Ultimate Guide to Managing Stakeholders

“Managing the needs and expectations of stakeholders is key to the success of a project.” 

A few weeks back, one of my mentees and colleague had her first experience working with a difficult stakeholder. In this article, she will be sharing her experience and lessons learned.

Recently, I experienced how a difficult stakeholder not managed properly could affect the outcome of a project. This experience made me reflect a lot on how to ensure I apply the lessons I learned to the next project.

My personality type is non-confrontational and I just love things to go exactly as planned with a dose of positive energy from my team and stakeholders and over the years it has always gone this way. 

However, as a project manager, you must remember that you are a leader and as a leader, you will be working with different people all the time. You are most likely going to experience a difficult or hostile stakeholder. This is unavoidable because stakeholders are human beings with emotions. 

As a project manager, it is your responsibility to manage all stakeholders and ensure you deliver on the project goals within the time and budget aka the show must go on!

Who is a difficult or hostile stakeholder?

  • They fail to return calls or reply to your emails on time
  • They do not share the same sense of urgency
  • They disagree with or resist every recommendation or suggestion

Sound like anyone you’ve worked with?

I shared my experience with my mentor and she shared some key advice with me. Here, I will be sharing five (5) lessons; both personal lessons and the advice she gave me to help you navigate and manage stakeholders…especially the difficult ones.

1) UNDERSTAND YOUR STAKEHOLDERS

Identify who these stakeholders are, primary, secondary, or key stakeholders.  By identifying them, you understand how to engage with them. For example, secondary stakeholders, most times only need to be updated, whereas key stakeholders have a great influence over your project and so their input is essential. If your difficult stakeholder is a key stakeholder, you should do all you can (and fast) to always ensure they are satisfied and informed at all times

3) BUSINESS IS BUSINESS

Do not take their comments or resistance personally, instead find ways to work with them. It is the responsibility of the project manager to manage every type of stakeholder. You’ve got this! Now pay attention to the next point I am about to make…

3) LISTEN

My mentor taught me that in times when you find yourself working with a difficult stakeholder or even team member, one of the best tools you can use is listening.  Sometimes people may prove difficult but when you listen you can understand the root cause of their negativity and why they are resisting you. It could be as simple as having a busy schedule or not being excited to redo work.

Try to see where they are coming from and put yourself in their shoes. Their objection is not a personal attack or a prompting for you to become defensive.

Try these seven (7) steps as you listen to them:

  • Respect them
  • Be vocal about making them feel understood
  • Praise them for being open and sharing their thoughts
  • Welcome and listen to their insights
  • Repeat what they have said in your own words and ask if you understood them correctly
  • Ask open-ended questions to get more insight into the root cause and Invite them to recommend a solution
  • Strategically identify a resolution that solves their pain point and ensures your project succeeds

4) COMMUNICATION

Ask for feedback on how the project can be improved and how you can both work well together. Whatever their answer is, please do not be defensive, remember the whole reason for this is to ensure you deliver a successful project. It is hard to deliver a successful project without the stakeholder being brought in. 

5) BORROW INFLUENCE

WOW! This right here worked wonders for me!

Where resistance or negativity may derail your project then it is time to borrow influence. It is almost like calling on the Avengers to save the world from Thanos! Haha!

Borrowing influence means speaking to someone the stakeholder respects or someone who has authority over them, basically, someone who can make them do what you need them to do. Someone who can influence them to be more cooperative in achieving their project goals.

In conclusion, I remember reading somewhere :

“The most challenging stakeholders will be the ones from which you learn the most”. 

I never quite understood it and honestly, I said a silent prayer to never encounter difficult stakeholders (very unrealistic to be honest…but a lady can have faith right!). Well, now I have and I still will but just like the quote said, I wouldn’t trade these lessons for anything.

How about you? How have you been able to manage stakeholders and a difficult one at that? Did any of my lessons resonate deeply with you? Please share.


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