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Key Project Stakeholders
By Lynda Bourne

I was recently asked by a colleague for the definition of key stakeholder. Everyone writing about stakeholders uses the term probably synonymously with ‘important stakeholder’ but what is the actual definition?

Key Stakeholders are a subset of Stakeholders who, if their support were to be withdrawn, would cause the project to fail1

This definition is probably true of IT and internal projects but ignores important stakeholder groups such as the ‘environmentalists’ opposed to a major engineering project. Some important stakeholders will never support the project and are focused on preventing it from proceeding (or in the example above, at least minimising its impact on the environment). They may never see the project’s output as good or desirable – for these, effective stakeholder management is about finding an effective, ethical way of neutralising the threat they pose.

The term key stakeholder is used to identify members of the sub-group of stakeholders who have the power to substantially damage the project and may potentially cause it to fail. This group are both important and influential/powerful; they may be individuals such as an important manager or entities such as a regulatory authority.

Key Stakeholders

Key stakeholders must be both important and influential

A better, more general definition would be: Key stakeholders are a subset of stakeholders who have power to prevent the project from achieving its full set of objectives and potentially may cause the project to fail.

This is the flip side of success, if you fail to manage your project’s key stakeholder community, your project is almost certain to fail: not failing however, does not mean succeeding.

A large proportion of the project’s key stakeholders will also have the power to influence the determination/perception of the project’s eventual success. But in most circumstances, if the project is to be deemed successful, a large numbers of additional stakeholders will have to want to make use the project’s output to realise the value/benefits the project was initiated to create.

Stakeholders and Failures

For the project to be deemed successful, most stakeholders must perceive it as a success

Achieving success involves significantly more than just completing the project on-time and on-budget.

1 According to the IT Department in Cornell University

Dr. Lynda Bourne DPM, PMP.

Lynda is the Managing Director of Stakeholder Management Pty Ltd. This business is focused on improving the capability of organisations to effectively manage their stakeholder relationships to the benefit of both the stakeholders and the organisation’s projects. She is also the Director of Training with Mosaic Project Services Pty Ltd, where she is responsible for the development and delivery of OPM3, PMP, CAPM, Stakeholder Management and other project management training.

Lynda is a recognised international author, seminar leader and speaker. She is a SeminarsWorld® presenter and an accredited OPM3 ProductSuite Assessor and Consultant who has led a number of commercial OPM3 ProductSuite assessments.

She graduated from RMIT University Melbourne as the first professional Doctor of Project Management in 2005. Her research on defining and managing stakeholder relationships has lead to the development of the Stakeholder Circle® tool set and the SRMM® maturity model. Lynda blogs regularly on the Mosaic Projects blog.

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