ATD Blog

Seven Guiding Principles of Stakeholder Engagement

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Much has been said about stakeholder management. But it is easy to miss opportunities to accelerate the level of engagement with your stakeholders—and to make sure they are the right ones, too. To help keep you focused on deciding how to engage and whom to engage with, here are seven stakeholder management principles that, if followed, will move you faster toward your goals.

  1. Identify all stakeholders. A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest (positive or negative) in what you are trying to achieve. Anyone who is going to win when you win, or lose when you win, is a stakeholder. Even if their loss is simply having to do their job a different way, they could be a very important stakeholder. This makes for a very large group of people.
  2. Focus on stakeholders who have the most power to help or hinder your goal. This narrows the field down to help you focus your engagement on the stakeholders who are most important. Remember: It is also a good idea to check out those stakeholders who have the greatest interest in your result—even if they don’t have the power, they might work quite hard on your behalf to make it happen (or not, as the case may be).
  3. Be very clear about what you want from each stakeholder. You may not necessarily communicate your wants directly with them, but at least you need to know specifically what you are shooting for.
  4. Connect stakeholders’ interests to your goals. To engage positive stakeholders, you need to connect their agenda with your goal, and disconnect with negative ones. Those with a positive interest in your success will work harder for you if they can see how it serves their purpose and helps them achieve their goals. Conversely, with negative interest, you really need to remove yourself from their radar.
  5. Increase your goal’s priority. To achieve higher engagement, you need to increase your goal's priority in the mind of positive stakeholders, and lessen it with negative stakeholders. Yes, this is a selling job. Curiously, you might gain quite a bit from proactively engaging those who have a negative interest. Rather than leave them guessing, show them how it doesn’t affect them.
  6. Don't always deal directly with stakeholders. Often, the most powerful people will be inaccessible (or at least not readily available) as they stride around the corridors of power. That doesn’t mean they are not a stakeholder; it’s just that you have to be more creative in your approach. Seek out others who influence them and engage with them instead. Then, these intermediaries can influence on your behalf.
  7. Attain enough agreement to secure goal. You don't have to get all stakeholders to agree on everything—just enough to secure your goal. As a result, how you define your goal is a nuance to consider. If you want to get a long-term sustainable result, you will need to get more stakeholders to agree than if your result is a simple one-off piece of work never to be repeated.

There is one other principle to stakeholder engagement that seems a little too obvious to be mentioned in the list, but makes a fine point to end on: Stakeholder engagement is not a spectator sport. You have to get out there and do it. Don’t overthink. Instead, take the risk of overacting.

About the Author

Colin Gautrey is an international author, trainer, and executive coach specializing in the practical use of power and influence in the workplace. Business schools and MBA programs have shown strong interest in his work, and he has presented to many, including London Business School, Warwick Business School (where he earned an MBA), Wharton, CASS, UMIST, AGSM, and more. He has published five books on leadership, including Influential Leadership: A Leader's Guide to Getting Things Done and A Project Manager's Guide to Influence.  You can find out more about his work at the Influence Blog (

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