Three Paths to Approaching Stakeholders

Stakeholder Management | By Kenneth Darter | Read time minutes

Confident businesswoman showing a document to her customer

When it comes to approaching stakeholders with your message about the project, there are many different paths you can take to get your message to the right person. How you approach the stakeholders can be just as important as what the message is. Determining your strategy and your methods beforehand is essential; not having a strategy at all is a recipe for chaos and disorder. The stakeholders need to have a clear understanding of the message, and how you get it to them can help or hinder that effort. Pick your path carefully based upon your situation to get your message across in the right way. Here are some ideas on how to start formulating your path to approaching your stakeholders. These may not work for you, but they will start you thinking about your own path to stakeholders.

Path 1: Least Resistance

The path of least resistance is the easy way, the path that makes the most sense and ensures that no waves are made in the stakeholders. In general, this is simply reporting on a regular basis to the closest stakeholder. The project manager does not go out of his way to get a message to stakeholders that are beyond the sphere of influence or outside the normal chain of command. A common example of taking the path of least resistance is to only report information about the project to your direct superior or the key stakeholder and decision maker and let them carry the message to the rest of the stakeholders for the project.

Path 2: The Shotgun Approach

Another path to stakeholders is to take the shotgun approach. Instead of delivering a message to one person or a small group of stakeholders, you deliver the message to anyone who is listening and sometimes, to people who are not listening very well. The shotgun approach gets your message to the stakeholders in any way that works; this might mean elevator or hallway conversations, regular emails, and even presenting at different meetings. The shotgun approach is to broadcast the message as loudly as possible and hit as many targets as possible. While it may be a good way to make sure everyone knows what is going on, the message will not be contained or controlled for very long.

Path 3: Take the High Road

Somewhere between the path of least resistance and the shotgun method is the high road. This is the method of making sure all stakeholders are informed in formal project meetings. If the stakeholders are deeply invested in the project, then this may be the best method for reaching them and keeping them involved in the project. The project manager should work hard to polish his message and clearly state what is needed from the stakeholders in meetings with them. The high road involves a proactive group of stakeholders and a project manager who can deliver the message as needed.

While there are many different paths to the stakeholders of a project, the project manager must work to find the best way to reach them. One method may not work by itself, and the project manager may end up using parts of the paths above or finding their own path that works for their project. Whatever path you use to approach stakeholders, make sure you have a plan for it; because not having a plan will leave you stuck in the mud somewhere along the path, or lost in the woods.

Recommended read: What Is Stakeholder Management? by Duncan Haughey.


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