Managing stakeholders: Going beyond conventional wisdom


By Omar Muhammad


Abid Mustafa 


There is no doubt that managing the expectations of stakeholders throughout the project life cycle is critical to the success of the project. Successive project surveys consistently highlight the importance of stakeholder management as integral to project success. Furthermore, there is a plethora of literature on how to identify and engage stakeholders during the course of the project work, and how to effectively manage stakeholders to influence project outcomes.

However, the existing literature on stakeholder management is of little use, especially when it comes to very large complex projects, where a multitude of stakeholders are engaged — many of them from diverse backgrounds and different nationalities. What exacerbates the management of stakeholder expectations is that some stakeholders choose not to voice their expectations, and if they do they are extremely ambiguous about what they want from the project, and to what extent they are willing to provide support to the project team. Additionally, stakeholders are quick to seek refuge in the organisation’s political correctness culture to conceal their real motives, thereby impeding the progress of the project.

In such situations, tools such as stakeholder maps, stakeholder influence matrices and stakeholder registers rarely get used beyond the scoping phase, and the project team is forced to deal with stakeholders in a reactive manner without an established strategy. The purpose of this article is to set out several techniques that can be employed on complex projects either individually or collectively, and in any combination to effectively manage stakeholders.

Differentiate between motives and expectations

This is easier said than done. What motivates stakeholders is not the same as what they expect from projects. Expectations are usually collected through face-to-face interviews or by filling in specific forms.  The onus is upon stakeholders to be forthcoming about their expectations, whereas motives are concealed and they are rarely discussed. Unlike expectations, motives are the real drivers behind the way stakeholders think, act and behave. While expectations are just expressions of intent captured at the outset of the project, and usually remain static during the course of the project work — unless of course the stakeholder is changed or has a change of heart.


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About the Authors

flag-uaepmwj17-dec2013-muhammad-mustafa-IMAGE1 MUHAMMADOmar Muhammad

United Arab Emirates

Omar Muhammad is the Vice President of National Wholesale and PMO at du Telecom, a telecom operator in the UAE. He is a project expert in delivering complex transformation programmes in the telecommunications industry.


flag-uaeabid-mustafaAbid Mustafa

United Arab Emirates  

Abid Mustafa is a director of corporate programs for du Telecom, a telecom operator in the UAE.  Abid is a seasoned professional with 20 years’ experience in the IT and Telecommunications industry, specializing in enhancing corporate performance through the establishment and operation of executive PMOs and delivering tangible benefits through the management of complex transformation programs and projects. He is the author of In the Age of Turbulence: How to Make Executive PMOs Successful, available in paperback and on Kindle. Mr. Mustafa is currently based in Dubai and can be contacted at [email protected].