Project Management

Handling Powerful Stakeholders

Don’t panic if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of handling powerful stakeholders. You will shortly. This implies you must prepare yourself with techniques to deal with them cordially and continue working on the project despite any barriers.

Project managers should engage stakeholders in conversation to gauge their emotions about the project’s outcome, the amount of information they desire, their financial motivations, their level of influence over other stakeholders, etc. Next, project managers can use a priorities grid (like the sample power/interest grids below) to determine how to proceed. This grid should codify each type of stakeholder using shapes, colors, or both.

The completed stakeholder power/interest grid on the bottom right shows that Jeff is a supporter of the project and has significant interest and power. It also shows that Sarah and Jeremy are blockers who need monitoring. Project managers should ensure that Sarah is kept satisfied, due to her power and influence. While Don and Margaret are both neutral stakeholders, project managers should keep Margaret informed about the project proactively, as she has a high interest in the project and might request information later on, disrupting the project.

Sample Power/Interest Grids


Powerful stakeholders should be actively involved in a project’s development. Receiving continuous review and feedback from stakeholders may clarify their requirements throughout the project. However, even in Agile or adaptive environments, these stakeholders must be advised of the team’s boundaries. They should recognize that their requests may be prioritized and that not every “want” is a “need” for a project, especially within specific iterations.

How Do You Deal with a Stakeholder Who Has Power and Is Using It to Harm Your Project or Your Project Team?

This is a great question about a person outside of the team who may be distracting the team, causing extra chaos within a team, how do you deal with that? I think the most important thing is to recognize how disruptive that actually is and what it’s costing the team. What it’s costing them in terms of distraction time, in terms of inability to deliver what it is that they’re supposed to be delivering, and really for that distractor to understand that if there are questions, there’s a point person identified for them to talk to. But to really know that it is costing this organization something, that behavior is costing the organization, and the project something that’s really quite significant at that point.

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