Stakeholder Engagement: Identify and monitor changes to stakeholder roles and how they can impact the project

According to the PMBOK Guide, a stakeholder is “An individual, group, or organization that may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project, program, or portfolio (Project Management Institute, 2017).  Who or what actually falls within the definition is not as simple.  There are primary stakeholders, or those directly impacted by a project or program such as shareholders, employees, customers, vendors, government, and the public; and there are secondary stakeholders, or those who are influence or affected, yet have no direct engagement or connection to the project itself (Benn, Abratt, & O’Leary, 2016).  Both of these groups of stakeholders there is a clear dependency and connection among the organization’s project and the stakeholders.  The project can be directly impacted by either of these groups of stakeholders.  When looking at the power/interest grid, there is some level of power and interest among the stakeholders and the project.

Examples of secondary stakeholders who are mentioned in an article published in the South African Journal of Business Management are competitors, media, trade associations, and special interest groups (Benn, Abratt, & O’Leary, 2016).  Among these groups there is interest and power; however, the level of power is indirect and may not be as high as primary stakeholders. The media may definitely have interest in an organization’s project; positive or negative media coverage could have a positive or negative perception over the organization and may influence the project. Even though there is no direct involvement in the corporation or the project as a primary stakeholder, there is still some degree of relationship between the organization’s project and its secondary stakeholders. When comparing primary and secondary stakeholders on the power/interest grid, there is still some level of power and interest with these two groups.  What if there is a group or individual with high level of interest yet no power at all?

Power/Interest Grid

Dormant Stakeholders

In a 1997 article published in the Academy of Management Review, the authors introduce a salience model which illustrates seven categories of stakeholders in addition to identifying the non-stakeholder, an eighth category.  The salience model there are three overlapping circles, each circle representing: (1) power, (2) legitimacy, and (3) urgency.  Every circle describes a type of stakeholder and everywhere the circles overlap represents a stakeholder having two or three attributes resulting in a different typology of stakeholder.  The authors describe the media as only possessing power which gives them the attribute of the dormant stakeholder (Mitchell, Agle, & Wood, 1997).  Although they possess power, they lack legitimacy and would not be invited to stakeholder’s meeting to get input or instructions regarding the project.  However, since the media does possess power, the project manager and key stakeholders should keep them in mind when a project is designed and executed.  Any bad publicity could result in a legitimate stakeholder pull any support or funding for the project whereas good publicity could result in additional funding or support.

Source: Mitchell, R. K., Agle, B. R., & Wood, D. J. (1997). Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts. Academy of Management Review, 22(4), 853–886.

Demanding Stakeholder

With any project there is a possibility it could get the attention of a person or a group whom have no direct involvement with the project nor does the project have any clear effect on a particular person or group; those stakeholders, according to Mitchell, Agle, and Wood’s salience model, only possess urgency and are considered Demanding Stakeholders (Mitchell, Agle, & Wood, 1997). An example the authors give would be an individual or a small group of protestors.  They have no legitimacy or power over the project; yet, they have the attention of the project’s key stakeholders.  In a journal article by Ben, Abratt, and O’Leary, they explain that the demands of a stakeholder possessing urgency will only be met if they possess another attribute such as power or legitimacy (Benn, Abratt, & O’Leary, 2016).

Authors Mitchell, Agle, and Wood, recognize the principle of dynamics in any project.  A stakeholder may possess a single attribute; that attribute is not solidified or absolute throughout the project.  In fact, a non-stakeholder could easily become a new stakeholder on a project and a key stakeholder could just as well become a non-stakeholder.  In some cases a change of a person’s role on the project could change that person’s stakeholder attribute, like in a case where a new stakeholder is either hired or removed from the project.  Also, stakeholder possessing one or two attributes picks up a new or additional attribute could change the role of the stakeholder.  Using the example of the media, they may be a non-stakeholder; however, if the proposed project has significant negative impact to the environment, it could catch the attention of the media and there is a risk of bad publicity for the organization.  Same goes for a single peaceful protestor expanding to a large group with significant resources terrorizing and sabotaging the project. Such as the case of a single protestor gaining followers, a person or group once classified as only possessing urgency then gains power. Possessing both urgency and power are described as Dangerous Stakeholders (Mitchell, Agle, & Wood, 1997).

Stakeholders in Public Health

During the COVID-19 pandemic there became a need to analyze the relationship between the community, commerce, public, private and healthcare organizations.  Prior to the pandemic, there were projects and systems in place that linked patient’s electronic medical records (EMR) to relevant providers and organizations; these systems were known as community health information network (CHIN) and the regional health information networks/organizations (RHINO) (Tan & Cobb, 2010).  The sharing of patient’s EMR was limited to medical groups or networks with the capability to expand to other organizations which may require such information such as gyms, schools, and universities (Tan & Cobb, 2010).  This sharing of information was voluntary and restricted to organizations necessary to a person’s health and wellbeing.  In comparison to traditional paper charts and medical records, an EMR is much quicker to access and transfer in the event of an emergency or when a patient is not responsive to provide information such as blood type or potential allergies.  Vaccinations are also part of a person’s EMR which a school or university may require prior to admissions.  When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, many governments implemented restrictions and mandates limiting the liberties enjoyed by individuals and businesses.  As vaccines began to roll out organization that are typically not stakeholders to public health organizations, healthcare providers, or health information systems (HIS) in regards to creating systems and recommendations, began making a lot of noise.  Places like airports, restaurants, bars, and lounges, which typically recognize public health officials as their stakeholders, began demanded public health officials design their HIS to function with their demands like sharing a person’s proof of vaccination.

Dynamic Attributes

When public health information systems were being designed to collaborate and share information to other providers, bars, lunges, and restaurants were not considered stakeholders.  During the COVID-19 pandemic when vaccines began rolling out, suspicion rose that there are people who are not vaccinated were also not following precautionary guidelines when restrictions and mandates began lifting.  This resulted in another wave of positive COVID-19 cases.  Some businesses where people congregate indoors are starting to demand proof of vaccine changing their attribute from a non-stakeholder to an urgent or demanding stakeholder.  Weeks later, governments are starting to mandate or looking into mandating individuals show proof of vaccination prior to entering establishments like indoor restaurants and lounges.  While bars, restaurants and lounges may not have power over the public health system, the government gave them legitimacy over public health projects.  Now those establishments have two attributes: (1) power and (2) urgency making them a Dependent Stakeholder (Mitchell, Agle, & Wood, 1997).

In less than two year organizations who were once non-stakeholders gained two attributes changing their characteristics to a dependent stakeholder.  This rapid change can occur in any project among any type of industry or business.  With the risk of rapid dynamic changes, it is important to identify stakeholders early in a project and monitor any changes within a project or organization often and frequently.  Ignoring the current and dynamic changes of any stakeholders could cause problems for any project.  It is also important to keep an eye on risks and how a non-stakeholder could easily become a stakeholder through government legislation, regulations, and mandates.  Once a new stakeholder enters into a project, it increases a risk of changing one or all the baselines to the project.

Works Cited

Benn, S., Abratt, R., & O’Leary, B. (2016). Defining and identifying stakeholders: Views from management and stakeholders. South African Journal of Business Management, 47(2), 1–11.

Mitchell, R. K., Agle, B. R., & Wood, D. J. (1997). Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts. Academy of Management Review, 22(4), 853–886.

Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.

Tan, J., & Cobb, F. P. (2010). Adaptive Health Management Information Systems: Concepts, Cases, & Practical Applications, 3rd Edition. Sudbury, Massachusetts, United States of America: Jones & Barlett.

Author: Edmund J. Martinez, MBA, MPH, PMP