Managing Difficult Stakeholders


By Sharon De Mascia

United Kingdom


We have all experienced them haven’t we, the stakeholder who is always negative about every aspect of the project or those stakeholders who just fail to deliver their elements of the project plan? Equally, there are those stakeholders who are downright unpleasant or even hostile. This article looks at why stakeholders can appear difficult and what you can do to manage them more effectively, promote harmonious project relationships and manage those stakeholder relationships that are already difficult.


Working with difficult stakeholders increases the stress levels of the project manager and the project team. It can also create more work, in having to chase up difficult stakeholders and invest time in trying to encourage them to contribute their element of the project plan. These consequences are bad enough but it can get much worse than this. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a global construction company who were working in partnership with a local authority to deliver a PFI (Private Finance Initiative) build. There had been some tensions between the Construction Company and the Local Authority and by the time that they brought me in, there had been a total relationship breakdown which meant that no work was progressing and the plant was standing idle, at great cost. The moral of this tale then is that difficult stakeholders need to be effectively managed from the outset and on an ongoing basis.


Usually when we talk about stakeholders being difficult it is because they are not agreeing with us or they are not doing what we want them to do and so we think of them as being ‘difficult’. Stakeholders, however, may appear difficult for a variety of reasons e.g.:

1, The stakeholder may not have a sufficient understanding of the project or may be motivated towards a different agenda/goal.

2, There may have been insufficient action to engage the stakeholder and make them feel that they are a valued part of the project.

3, The stakeholder may have a different way of working which is at odds with the project team e.g. perhaps he is more pedantic or more of a risk taker.


We often assume that people understand our aspirations and plans. Equally, when we talk to stakeholders, we assume that we understand what their aspirations and goals are. Sadly, both ends of this equation can lead to misunderstandings and conflict with stakeholders. This is something that is easily resolved by using our ears more and asking the right questions to check our understanding.

When we explain things to other people, we often do it quickly and fail to take the time to check that our stakeholders have the same understanding of the project that we have? Usually, we chat to people, send out the project documentation and assume that everyone has a full understanding of what will happen and when. In an ideal world, this would work perfectly, however, we are all busy and we do not read everything that is sent to us. Equally, we process all information through our own lens or view of the world and this can lead to very different understandings and often, misunderstandings.

Consequently, if you want to start a project off on the right foot and minimise the chances of stakeholders turning into ‘difficult’ stakeholders then you need to check that you have a shared understanding. The best way to do this is to talk to your stakeholders and ask open questions to explore their understanding of the project e.g. what difference do you think this project will make to your department/the organisation?   Listening carefully to the answers given in response to your open questions will give you a feel for the extent to which the stakeholder understands the project. Listening is a crucial skill that we all tend to do badly on a day by day basis, in that:


To read entire article (click here)



About the Author


Photo©John Cassidy The Headshot Guy®www.theheadshotguy.co.uk07768 401009Sharon De Mascia

United Kingdom


Sharon De Mascia
is the Director of Cognoscenti Business Psychologists Ltd. She is a chartered occupational psychologist and a chartered scientist. She is an expert in Wellbeing, Leadership and Change/Project Management. She has over 25 years’ experience of delivering change/project management, wellbeing, leadership, entrepreneurship and other organizational initiatives across all sectors e.g. Santander, The BBC, Vita Group, The Highways Agency, NHS, Movember, and ATL etc.

Sharon is a published author and an executive coach as well as being a supervisor for the global MBA at Manchester Business School. Sharon is Prince2 qualified and is a guest lecturer at two Universities i.e. the Manchester Metropolitan University and the Liverpool John Moores University. She also teaches Project Leadership at the University of Reykjavik. She is a member of the British Psychological Society ‘Health and Wellbeing group’ and a committee member of the Association of Business Psychologists. She is also the Organizer for the CIPD ‘Signet’ group for Independent Consultants.

Sharon can be contacted at:

[email protected]