Stakeholder Management: Delivering a Successful Project

The term ‘stakeholders’ is a flexible one. It seems that if you try hard enough, anyone could be deemed a stakeholder in any project. But in terms of development projects, what does the term ‘stakeholder’ mean? And how do you overcome the challenges that this group presents, in order to effectively manage them?

Identifying stakeholders: A crucial first step

A stakeholder can be considered anybody who can influence or is impacted by a development project. Key stakeholders are generally our clients, our project team and approval authorities, while sometimes peripheral (though still important) stakeholders include the communities, the end-users and the customers that the project is going to serve.

Key stakeholders are initially identified to us by our client. We then go through a process to investigate those we need to speak to, those who’ll be making the decisions, and any other parties who will be impacted by the project. This process has quite a formal structure, with specific tools and approaches generally used. Communication is key: starting a conversation tends to reveal influencers, detractors, and anyone else who might be impacted by the project.

The most significant stakeholders are those driving the project forward – the developers and financial backers, or those holding it back Governmental approving authorities and end users also play an important part. Finally, there's the stakeholders who help facilitate the development of the project; the utility authorities, designers, builders, contractors, architects and planners.

What are the challenges presented by stakeholders?

The sheer number of stakeholders involved in any given project means that communication can be a challenge. Stakeholders form a diverse and complex network that can be difficult to reach and manage. Methodically categorising stakeholders is a must: this helps to prioritise communication, ensuring your attention is given to those who need it most.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is bringing the stakeholder along on the journey. They may have conflicting opinions regarding the project. Community groups are a perfect example – we use NIMBY as an acronym for the ‘not in my backyard’ groups who have a negative view of any sort of development. There's an understandable reluctance for people to accept change.

The challenge is to get people to understand the benefits of change, and the importance of this is often neglected. The bullish approach of ‘this is what's happening’ or ’like it or lump it’ is often the approach – but that just gets people's backs up. The challenge here is winning people over; to help them see the positives of the development.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes stakeholders aren’t at all interested or engaged. They may not see speaking with you as a priority, and simply having a conversation can prove to be a big challenge. Thankfully, at Arcadis we are a multi-disciplinary business with a great depth of experience in dealing with stakeholders, so we are generally able to overcome these challenges.

Overcoming stakeholder challenges

The aim should be to deliver a positive experience to all stakeholders. You should do your job in a way that sees the client or stakeholder wanting to do business with you again. You need to seek feedback and act on it, as this allows you to deal with issues before they become too big. You need a very organised approach that ensures focus.

As mentioned above, you should first identify who the stakeholders are, developing an exhaustive list of people who are going to be impacted by the project. Next you’ll need to prioritise these stakeholders by levels of interest and influence. Those with high levels of influence are a priority, so you’ll dedicate more time and effort to them. You’ll need to reassess your priorities from time to time, as they may change through the project.

Lastly is the communication and data sharing approach. This is always a challenge due to the sheer volume of data involved, the difficulty in managing it and then presenting it to a vast array of audiences. Our approach to overcoming these challenges at Arcadis involves utilising effective communication and data management tools, such as our GIS based central hub portals, which enable us to effectively share information across abroad network of stakeholders.

The Arcadis approach to stakeholder management

At Arcadis, we have a culture that lends itself to stakeholder management, as we put people first. We're not just focused on the objective of developing the projects – the human side of any development is a natural priority for us. This begins at the highest levels of the organisation and cascades down.

There's also depth and breadth to Arcadis. As a large organisation operating in multiple sectors, we have a huge amount of experience to draw on.

As consultants, we're expected to really ‘get’ and solve problems for our clients. We understand that a client's and a stakeholder’s needs are often different, and we manage that balance. Highlighting the importance of stakeholders to our clients is a big part of the process.

Our industry is now beginning to recognise that certain stakeholders can no longer be neglected and an extra level of understanding is required. If you give the appropriate attention to your stakeholders, you reap the reward of successful projects. Now more than ever, stakeholder management is fundamental to success.

I’m curious to hear about other people’s experiences with successful stakeholder management. What strategies have worked (or not worked) for you?

Marc Kefford

Manager, Urban Development and Regeneration +612 8907 9130 Ask me a question
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