In complex projects a more meaningful relationship with stakeholders is needed to identify and respond to emergent risks and opportunities. At its core, the practice of interacting with stakeholders around projects needs to expand from a focus on stakeholder management – and a view of stakeholders simply as entities to be ‘communicated with’, ‘changed’ or ‘managed’ – to a focus on genuine stakeholder engagement. Here stakeholders are acknowledged as entities with legitimate interests and rights that require authentic engagement and co-creation so that the project creates optimal value for all stakeholders.
The increase in projects delivered by consortia, and the growth of digital communication and social media has decentralised the sharing of knowledge and information about a project beyond the core project team and expanded the concept of project stakeholders. This is particularly relevant and impactful for projects conducted with high public visibility such as infrastructure, mining, oil and gas, defence and public services. However, it also has impact for organisational change and transformation projects through employee discussion and chat groups. Individuals and groups with an opinion for or against a project can rapidly connect with others where previously this might have been harder to do. Through social media, quite diverse stakeholders in terms of background, objectives and ideologies are able to form coalitions with a shared interest in either making a project progress or causing it to be abandoned.
“A leader of complex projects must hold together a range of different stakeholder groups through continuous dialogue to shape meaning-making and emotional responses while moving a project from concept to realisation.
Consequently, project leaders have to adapt their stakeholder identification, prioritisation and communication approaches to a faster, more fluid and unpredictable world where information flows are less able to be controlled, and where stakeholders with little resources and influence can suddenly become more relevant and powerful as part of a large and more dynamic network underpinned by social media connectivity.
A leader of complex projects must hold together a range of different stakeholder groups through continuous dialogue to shape meaning-making and emotional responses while moving a project from concept to realisation. When we build and connect influence networks, people become more aligned and less easily weakened by division. The impossible becomes possible when people have strong connections and actions.