Project Management – 3 Ways To Map A Stakeholder

What’s the biggest source of uncertainty in any project? Is it insufficient resources? Overtight deadlines? Of course not. It’s people. Or, as they’re known in project management terms: stakeholders.

Is everybody a stakeholder? Naturally not. A ‘stakeholder’ is any person that has an interest in, a connection to, or is affected by… your project. So, not everybody but still probably a sizeable group, and a group that you need to factor in to your planning if you want them to become allies instead of roadblocks. Engaging with stakeholders appropriately gives you:

  • A better understanding of how different stakeholder groups might impact the project.
  • An opportunity to incorporate people’s input and concerns in your plan.
  • Early identification of potential problem areas.
  • A smoother-running project overall.

The key is knowing a) who your stakeholders are, and b) what their precise interest/concern/input to your project is likely to be. It’s all in the mapping, and what follow are three ways to do just that…

Interest & Influence

This is about defining different stakeholder groups very simply, based on their interest in the project (what do they need from the project – and what does the project need from them?) and their influence over its outcomes (what degree of control or influence are they able to exercise over the project). Map your individual stakeholders onto a 2×2 matrix and consider as follows:

grid 1

  • High interest / High influence – the primary focus of your stakeholder engagement strategy, their satisfaction – and therefore support – is crucial to the success of the project.
  • Low interest / High influence – they may have little to do with the practicalities but their satisfaction may be important to ensure that they do not wield their influence to the project’s detriment.
  • High interest / Low influence – though they are unlikely to derail the change process, a high level of interest can be leveraged to engage the help of this group where needed.
  • Low interest / Low influence – these stakeholders will probably require the least input and effort but stay in touch because their different perspective may offer the occasional valuable insight.

Mapping your different stakeholders into these four basic categories gives you insight and guidance into how best to engage and communicate with them. This simple model is sufficient for small or straightforward projects, but for larger affairs, you may need a more detailed mapping tool…

‘Salient’ Mapping

The Salient model takes the same mapping principle but uses a more detailed (and therefore, for complex projects, more useful) framework based on mapping stakeholders according to three key factors:

  • Power – the influence or authority they have over the project and its outcomes.
  • Legitimacy – is a stakeholder’s involvement in the project ‘legitimate’ in light of their own duties and responsibilities?
  • Urgency – whatever their needs or requirements in relation to the project, how time-sensitive are they?

Commonly shown as a three-way Venn diagram, there are seven different combinations of the three factors, defining your stakeholders:
grid 2

  • Dormant – (power) – can easily impact the project but have little interest in doing so.
  • Discretionary – (legitimacy) – their requirements should be included but they have little influence over how.
  • Demanding – (urgency) – they may have little influence or legitimacy, but they may influence others depending on how they requirements are met.
  • Dominant – (power, legitimacy) – to be managed closely although they are not your ‘core’ group.
  • Dangerous – (power, urgency) – little legitimate involvement but they have the ability to cause problems if unsatisfied; treat with caution.
  • Dependent – (urgency, legitimacy) – little influence over the project but need careful engagement; capable of increasing their power through collaboration.
  • Definitive – (power, legitimacy, urgency) – require close attention and engagement; the ‘core’ group.

However, neat as these two models are, within any stakeholder group there will be a range of attitudes, and therefore behaviours. These can be mapped in a similar fashion using the following model…

Energy Investment

This simple 2×2 matrix offers a way of categorising attitudes and behaviours among stakeholders. Use it to identify likely responses to your project and adjust your engagement and communications strategy accordingly.

  • Walking Dead (low involvement, negative attitude) – These ‘old dogs’ are unwilling to learn new tricks. They are nostalgic for the way things were and any project means change and is therefore suspicious. Focus your communication on project benefits that are specific to their personal circumstances.
  • Spectators (low involvement, positive attitude) – Cautiously positive but reluctant to take any initiative, these stakeholders can be motivated through early involvement.
  • Cynics (high involvement, negative attitude) – This group may actively look for ways to undermine the project (hence their other name, ‘well-poisoners’). The faults they find may be genuine, but their manner of expression often requires careful handling if you are to turn them into an ally.
  • Players (high involvement, positive attitude) – The opposite of a cynic and likely to be an enthusiastic early adopter of the project. Potentially ideal ‘change agents’.

In this model, there is opportunity for movement, depending on your engagement strategy. Attitudes can be changed or modified. Cynics have plenty of energy and if they can accept the project’s positives, they can become Players. Likewise, Spectators are in need of motivation, and the Walking Dead? Well, by all means invest your energy in engaging them, but beware of neglecting the other, more positive stakeholders.


If you’re interested in digging deeper into stakeholder mapping other aspects of project management, check out our wide range of project management training. Or give us a call on 01582 714285. We’re here to help.

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