The ultimate guide to stakeholder management

Stakeholders play a crucial factor in your business, so here’s how to develop an effective plan to manage their interests.

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When it comes to running a business or managing a project, regardless of your style of leadership, you're never truly operating alone.

Your business is part of a bigger picture, and it's accountable to a whole bunch of people and groups. We're talking about your employees, your customers, the manufacturers you buy stuff from, the investors who believe in you, the regulators keeping an eye on things, and sometimes even the general public.

All of these things combined become something called “stakeholder management.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll show you how to keep them informed along the task journey, strengthen your relationships, and manage your stakeholders effectively using key strategies and project management.

Best free project management software at a glance

What is stakeholder management?

Stakeholder management is essentially about understanding how to keep everyone who is invested in your business informed and happy.

It's about figuring out what all these different people want, what worries them, and what they expect from your project or business.

If you don't have a clear plan to handle your stakeholders, you might lose their support and all the valuable insights they can offer. If you ignore them or don't talk to them properly, it can lead to some pretty serious problems that might put your business at risk. So, it's worth giving it some thought!

Now that we understand what it is, let's get into the strategies.

Step 1: Define the project scope

What is it you’re trying to achieve?

Identify the goals and objectives of your project, including the tasks that need to be completed, and the resources that will be required.

Objectives should always be SMART. By this we mean specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This will help ensure that everyone involved in the project understands what needs to be achieved, why, and the timeline for completion.

Step 2: Identify key stakeholders who are relevant to the project

Next, identify your key stakeholders. This could be anyone who has a vested interest in your project; could contribute to its success or failure in some way; or may be affected by your objective, whether it’s positive or negative. These could include customers, clients, suppliers, employees, investors, government agencies, regulators, or even local or national community groups. 

To identify these stakeholders, you should consider these questions:

📝 Who will be affected by this if the project succeeds?
📝 Who will be affected by this if the project fails?
📝 Who do I WANT to be affected by this project?
📝 Who do I not want to be affected by this project? 

In any business, project, or campaign, it will be helpful to consider a portion of your stakeholders as ‘active’, and the other portion as ‘inactive’.

The main difference between them is that active stakeholders are actively involved in the project or business goal as they have a part to play in it. This includes employees or people you may need to liaise with to get your project approved, such as building owners or regulators.

Your inactive stakeholders don’t have any active responsibilities to play in the execution of the project,  including those whose sign-off is required, or who need to be kept informed out of courtesy.

Active and inactive stakeholders will, of course, need different levels of communication. For example, you’ll want to focus on the project timeline with your active stakeholders. While creating a plan to provide feedback, launch surveys, or start a PR campaign is for your inactive stakeholders and supporters. 

Project management software is an excellent tool to keep track of all these different activities and communication commitments. 

Step 3: Choose project management software

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Zoho Projects

Price per user:
When billed annually

£7 per month, billed annually

Price per user:
When billed annually

$7 per member (around £5.49)

Price per user:
When billed annually

£5.99 per month, billed annually

Price per user:
When billed annually

$9.80 per user, billed annually (around £8.14)

Price per user:
When billed annually

£9.49 per user, per month, billed annually

Price per user:
When billed annually


Price per user:
When billed annually

£3.20 per month, billed annually

Free trial?
Free trial?
Free trial?
Free trial?
Free trial?
Free trial?
Free trial?

It’s important to choose a system that will work best for your business needs and goals. There will be project management software out there for you that aligns with the specific requirements of your particular business or project. 

Popular project management systems, such as Asana, Trello, and Basecamp as shown above can be super useful tools to help implement your stakeholder management plan. 

 You can check out our article: 7 best free project management software for an in-depth review of each option. Or, for an easy quote in five minutes or less, try our
🔍free cost comparison tool.

The right project management software can do a wide variety of things, including:

  • Organise stakeholder feedback
  • Track stakeholder engagement
  • Assign tasks to team members responsible for engaging with stakeholders
  • Create a centralised database of stakeholder information, including contact information, preferences, and feedback
  • Ensure that all team members have access to the same information about stakeholders

The idea is to create a task list for engaging with stakeholders, assign tasks to team members responsible for engaging with specific stakeholders, and track progress on stakeholder engagement efforts.

Step 4: Create a project plan

Try Asana

Pictured: Asana’s ‘timeline’ chart view in action.

After engaging with stakeholders, it is important to develop a detailed project plan that outlines the timeline, milestones, and deliverables while still incorporating stakeholder feedback and insights at relevant points. 

An excellent tool for this is a Gantt chart.

It is a colour-coded graph that illustrates when tasks need to be completed within overall project timelines. With this, project members can easily spot where conflicts or delays might occur, or where tasks and timelines may overlap and leave employees overwhelmed. This will give you the foresight to have contingencies in place. 

There are multiple ways you can organise a Gantt chart, from different tasks and responsibilities to individuals or entire departments – you’re basically only limited by your imagination.

In our recent assessment of the best Gantt charts for small businesses in 2023, we highlighted Asana’s ‘Timeline’ chart as working well for teams that are focused on consistent output as opposed to hard deadlines, such as content production. The view is drag-and-drop, meaning business owners can change things like the due date of a task with ease.

Step 5: Communicate the plan


📒 Download this free action plan template from our top-rated PM software today.

For this part of the management strategy, we’ll need to ensure that all active stakeholders are aware of the project plan and their respective roles and responsibilities

Regular communication throughout the project is an essential part of ensuring that everyone stays on track and any issues are raised and addressed in a timely manner. For this, you can use a RACI chart.

A RACI chart is a type of project management software that easily allows you to track individual, team, or departmental roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities. 

It gives you an overview of people's strengths, skills, and time to benefit the project in the best way – and ensure delivery within the allocated time frame and budget. 

Startups’ top recommended platform for building a RACI chart is, thanks to its modern template design and a high score of 3.8 out of 5 for collaboration. It's also one of the most affordable options for SMEs. 

Lauded for its huge library of over 200 attractive templates, these are all colour-coded with a catalogued, traffic light system so you can get an instant update on the status of a project.

The RACI chart keeps one or more of the designated stakeholders:

  • Responsible for completing or fulfilling specific tasks or activities
  • Accountable for the tasks or activities, ensuring they are completed to the required standard and within the agreed timeline
  • Consulted for their opinion and input before a decision is made or action taken
  • Informed of progress or outcomes, but are not directly involved in the task or activity

Step 7: Utilise feedback from stakeholders

Some stakeholders will have unique skill sets, expertise, or requirements that will be crucial to the successful completion of your project, so you’ll definitely need to factor in their input at key stages.

Again, project management software is the best way to record and action stakeholder ideas, insight and input. It also allows for visibility, shows everyone's progress, and keeps them informed about the elements of the project that affect their interests. Here is a guide to the best free project management software out there right now.

Step 8: Monitor progress

This needs to happen continuously and adjusted as necessary. You’ll need to track tasks and milestones, identify and resolve issues, assess risks with each step of the plan and, you guessed it, manage the stakeholders (their questions, concerns, and feedback).

Don’t be afraid to tweak and change things. As long as you keep any changes communicated with your stakeholders, it’s an essential and productive part of moving the project forward. 

You may not always get things right the first time, but you can absolutely allow for course correction along the way.

Stakeholder management: key skills, strategies and techniques

You can never have too many skills up your sleeve as a business person, because with new skills comes more potential for the successful realisation of your goals. Below we detail a few of the most important skills to master:

  • Empathy: this skill will allow you to understand the perspectives and feelings of others. Stakeholders may have different interests or concerns from yours in terms of realising a project, and empathy will help you build trust and rapport.
  • Active listening: ensures you will identify the true meaning behind what is being said and take it onboard. For example, setting up a think tank with project-based consultations to garner specific and direct feedback in the development of new products and services. When you do this, you can respond appropriately to any questions or concerns.
  • Assertiveness: this shows people you are confident and clear about your purpose or mission, increasing trust, credibility, respect, and buy-in with your stakeholders.
  • Negotiation: enables you to find mutually beneficial solutions that meet the needs and expectations of all parties involved. Plus, respectfully communicate what is and isn’t feasible while also brainstorming alternative solutions.
  • Time management: effectively planning out what parts of your project need completing and when. For example, using a project management system to ensure that the project stays on schedule. 
  • Prioritisation: knowing which tasks, elements, or people are the most important. This can be accomplished by using a simple matrix to gauge their interest in your project and maximising the potential support you can garner from them.
  • Accountability: clearly defining accountability is important for stakeholder management because it fosters trust and credibility with stakeholders, and ensures that you are responsible and transparent in your decision-making and actions.
  • Risk assessment: identifying situations, activities, or events that may negatively impact your business or project (including assets, reputation, and profitability) is necessary for effective stakeholder management. This involves analysing the potential risks and developing solutions and business contingency plans
  • Critical thinking: being able to analyse information, insights, and ideas from multiple sources to inform decision-making for the best outcomes. 

Effective stakeholder management: the benefits

Effective stakeholder management is critical for the success of any project and leads to a range of positive outcomes, such as increased engagement, better decision-making, and improved outcomes.

Let’s elaborate on these benefits:

Benefit: valuable engagement and happier stakeholders

When Disney was planning its Shanghai Resort, it engaged with local stakeholders, such as government officials and community leaders, to understand their needs and concerns. This helped ensure the resort was designed and built in a way that was culturally sensitive to the location. 

For example, Disney incorporated elements of Chinese culture and storytelling into the resort's attractions, entertainment, and dining experiences, making them relevant and appealing to the local market.

Disney also worked closely with local officials to ensure its resort complied with environmental regulations and prioritised hiring local employees to create job opportunities and support economic growth in the region.

As a result, the resort became one of Disney's most successful international projects.

Benefit: time invested in the right places

Procter & Gamble (P&G) launched its “Connect + Develop” program in 2001 to tap into external stakeholders for innovative product ideas and collaborate on research and development. The program invited anyone with a new product idea to submit it to P&G for review, regardless of whether they were an established supplier or a small startup. 

This open innovation approach helped P&G expand its pipeline and identify new growth opportunities. 

One of the most successful outcomes of the program was the development of the Swiffer, a cleaning product that revolutionised P&G’s home cleaning offering.

Benefit: improved communication and better understanding of needs

Proper stakeholder management can also improve project outcomes, as businesses can ensure that they are delivering on stakeholder needs and expectations. This can lead to higher levels of satisfaction, loyalty, and repeat business from customers, as well as reduced risks and costs. 

Ineffective stakeholder management: the drawbacks

Ineffective stakeholder management can have a significant impact on a business, leading to a range of negative outcomes, such as rising costs, undelivered projects, lower delivery quality, and employee frustration. Here are some examples:

Drawback: damages & costs

The Boeing 737 MAX crisis refers to a series of events that occurred after two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft crashed in October 2018 and March 2019, respectively. 

Boeing failed to effectively engage with its stakeholders, particularly its regulators, regarding the potential risks and safety concerns associated with the design and function of the core systems.

Boeing was forced to ground its entire fleet of 737 MAX aircraft – its best-selling model –  and suspend production, causing significant financial losses to the company. 

Since then, Boeing has implemented changes to its stakeholder management and communication processes, including increased transparency and engagement with regulators and customers.

Drawback: higher likelihood of failed projects

Amazon launched a competition in 2017 to select a suitable location for their new headquarters and, after a year-long process, it announced Long Island City in New York City and Crystal City in Virginia as the winners. 

However, Amazon later cancelled its plans, due in part to inadequate stakeholder management and engagement with local communities and lawmakers. Critics also argued that Amazon's presence in New York City would exacerbate income inequality and harm small businesses.

Amazon promised to create 25,000 jobs with an average salary of $150,000 at the Long Island City location and to invest $2.5 billion in the area over the course of a decade. However, the cancellation of the project meant that these potential job opportunities and economic benefits were lost.

Image source: Business Insider

Drawback: higher likelihood of bad quality

The Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal, also known as “Dieselgate”, occurred in 2015 when it was revealed that VW installed software in millions of its diesel engines to cheat emissions tests. 

The software detected when the vehicle was being tested and reduced emissions to meet regulatory standards but, during normal driving, the emissions were significantly higher, resulting in air pollution and harm to public health.

VW's attempt at dishonesty and blatant disregard for its stakeholders led to significant financial and reputational damage. The company faced lawsuits, regulatory fines, and a significant decline in its stock price due to a complete loss of trust in the company. 

The scandal resulted in the resignation of VW's CEO and saw a restructuring of the company's management and governance.

Image source: Autocar India


While communication, organisational and analytical skills are all essential when it comes to stakeholder management, you will also need the best project management software to help you balance competing needs, voices, and resources, prioritise essential activities, and monitor progress.

Combined, these will ensure the best chance of achieving the desired outcome as well as keep your stakeholders happy. 

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is stakeholder management?
    Stakeholder management is how you maintain relationships with the people who have the most influence on your business or project – such as employees, customers, suppliers, investors, regulatory bodies – and even the general public.
  • How does stakeholder management benefit my small business?
    The main benefit of stakeholder management is to make the most out of your workforce. It’s there to make sure you identify everyone's strengths and capitalise on their skills by giving them the right tasks. This ensures everyone knows what they're working on, why, and how they can achieve their goals.
  • What techniques should I use for stakeholder management?
    A good strategy would be to identify key stakeholders that are relevant to the business, engage with stakeholders effectively, and utilise this feedback in your decision-making processes.
  • What skills are important for successful stakeholder engagement?
    For stakeholder management, you will want to use a good combination of your communication, organisation, planning, evaluation, and analysis skills – as well as good project management software.
Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 11 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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