What Stakeholder Management should learn from Sales and Marketing


Advances in Project Management Series

Jake Holloway

United Kingdom

Technical capabilities aside, the difference between a good and a bad project manager often comes down to how effectively they manage the people that have influence over their project – or on it’s perception (i.e. stakeholders.) And to be clear about what I mean about ‘managing stakeholders’, it’s not simply about informing, engaging and involving them. It is about persuading and motivating them, handling their objections, forming and changing their opinions, getting them to influence others and even marginalising them if they are becoming obstructive. These outcomes, I will argue, need the discipline of Project Management to adopt some of the skills and processes from Sales and Marketing.

This is particularly true inside matrix organisations. These are organisations that run multiple projects which compete for resources and have to move work packages through functional teams. The functional managers and resource owners become powerful stakeholders who can cause significant issues if not motivated to support the project in question. Project managers really have their work cut out in driving their project through a series of functions in order to achieve progress.

Likewise, senior managers around an organisation running a portfolio of projects, even if not directly connected, may have very high levels of influence over a project and how it is perceived, particularly if they want it to fail for professional or personal reasons.

The challenge of managing stakeholders

Many a new project manager, with their PM certificate in one hand and a copy of an authoritative project management textbook in the other, has come up against difficult stakeholder behaviour which completely baffles and sometimes even terrifies them. For example;

  • Teams that are demotivated, or worse
  • Senior Executives who want to kill the project (“anti-sponsors”)
  • Functional managers who appear to arbitrarily delay their work, or execute it poorly
  • Gatekeepers who obstruct progress, seemingly without reason
  • Internal customers or users who will not ‘accept’ or sometimes actively do not want the project deliverables
  • Sponsors who want to achieve impossible deadlines with half the cost and the wrong or inadequate resources

The textbooks, methodologies and consultants, it appears, don’t really tell project managers how to deal with these people.


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower in the UK. Information about the Gower series can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/advancesinprojectmanagement.



About the Author                                                         


pmwj39-Oct2015-Holloway-PHOTOJake Holloway

Xceed Group
United Kingdom

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Jake Holloway of the Xceed Group has worked as a Project Manager, Management Consultant and Sales & Marketing Director. He has managed and sponsored 100’s of projects and portfolios, led the creation of new products and businesses and has been involved in designing, building and implementing project management systems. Jake is a co-author of “A Practical Guide to Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders”, available from Gower Publishing.