Engaging Project Stakeholders

When raising children parents are often caught stating, “it takes a village” because there are so many different roles and nuances to parenting. This is similar to all aspects of life in that it takes a variety of individuals, perspectives, skills, etc. to make the world go round, or at least function properly. Project Management, in and of itself, exemplifies this point because of the myriad job responsibilities, numerous and varied stakeholders, and range of complexity within projects.

Identifying and communicating with key stakeholders is just one of the many functions of the Project Manager that can serious make or break the project. This ideology is further complicated in that there are a variety of different types of stakeholders in a project. For instance, our text discussed a simplified hierarchy of project roles such as project manager, functional managers, functional employees and upper management (Portny et al., 2008). Although, this is far from an all-encompassing list it does provide some types of individuals who can have a negative impact on a project.

Functional Managers are responsible for a variety of aspects of the project, not the least of which are:

• “Ensuring team members are available to perform their assigned tasks when need and for the amount of time promised.

• Providing technical expertise and guidance to help team members solve problems related to their project assignments.

• Completing team members’ performance appraisals.

• Recognizing performance with salary increases, promotions, and job assignments” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 11).

Clearly, an unsupportive Project Manager could negatively impact a project in many different ways from delaying approvals, exhibiting reticence to relinquish the staff to the project, or refusing to acknowledge the staff’s expertise and participation in the project as a basis for recognition, salary increases or promotions. Further, there could be a serious trickle-down effect occurring as well.

There is also the possibility that the Functional Manager is supportive, but unable to respond appropriately to the demands of the project either because of upper management, staff or other resource constraints. In these instances, it may seem like the Functional Manager is unfavorable towards the project’s completion, when in reality, they are doing the best they can with limited options.

The Functional Employee’s role includes aspects such as:

• “Ensuring specific tasks are performed in accordance with the highest standards of technical excellence.

• Performing assignments on time and within budget.

• Maintaining special skills and knowledge as needed to complete work” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 11).

The performance of the functional employee is very important to every project; however, an employee who is aware their manager is unfavorable to a project can be reasonably assumed to be stressed. They would likely be preoccupied, attempt to perform their tasks as quickly (but maybe not as thoroughly) as possible so as to please their more immediate supervisor. Further, if the Functional Manager focuses specifically on keeping the technical skills and expertise up-to-date in only areas they prefer to participate, it is possible the employee’s skills and expertise will not be up-to-date for the types of projects that particular manager does not like. This puts the project, employee and company in jeopardy.

Similar to the Functional Manager, there may also be situations in which the employee is trying their very best to accommodate the project, but are unable to for a variety of reasons such as resource constraints, time limitations, skill limitations, etc.

Upper Management’s responsibilities include:

• “Setting policies and procedures for addressing resource priorities and conflicts.

• Creating and maintaining labor and financial information systems.

• Providing facilities and equipment to support the performance of project work.

• Defining the limits of managers’ decision-making authority” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 12).

Again, it is easy to see how upper management could negatively impact a project during any part of the project’s life-cycle: conceive, define, start, perform and close (Portny et al., 2008). Turnover of managers or directors in upper management can result in projects being short-changed and/or even cancelled. Other changes could be difficulties in acquiring facilities or equipment when anticipated for the project. At any time during a project, difficulties in utilizing certain facilities and/or acquiring materials can occur due to problems with outside sources. The lease on the warehouse comes up for renewal and the owner refuses to re-lease the premises. The vendor providing the materials goes out of business or finds that the material is on back-order for an extended period of time.

The company could be going through a relatively rough financial period and not have adequate funding at any particular moment of the project. For instance, the company loses a prime contract or a recession occurs so that the entire industry goes through an extreme belt-tightening. This could impact the project negatively, despite the fact that Upper Management is supportive of the project.

Some of the issues discussed can be the direct result of the company’s organization, whether it is centralized, functional, matrix or some hybrid organizational system. Each has positives and negatives that could impact a project and need to be addressed as soon as possible, preferable during the define phase of the project and re-evaluated throughout the project.

The reality is that projects do not occur in a vacuum. Most projects with this level of complexity occur over a range of time of months to years. It is unreasonable to expect there would be no financial changes, staff changes, legal guidelines, etc. to consider throughout the entire life of the project. This is why it is imperative for the project manager to stay completely abreast of all the developments in all of the different arenas.


The text also discusses stakeholders and other interested parties in terms of “audience” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 274-275), internal and external. In some ways, this vision of important individuals is more complete than the simplified internal structure referred to earlier. For instance, the internal audience includes individuals such as upper management, requester, project manager, team members, directions for finance, legal, facilities, materials, etc., and groups specific to the project due to their expertise. The external audience includes the clients and/or customers, collaborators, vendors, suppliers, contractor, regulators (government agencies), professional associations or societies and the public (local, national or international) (Portny et al., 2008).

With a clear understanding of these numerous positions and possible impact on a project, the project manager can develop a more comprehensive communication plan ensuring approval throughout the project. For instance, by dividing these positions into the categories of drivers, supporters and observers of a project, the project manager can determine which phases of the project to include and/or engage them. Although, the reality is that “drivers should be involved from the start to the finish” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 280). “Just as with drivers, supporters and project champions should be involved with projects from start to finish” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 281). Observers “should only be involved minimally throughout projects” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 282).

Strategies for involving drivers, supporters and drivers include:

• “One-on-one meetings: formal and informal discussions with one or two other people about project issues.

• Group meetings: planned sessions for some or all project team members or audiences. Smaller meetings are useful for brainstorming project issues, reinforcing team-member roles, and developing mutual trust and respect among team members.

• Informal written correspondence: notes, memos, letters and email.

• Written approvals: formal, written agreement about a project product, schedule, or resource commitment or a technical approach to project work” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 282).

Clearly, one of the project manager’s most valued skills is the art of communication. A project manager will every skill in the world except communication would likely flop as a project manager simply because they would not be able negotiate and facilitate cooperation among so many different departments and individuals from all levels of the company, not to mention individuals and companies outside of the immediate company from whom they also need cooperation to be successful.


Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


2 thoughts on “Engaging Project Stakeholders

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  2. Pingback: Recommended Reading: Project Management for Dummies by Stanley E. Portny, PMP | Lugen Family Office

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