A 4-Step Process to Engage Difficult Project Stakeholders


Written By: Jennifer Glatz, P.Eng., PMP

March 28, 2019


Do you have a project stakeholder that you wish was more engaged? Check out these practical techniques on how to get the attention of a difficult stakeholder.

We’ve all come across a stakeholder on our projects where we know their engagement is critical to project success, but we can’t seem to get their attention. We notice that they are missing meetings, they are slow to respond to emails – if at all, or their input into deliverables seems to be lacking. So how do you find the right solution to get them more appropriately engaged? Try this 4-Step Process:

1. Further Define Their Project Responsibilities

One of the reasons why key stakeholders are disengaged is the fact that they are overloaded. If they are a Subject Matter Expert in their field, many people or departments within the organization may be competing for their time. They likely feel that they are pulled into many different directions at once, and are having trouble prioritizing where to spend their time. If this is the case, try to define your exact expectations of what you need them to accomplish on the project. Take a hard look at what kind of involvement is critical to your project success. If their assigned deliverables are not critical, try to re-assign them to others on your project team to help lighten the load. 

2. Identify Their Goals

If your difficult stakeholder’s goals or objectives are not aligned with yours or the project goals, this will create friction. Seek to understand what motivates this person – it could be career goals, work-life balance, education and training, etc. Once you identify their personal motivations, make a connection between their personal goals and the responsibilities you assign to them. Use this approach to explain the “why”. 

3. Determine Their Success Criteria

You may discover during Steps 1 & 2 that the success criteria of your stakeholder is not aligned with yours. If you expect them to provide input into a specific deliverable, you may implicitly be expecting that they attend regular meetings, respond to emails related to that deliverable and attend all reviews. Your stakeholder however may believe that only their final review is sufficient and that he/she doesn’t need to be involved through the whole development. Have a discussion with your stakeholder on how they see success for that responsibility and figure out a solution that works for both of you.

4. Ask About Their Concerns

Your stakeholder may have specific concerns related to either their responsibility, their role, or even the project in general. Take the time to ask and understand their concerns so you can address them head on. If you are in a matrix organization where this stakeholder does not report to you, work directly with their Functional Manager to resolve any issues. Chances are if your stakeholder feels that their concerns are being proactively addressed, they will be more inclined to engage with you on the project.


Within this 4-Step Process, you’ll notice a common theme of addressing your stakeholders goals, desires, and responsibilities from their point of view. A difficult stakeholder may require more of your attention to address their specific needs, but if you can hone this skill it will pay dividends!