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The Art of Stakeholder Management
By Mark Norman

A stakeholder can be defined as someone who can impact or is impacted by either the project or the project outcomes. Stakeholders exist at many levels of a project but also extend out into the wider environment influenced by the project. The project sponsor is an obvious example of a key stakeholder as are those impacted by the desired outcomes of the project are also stakeholders. However, caution is required as almost anyone could be classed as a stakeholder. By understanding the context of the project the good project manager will be able to discern those stakeholders that require management.

Early identification and engagement of key stakeholders will be crucial. The situation to avoid is a previously unidentified stakeholder emerging at a crucial stage of the project and derailing the plan. Key stakeholders to identify are those that can influence the commitment of resources to the project and those that will accept or be recipients of the project outcomes.

There are many ways to categorize stakeholders but for simplicity stakeholders can have high or low levels of impact and offer high or low levels of advocacy. High impact and high advocacy stakeholders are the key group that will offer resources to the project, the project sponsor should fall into this category. If the project sponsor does not then this presents a significant risk to project success. High impact low advocacy users can divert resources from the project or make them difficult to obtain. This group requires the most management effort as they can significantly influence the project.

Low impact high advocacy stakeholders contribute to project outcomes by delivering work. They support the project but have little organizational power that can be leveraged by the project manager. Low impact and low advocacy stakeholders are not in favor of the project but have little power to influence the project. They should be managed so if they unexpectedly gain power then the project management can adjust his management of the stakeholder.

Stakeholder management will vary from project to project. Successful projects need stakeholders whose advocacy outweighs low advocate stakeholders. The art of stakeholder management is the correct identification of stakeholders and the judgment of the required management intervention.

Mark Norman is a leader, project manager, part time archaeologist and mountain climber. You can read more from Mark on his blog.

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