One of the key duties of a project manager is that of stakeholder management. If you’re an experienced project manager, you are well aware of this responsibility. But if you’re new to the field or just beginning to explore a career in project management, you may not be as familiar with the process of stakeholder management.
Let’s start by defining the term “stakeholder” as it applies to a formal project. A stakeholder is any individual or organization that is involved in and/or affected by the project in question. Internal stakeholders are the people within the company who are impacted by the outcome of the project.
In one sense, everyone who works for an organization can be regarded as an internal stakeholder, because all employees are affected by projects that contribute to the company’s profitability. However, for the purposes of stakeholder management, the term generally applies to the actual participants in a given project. These individuals can be described as the "key stakeholders." These are the people whose decisions and/or actions directly contribute to the success or failure of the project. For example, the engineers designing a software solution would be considered primary stakeholders in the release of a new product, while the company's facilities manager might be seen as a secondary stakeholder – while that person's continued employment depends on the product's success, he or she has no direct impact on it.
External stakeholders in a project include customers, investors and/or shareholders, creditors, supply partners and outsourced expertise, among others. In matters of stakeholder management, the project manager is usually going to be in closest communication with the customer, suppliers, and any direct external support that is needed to bring the project to fruition.
When you consider the many different stakeholders that are involved in a given project, you can gain a better understanding of the importance of stakeholder management. Though there is a common goal at the core of the project, some stakeholders might find it challenging to work cohesively with other individuals and groups – and finding ways to keep everyone on the same page throughout the life of the project is the responsibility of the project manager.
The project manager can be regarded as the “glue” that holds a project together. This person needs to have strong stakeholder management skills in order to effectively communicate changing requirements to key stakeholders and maintain a positive dynamic that makes the total effort greater than the sum of its parts.
It requires very specialized training to understand the anatomy of a project, the respective roles of the stakeholders and the best practices for managing them. Professionals can learn more about stakeholder management through a variety of industry and university programs, including the 100% online, video-based training offered by Villanova University. Project managers can gain or enhance their stakeholder management skills through Villanova’s Certificate in Applied Project Management.