communication. Here are 10 more tips to enhance your non-verbal skills.

2. Project planning and clarity

Being clear about everything about your project — from its goals to scope, budget, and timeline — allows you to confidently communicate with stakeholders.

For example, you can align leadership on project goals, effectively informing them how the goals meet client expectations and will benefit the organization.

But project clarity doesn’t come without:

  • Putting in time to plan the project
  • Visualizing it to understand all the moving pieces
  • Coordinating over the project plan and progress in a reliable software 

Keep in mind, the better you break the project by its requirements and budget, the better you can allocate resources, set expectations, and align on goals.

In other words, visualizing the entire project lets you decide who will work on what and by when. In turn, this lets you set clearer expectations with team members (read: internal stakeholders) and answer whatever questions they have.

But remember: efficient project planning relies on the project and resource management software you use. So make sure you select a reliable one.

3. Trust building

Another one of the most important stakeholder management skills is trust building.

Of course, gaining someone’s trust takes time — whether that’s your team, leadership stakeholders, or customers. The following can help you build trust:

  • Be consistent and predictable in your communication and updates
  • Regularly update stakeholders so they know you’re keeping them in the loop
  • Set clear expectations by communicating the project’s why, how, and objectives
  • Use project and past success data to back suggestions so you don’t come across as biased

The way you build trust also depends on the stakeholder. Are they in the leadership team or in the project team? Device trust-building strategies accordingly. 

Above all, stay calm. 

Some stakeholders can be difficult to manage. Keeping your cool and using data to back your points can help you win them.

For instance, if a stakeholder thinks a project should be closed because of a lack of progress, show them progress updates and milestones achieved to objectively gain their trust. 

How to build a stakeholder management process in 4 steps

Follow these three to create a solid stakeholder management process:   

Step 1: Identify relevant stakeholders

Start with noting down who is playing a role, either direct or indirect, in your process. This could include:

  • Investors
  • Suppliers
  • Leadership
  • Contractors
  • Customers/clients
  • Project team members

Ideally, you can determine each stakeholder by listing them under three board categories: the project team, customers, and leadership. This makes it easy for you to identify all stakeholders.

Step 2: Prioritize stakeholders  

Not all stakeholders carry the same influence. And, not all are as interested in having a say.

Meaning: you’ll need to invest the most resources in stakeholders with the greatest stake in the project. But to do that, prioritize stakeholders by:

  • Determining their influence
  • Understanding their motivations and objectives

Often, folks high up in the hierarchy have the greatest influence — as does the customer. Depending on your company culture, end users or the project’s target customer will also carry significant influence. 

Understanding stakeholders’ needs, interests, biases, and motivations isn’t a culture-oriented thing though. You’ll want to uncover them using focus group interviewers, surveys, and one-on-one interviews. 

Step 3: Use the RACI chart to map out stakeholders’ vested interest

Now that you know who your project stakeholders are and what their influence is, determine how closely you want to coordinate with them.

The Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed (RACI) chart helps in this step of stakeholder analysis:

 It’s planned on two axes: power and interest. Based on them: 

  • When a stakeholder has significant power and high interest, manage them closely
  • When a stakeholder has significant power but low interest, keep them satisfied  
  • When a stakeholder has low power and low interest, monitor them regularly
  • When a stakeholder has low power but significant interest, keep them informed

Step 4: Create a stakeholder engagement plan

After you determine which stakeholders need what level of involvement, create a stakeholder engagement plan that outlines how you’ll coordinate with them.

For example, host regular Zoom meetings with consultants with high interest and high power to ensure you’re taking their advice into account throughout the process lifecycle.

Similarly, for stakeholders you want to keep informed, schedule sharing update reports on regular intervals. Drop them an update message with a project status report that shares:

  • Milestones hit
  • Anticipated project risks and issues
  •  Overall budget and schedule performance

As for stakeholders to monitor (these are likely project team members), use a project planning software that makes tracking and coordination easy in real-time.

This way, you can assign tasks, and track the budget and number of hours put into work in one place.

For example, when using Runn to visualize and coordinate projects, you can track the time that each employee is spending on their assigned tasks. You can also track milestones for a quick overview of a project’s progress. 

At the end of the day, your stakeholder engagement plan should cover: 

  • The frequency of your communication with each stakeholder
  • The channel (email, Zoom, Slack, or project tool) you’ll use to coordinate with them
  • The format (meeting, comment in the project tool, video update, etc.) for your communication

Use this stakeholder management chart to map your complete engagement strategy:

6 must-follow tips for good stakeholder management

Before we wrap this up, let’s go through some bonus tips to efficiently manage stakeholders:

1. Be empathetic

Take the time to understand the stakeholder’s perspective.

Ask yourself if they are under pressure from the folks they’re responsible to answer to. Then equip them with the necessary resources to help them manage objections at their end.

2. Overcommunicate instead of under-communicate

Overcommunication ensures key information stays top of mind, prevents misunderstandings, and keeps everyone on the same page.

Dig deeper: How to Overcommunicate Effectively as a Manager: The Inside Scoop

3. Be proactive in your updates and communication

Make sure you stick with the stakeholder engagement plan you create. This way, you can keep all stakeholders sufficiently involved and updated in a timely manner.

The idea here is simple: you don’t want a lack of project information to breed conflicts and misunderstandings.

4. Understand stakeholders’ needs and objectives

Putting work into understanding stakeholders’ motivations lets you anticipate their objections and biases. 

Review who knows how much and if they’ve enough project information to be satisfied with the project progress. Often, a missing piece of information can drive rifts between stakeholders — thanks to the misunderstandings it can create.

5. Use data to objectively handle stakeholder objections

Make sure you’ve easy access to project and campaign success data. This lets you use the data to back your points, making it easy to break through biases and unfounded objectives.

6. Make communication easy

This includes making it easy for your internal team and external contractors to ask questions. For high-level stakeholders from the C-suite, use their preferred channels of communication so you can update them easily. 

Manage stakeholders better today

In short, effective stakeholder management isn’t rocket science. 

All it takes is active listening and empathy to understand interested folks’ concerns. You’ll also want to stay calm under all circumstances, set clear expectations, and communicate regularly.

Most of all, stay on top of all your open projects and stakeholders’ vested interests in them.

Thankfully, Runn can help you manage projects, resources, and capacity in one place — all of which are essential to keeping stakeholders up to date and satisfied.

Folks over at Tata, SilverStripe, and TPG Telecom among thousands of others use Runn for the same (project and resource management).

Try Runn for free today and see for yourself  🙌

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