Stakeholder Engagement, Not Stakeholder Management

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Projects are about people. There is little escaping that fact, although many of our processes and methodologies pay more attention to what we do rather than who we do it with. One of the most commonly used terms in project management to describe people is “stakeholder”, which is an odd word (unless you are fully immersed in the oeuvre of Joss Whedon, and then it means something completely different).

It is also not a word that most of us would routinely apply to ourselves. Greet someone in a meeting, at a conference, on an airplane or even at a cocktail party, and you might introduce yourself by including your job title. Or you might mention the fact that you are “a project manager”. Or, if you’ve been hanging around with IT types for too long, you might refer to yourself as a “subject matter expert” (but we’ll leave that rant for another day). By all accounts, however, I’ve never had someone walk up and introduce themselves to me by saying, “Hi! I’m Susan! I’m a stakeholder!”

Despite this, it’s a word that we as project managers frequently apply to others. If we parse it down to its essential details, what we wind up with is the components of “stake” and “holder”. According to Merriam-Webster, stake can be defined as “a pointed piece of wood or other …

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