Business projects almost always create change, which can also bring about significant disruption, stress and fear. That anxiety can translate into difficult project stakeholders – not to mention at-risk projects and unmet goals. Knowing how to turn these problematic partners into committed collaborators is essential skill all project managers should master. Here’s how.

According to a report by the Project Management Institute (PMI), Managing Change in Organisations: A Practice Guide, “Trust is identified as particularly important in obtaining support for and participation in change efforts. Executives and employees see change differently: (a) senior managers typically see change as an opportunity for both the business and themselves; and (B) employees typically see change as disruptive, intrusive, and likely to involve loss. When managing change, it’s essential to identify the key issues, such as loss of turf, attachment, meaning, future, competency-based, and/or control.”

There is a strong correlation between stakeholder management and risk management. Without the buy-in and full commitment from stakeholders, projects, regardless of their success factors, are at high risk for failure. To increase the chance of successful project outcomes, we’ve identified seven considerations and actions that can be taken to reduce the chance of unwanted behaviour.

1. Timing is everything

At the beginning of the project, identify key stakeholders and identify the “what’s in it for them” proposition in order to gain their buy-in and commitment. Aside from management direction, stakeholders will want to know their contributions and time are of true value to the project success and that they too will derive a benefit from it.

2. Establish trust

Remain accessible and engage in open and frequent communication with stakeholders, allowing them the opportunity to voice concerns, be heard, and address important issues in a timely manner. Ensuring ongoing, and inclusive dialog with stakeholders creates an atmosphere of trust and allows for faster identification and resolution to issues as they arise. To gain stakeholder trust, as a project manager (PM) you must demonstrate you are trustworthy, respect stakeholder’s ideas and abilities, and resist the urge to micromanage.

Remember buy-in can additionally be influenced by secondary parties; allow project leads to convey the project’s purpose and importance to their own teams to ensure ancillary support, as needed, since workloads may also increase indirectly for other team members.

Be clear when conveying the purpose and scope of the project, establishing roles and expectations, and identifying deliverables and final outcomes. Provide stakeholders with an awareness of how their contributions, directly and indirectly, impact the success or failure of the project, and ultimately company goals.

Provide stakeholders with as much information and resources to enable them to be successful. Again, remain available to  them for guidance as needed, and continually solidify objectives, expectations, timing and any changes to the scope of the project.  

4. How to address difficult stakeholders

Despite all efforts to mitigate disputes with difficult stakeholders, there will be times when issues will crop up. In response, there are things that can be done to resolve issues, regain support and buy-in, and move ahead in a positive way.

These may be just a few of the stakeholder behaviours that can be encountered within various stages of the project lifecycle.

Types of stakeholder behaviours

  • The passive aggressive stakeholder may say they are in support of the project, yet object or create obstacles to derail or delay it at every opportunity. They may consistently and unnecessarily find issue with other stakeholder’s input or contributions; creating additional unnecessary work all the while verbalising their commitment to the project.
  • The antagonist or intimidator may initiate arguments with other stakeholders or subtly or overtly put down their contributions, creating an environment of animosity and mistrust among team members.
  • The saboteur can be just as devastating, if not more because the damage is done behind the scenes and it’s harder to isolate and resolve. Stakeholders can be quietly manipulated long before the effects are noticed and identified.
  • The victim of circumstance may look to blame others for work not completed or missed deadlines and unsuccessful outcomes. It is important to note, that there may be times where missed outcomes can be due to the fault of others, but it’s important to know when this is really the case.

You may have encountered other non-productive behaviors – or even been guilty of some of these yourself at one time or another. It’s important to note that stakeholders often bring valuable knowledge and experience to the table. Some opposition can be a great thing, if the purpose is to offer up different perspectives, present alternatives and mitigate risks for the good of the project. The difficult part is being able to determine the stakeholder’s true intent.

5. Determine the root cause

Identify stakeholder motivations for the difficult behavior. It’s also important to identify the root cause of the issue, discuss it with the stakeholder directly and gain their feedback. Sometimes the cause may be something that impacts only one stakeholder, or it may impact other stakeholders.

Work on a resolution with the stakeholder that does not negatively impact others or impede the success of the project. It is important to note, there will not always be a solution that meets with the approval of a difficult stakeholder, and during those situations it’s critical to respectfully convey the reason for another decision in order to enlist their continued support and commitment to the overall business objectives.

6. Deal with it now, be direct

Ignoring difficult stakeholder behavior is not a strategy that will work; this is not the time to be indirect either. The behavior may be a sign of bigger underlying issues may have existed from the beginning and may snowball later. Take the time to immediately and directly determine the cause with the stakeholder, find an appropriate resolution and move ahead. Remain fair, respectful, objective, and professional, and remember to keep the project objectives within focus.

7. Involve the stakeholder in the resolution

In order for a resolution to be successful, the stakeholder will need to be accountable for their past and future behavior and actions, in relation to their contributions, and how they impact the team and the project. Have the stakeholder assist you in coming up with some solutions that will enable them to re-establish buy-in and commitment to the project.  It will also be important to ensure the solutions are implemented and measured, and do not change the desired goals and objectives of the business.

Without understanding why a stakeholder has become difficult or why buy-in has been lost, it’s impossible to successfully proceed with a project without continued friction. That said, there may be times when despite all efforts by a PM to resolve issues, the stakeholder may simply have no intention of working cohesively with the team. In situations like this, difficult decisions may need to be made.

As projects generally create change and that change can bring about stress, fear, and significant disruption, organisations will increasingly rely on project managers to know how to transform difficult stakeholders into engaged and committed stakeholders for successful projects and business results.

Reference: Moira Alexander



  • "Casseo was engaged to provide both Programme and Project Management services to Capita Life & Pensions Services (Ireland) Ltd to define, plan, manage and control the delivery of a suite of initiatives to support the Companies strategy to be the Business Process Outsourcer of choice in the International and Domestic Life & Pensions market sector. In addition to the Programme Management assignments, Casseo also took on responsibility for the project management and delivery of specific risk and efficiency projects incorporating both business and IT elements together with the Project management of the Capita Internal end-to-end bid process (bid negotiation to legal contracts and subsequent transition/integration). All assignments were approached and delivered in a very practical, professional and comprehensive manner and I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending or engaging Casseo should the opportunity arise at some point in the future." Operations Director, Capita Life & Pensions Services (Ireland) Ltd.

  • GE Financial Insurance (now Genworth Financial) engaged Casseo to assist in the delivery of a complex cross-functional project. The project entailed managing the IT Infrastructure and providing IT Support to assists a dedicated debtor recovery team that was set up specifically for the project. Based in Birmingham, Casseo leveraged excellent project management and technical skills to quickly win the confidence of the local team. Over a period of time, Casseo worked hand-in-hand with this team to deliver an outstanding result where significant more debts were recovered than had been thought possible.  I have no hesitation in recommending Casseo. Programme Manager, Genworth Financial

  •   "Casseo was engaged to provide Project Management services to ‘Prudential Europe Management Services Ltd’ and each project managed by Casseo during this period was delivered in a very professional and effective manner. Casseo also provided key project management services in the selection; negotiation and subsequent contract awarding of a strategic €160m Business Process Outsourcing agreement, which was in line with the Prudential business strategy. I would highly recommend Casseo to any organisation seeking experienced, practical and structured delivery of IT/Business change projects." Managing Director, Prudential Europe Management Services Ltd

  • " I engaged Casseo as I felt other vendors and recruiters just didn’t get our requirements and I haven’t been disappointed. We have established a solid partnership that I value greatly."

    Director of Change, International Financial Data Services (IFDS)

  •   "Casseo was engaged on a critical programme aimed at further enhancing Dell’s renowned Supply Chain model for outbound logistics in EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa). The Casseo team immediately hit the ground running and added immense value in augmenting the internal Dell IT team seeking to expedite this critical project.  They brought a strategic and realistic view of the possibilities for the project, as well as a professional focus on delivery of a quality product to agreed timescales.  Casseo managed a wide range of internal relationships, as well as cementing the external commitments needed from Dell’s partners to make the project a reality.  Throughout the project life cycle, Casseo always brought a practical perspective to the table when wrestling with a complex project, and executed creative and innovative solutions to ensure success. A very worthwhile partnership which I would eagerly recommend to those in search of external expertise and commitment in meeting their project commitments."

  • "When DB Schenker announced the $2BN acquisition of BAX Global, the integration of these two large organisations commenced in over 100 Countries across the globe. In Ireland, Schenker/Bax engaged the services of Casseo Ltd to project manage critical elements of this integration.  The brief included; IT Application integration, Network integration; IT Infrastructure upgrade and IT organisation design & recruitment.  Casseo Ltd played a vital role in each element of their brief, quickly familiarising themselves with the organisation locally and globally, building up positive and constructive working relationships with key staff. Over a nine month period through the mix of extensive experience, hard work, determination and the use of professional project management tools, Casseo Ltd made a huge contribution to the successful integration of Schenker/Bax in Ireland.   Throughout the project, Casseo Ltd provided regular progress reports to the project team and provided direct and clear advice on all occasions. Our decision to engage Casseo Ltd was recognised as a huge success, locally in Ireland and at our global HQ in Germany." Managing Director – Schenker Ireland Ltd, www.schenker.com

  • Casseo Ltd were selected by Pioneer Investments Management Ltd to play a very significant part in establishing the PMO in the organisation (processes, systems, data) and in gaining broad acceptance for the role of the PMO amongst the IT community. The Casseo associate made a major contribution to adapting and tailoring processes, at short notice, to accommodate the diverse elements involved in a very large and complex change programme and also came with a strong project management background, which, combined with a good knowledge of the asset management business, allowed him to be effective from the start. The Casseo associate has performed to a very high standard in a fast-moving, multinational environment and has interacted well with PM, IT and business groups.  I would have no hesitation in recommending Casseo Ltd to other suppliers who are seeking a quality Project Management partner. Programme Manager, Pioneer Investments Management Ltd

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  •   "Casseo partnered with Perot Systems to provide Programme and Project Management expertise across a number of projects in the UK Public sector and in the international education sector. These are complex Business Transformation and IT Change Programmes, aimed at improving efficiency and business outcomes and reducing costs through the implementation of new technology. Once engaged, Casseo’s associates hit the ground running, developing and implementing the plans, governance models and reporting disciplines thereby bringing significant improvements in the clarity and transparency of the progress being made in a short timeframe. The focus, work ethic and pragmatism of Casseo’s associates meant that as an executive sponsor you had confidence and clarity that the projects would be delivered and that our customers objectives and outcomes would be realised. The results and deliverables achieved speak for themselves across all engagements. I would strongly recommend Casseo to other organisations faced with requirements to deliver new projects or indeed faced with having to intervene or rescue in flight IT or Business Change programmes.” Director of Professional Services, Perot Systems

  • Casseo Ltd provided experienced IT contract personnel to Kindle Banking Systems. During this period Casseo personnel quickly assumed key roles in the development of the Bankmaster product portfolio, a leading open systems integrated banking solution that was deployed in over 200 banks worldwide. Casseo developed a partnership with Kindle Banking Systems that saw its personnel provide business critical services during a time of huge upheaval in the banking software market. Casseo services were also key in underpinning operations during the creation of Kindle’s Bangalore Software Services Centre. Technical competence, pragmatic project focus and flexible people are the hallmark of Casseo’s service delivery. I would strongly recommend Casseo and its team of IT professionals. Corporate Partnership Services Director, Kindle Banking Systems

  • TTM engaged Casseo at Board level to work with us particularly, but not exclusively, on Funding, Delivery Management and Sales Growth. The Casseo Interim Manager worked with us through two acquisition approaches, a funding round with Ulster Bank Ireland / Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS Commercial) UK and numerous Vendor Selection processes. Subsequently, we have appointed the Casseo Interim Managers as Non – Executive Chairman of TTM Ireland / TTM UK and as a direct result, our revenue has grown considerably allied by a massive reduction in our costs through various measures including Business Process Outsourcing and more structured Delivery Management. TTM’s Managing Director, our Senior Management team and our Project Managers have grown in confidence since their arrival at TTM. The Casseo Interim Manager’s rounded experience and qualifications has allowed him to truly work with the management team across all operational areas – financial management, sales channel development, project management, marketing support, technology vendor selection and in particular operational business management. We now have a much more structured outlook to the future and in our attempt to add more value to the bottom line the Casseo Interim Managers input will ultimately have an impact on the value of TTM as we move towards trade sale. Managing Director...[Read more]

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