stakeholder engagement

The Stakeholder in the Stakeholder; Overcoming Adversity

According to ISO 21500, Guidance on Project Management, a stakeholder is a person, group or organization that has interests in, or can affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by, any aspect of the project.

It is commonly taught that stakeholders are identified, analyzed and managed.  Manage however is a curious word.  Using the word manage implies a certain degree of hierarchical control. Engage is a better term. In this post, I want to focus on something that is critical to project success, engaging with upset stakeholders.

In my years of managing projects, volunteering for organizations, starting businesses, being a husband and a father, I have learned that there are things to avoid at all costs unless building a wall between you and success is your goal [Insert any Donald trump wall joke Here].

I am going to provide some tips but before I do, I want to emphasize that inside every stakeholder are several other stakeholders fighting for position.


When you engage a stakeholder, you aren’t just getting the personality that has interest in your project.  You are getting their personal baggage also. Your project is not on their mind 24/7.  They are also someone’s son or daughter, or maybe someone’s parent or spouse. They might be a hard core sports fan, artist or hold any number of interests all which can influence their emotions and state of mind. A great project manager understands that turning off personal noise isn’t always possible all the time and if you have a stakeholder who has a problem or is irritable, there may be more to the story.  Taking this into account, can save a lot of headache.

At the same time, you as a stakeholder have the same challenges and need to be cognizant of how you communicate. Here are some tips for engaging irritable stakeholders (share this with the team in case you are the irritable one)

Involve a second party

If the person you have an issue with makes you feel threatened, don’t go in alone.  Take a colleague or work with the project sponsor to determine the best approach. Also, if you are an imposing figure, follow the same advice.

Don’t fight fire with fire

If someone comes at you irrationally, don’t throw it back in their face.   Your natural reaction is to fight back as your adrenaline levels have increased.  Take some time to calm yourself down and understand your tendencies.  Do you hold grudges?  Are you upset easily?  What triggers you?  Knowing what sets you off can be a great way to prepare for an interaction with an upset stakeholder.  If you are the one who is upset, think about the best approach and don’t react in a manner that will cause more harm as a result.

Take emotion out of it

Sometimes, the reason the stakeholder is irritable has nothing to do with you.  Coming to this realization can greatly influence the outcome.  Is the person dealing with issues in their personal life?  Is another issue at work forcing the anger out on you? Research has shown that when individuals learn that they are not the reason for a stakeholder to get angry, the situation is far less upsetting to them. If it is you who is upset, what is the real reason?

Figure out what is really going on

Get to the root of the issue.  Using the Six Sigma 5 Why’s is a great approach.  The keys to getting a better understanding is to take emotion out of the equation and employ active listening techniques and keeping an open mind.  Don’t automatically assume the worst.   Is it a misunderstanding?

Get to a solution

If you don’t want this taking over your emotions for an extended period of time, figure out a way to solve the issue, but don’t get defensive!  Figure out a solution that leads to a valuable outcome and if need be, apologize.  “Hey sorry I blasted you with an angry text message. I had a bad day.” Or “I am sorry for attacking you at the team meeting, I have a lot on my mind and directed it towards you.”

Everyone deals with adversity differently, understanding your tendencies and those of your stakeholders will help to position you towards greater success and satisfaction.

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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