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Iryna Viter

What is a Stakeholder? Meaning, Types & Examples

Keeping stakeholders engaged and happy is a balancing act for any PM. So, let's get clear on what a stakeholder is, and the influence they can have on your project.

If a chess board is your project then the chess pieces are your stakeholders. In order to win, they need to work together in perfect harmony, but they are not equally impactful on the playing ground.

If you lose a key chess piece, the game may very well be lost. Same story for your central stakeholders: if you lose them, it's checkmate for the project.

So who are those stakeholders and how do you tie them together? In this article, we're telling you everything you need to know.

What is a stakeholder?

A stakeholder is a person or an entity - like a business, customer, or an organization - that can impact or is impacted by the outcome of a certain project (whether the outcome is good or bad).

In other words, a stakeholder is an interested party that benefits from the success of your project and has a tangible role to play in its journey.

Needless to say, projects usually have various stakeholders, with each one of them bearing a different level of importance. This is why knowing exactly who the stakeholders are and what they mean for the project is paramount if you want to do effective stakeholder management.

Types of stakeholders

Broadly speaking, stakeholders fall into two main categories: internal group and external group.

Internal stakeholders

Internal stakeholders come from within the company and are usually either employed by the company or at least legally bound to it. The list of internal stakeholders can go from employees to investors and from interns to the board of directors.

External stakeholders

External stakeholders come from outside of the company but oftentimes might be just as influential as internal stakeholders. These can be your customers, end users of the product, suppliers, or even other non-commercial groups like the government, if it can limit or reinforce the pace of your project.

With that in mind, let's consider some of those stakeholders in detail, especially the ones you are most likely to encounter during your projects.

Stakeholder examples

  • Investors: these are high-stake but low-participation stakeholders. They can be either individuals or investment groups that invest money into the project and seek to gain return on their investment. They might be involved in high-level decisions like project goals or major pivots but they are not going to be involved in the daily project matters.
  • Customers or end users: Although these are different stakeholder types, we're putting them together because their role in the project is oftentimes similar. Above anything else, you are running the project to satisfy the needs of this stakeholder group. Same as investors, they are not going to be involved in the nitty-gritty detail of the project but their say means a lot for the direction your project will be taking at any point in time.
  • Employees: Perhaps one of the most high-impact groups, these stakeholders are always among the most important ones when it comes to project success. When something is off with your team, someone takes unexpected time off or even leaves the project, that can have a negative impact on project deliverables, cause delays or other negative twists. Keeping all employees aligned on project goals and expectations is paramount for this stakeholder group.
  • Suppliers: although this is an external group, it can also be very impactful when it comes to project outcomes. Suppose you are a construction company that builds residential complexes. If your supplier, a company dealing in building materials, is late with their input, your construction project will stop dead in its tracks.
  • Media. Depending on the type of your business, this type of stakeholder can also either do good for the project or doom it for a failure, depending on the type of coverage you receive.

How to manage project stakeholders

Effectively managing stakeholders requires an adequate amount of research and preparation. You need to know exactly who your stakeholders are, how you should communicate with them, and what they mean for the project overall.

Step 1. Identify your stakeholders

Before anything else, you need identify all the internal and external stakeholders. It's usually a good idea to go through all the project documentation you have and see what parties come into play during your project's lifetime.

It's important to know that some stakeholders can slip through the cracks if you don't do your research thoroughly enough. For example, the local government can reject your request to build a residential complex on a certain piece of land. It can also limit your project by putting a cap on how tall the buildings can be.

Local residents, on the other hand, can initiate and sign a petition to forbid you from starting a construction site in the place where they wanted a park. These are the type of stakeholders that might not be relevant from the beginning, but will be too impactful to ignore later on.

Step 2. Analyze and prioritize your stakeholders

stakeholder engagement map

Once you have all stakeholders listed out, it's time to give out some ratings and do stakeholder analysis. Stakeholder mapping will help you group all major stakeholders according to the level of influence they have in the project.

Primary stakeholders, for instance, will need more check-ins and engagement in your business operations. Secondary stakeholders, on the other hand, might be satisfied with minimal contact as their direct stake in the project is considerably smaller.

Step 3. Engage your stakeholders

Once you have a good grip on all stakeholder interests, be it financial interest or a matter of corporate governance, invest time and effort into building positive relationships with all the parties involved. As a rule, stakeholder management requires regular maintenance and effective communication from the project management group.

The end goal is to keep all the stakeholders informed and aligned on how the project is unraveling, what outcomes they can expect from it, and what effort they need to put in to achieve those outcomes.

Dive deeper ➡️ Mastering Stakeholder Management: A Guide

Summary: achieve success with happy stakeholders

There's no one-size-fits-all solution to understanding who your project stakeholders are and figuring out how to keep them on-side. Relationships are complicated, and dealing with stakeholders is all about the subtle art of managing relationships.

As with all relationships, communication is key. And, naturally, it's going to be easier to communicate key project updates and progress when you have a clear view of this yourself.

Getting your project tooling right from the start is one of the best ways to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information is always at hand, whenever your stakeholders need to see it.

So, don't get in a flap when stakeholders request updates - use a dedicated platform to help keep your ducks in a row 🦆 🦆 🦆

Take a look at our list of the best project resource management tools on the market so you can see what powerful options are out there to help you run your projects with precision and clarity.

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