By: Melissa Sykes, Ph.D.

Stakeholder engagement is a critical lever for ensuring project success, not just a box to tick on a project management checklist. It serves as a superpower for public sector projects, which are often federally and state-funded. Managing stakeholder engagement and influence is vital for achieving strategic goals and complying with legislative mandates. Yet, many project managers fail to fully leverage stakeholder engagement, missing opportunities that can transform project outcomes. The often-overlooked aspects of stakeholder engagement—advanced stakeholder analysis techniques, trends, and the role of leadership in motivating and harnessing stakeholder support—are frequently neglected but are key to project success in the public sector. Public sector projects, from infrastructure development to healthcare reform, involve a diverse array of stakeholders, including government agencies, elected officials, community groups, and the general public. 


Effective stakeholder engagement aligns project objectives with stakeholder expectations, mitigates risks, and ensures project success (Project Management Institute, 2021). Beyond the technical aspects, successful engagement requires a nuanced understanding of stakeholder dynamics and a strategic approach to leadership. Stakeholders have the power to significantly influence project outcomes; project managers need to have the savvy and skills to lead the “people work” to strategic success. When effectively engaged, stakeholders can provide critical insights, resources, and support that drive project success. Conversely, neglected stakeholders can become sources of resistance and conflict. Leveraging stakeholder support involves more than just communication; it requires building trust, fostering collaboration, and aligning stakeholder interests with project goals (Bourne, 2016).


There is often insufficient understanding of stakeholder trends and patterns, which are crucial for anticipating stakeholder needs and proactively managing relationships (Turner, 2016). Embracing technology for both outreach and communication is key to leveraging stakeholder engagement. In a world where opinions posted online can gain traction to derail projects and villainize movements, social media offers valuable opportunities for engaging stakeholders and building community support. It provides a platform for sharing updates, soliciting feedback, and engaging in real-time dialogue with stakeholders (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2022). It also allows project managers to conduct stakeholder research to understand needs, wants, and realities in a way that they may not be experiencing firsthand. Tools like project management software and online forums facilitate stakeholder engagement by providing platforms for communication, collaboration, and information sharing. These tools enhance transparency and streamline interactions (Greenberg & Jonas, 2021). Leveraging data analytics provides insights into stakeholder behaviors and preferences. Analyzing stakeholder data helps identify trends, measure engagement effectiveness, and make data-driven decisions to improve strategies (Taylor, 2020).


Despite its importance, stakeholder engagement is often underutilized in public sector projects. Several gaps in current practices need to be addressed to maximize project success. One significant gap is the lack of effective stakeholder analysis. Many project managers struggle to accurately identify and categorize stakeholders based on their influence and interest. This work requires conscious effort and time to not only research and learn about stakeholders at a deeper level but also demands reflective practice to recognize and identify personal bias when analyzing stakeholder realities. Advanced stakeholder analysis techniques are essential for identifying, assessing, and prioritizing stakeholders effectively. Three strategies that can encourage stakeholder success and proactively mitigate issues are the Power/Interest Grid, the Stakeholder Salience Model, and Social Network Analysis:

  • Power/Interest Grid: This tool helps categorize stakeholders based on their level of influence and interest. By mapping stakeholders onto a grid, project managers can prioritize engagement efforts and tailor communication strategies to each stakeholder’s needs (Olander & Landin, 2019).
  • Stakeholder Salience Model: This model evaluates stakeholders based on power, legitimacy, and urgency to determine their importance. It helps project managers identify which stakeholders require immediate attention and which can be engaged at a later stage (Mitchell, Agle, & Wood, 2020).
  • Social Network Analysis: This technique examines the relationships and interactions among stakeholders, helping project managers identify key influencers and potential collaboration areas. It provides a deeper understanding of stakeholder dynamics and supports the development of targeted engagement strategies (Yang, Shen, & Ho, 2021).


Examining case studies of public sector projects where less frequently utilized practices led to significant outcomes can illustrate how to apply stakeholder analysis for success.


Case Study 1

In a federally funded urban development project aimed at revitalizing a neglected neighborhood, the project team initially focused on engaging local government officials and business leaders. Meanwhile, community members were neglected and silenced. This critical oversight led to significant opposition from residents, resulting in project delays and increased costs. The team then conducted a comprehensive stakeholder analysis using the Power/Interest Grid. They identified key community leaders and involved them in planning workshops, which fostered community support and provided valuable insights that shaped the project. This approach reduced opposition and improved project acceptance.

  • Why This Technique? The Power/Interest Grid was underutilized initially due to the team’s focus on traditional power structures. This tool enabled them to recognize and prioritize community stakeholders whose influence was crucial for project success.
  • Application of Leadership Theory: The project manager employed transformational leadership principles, inspiring community stakeholders with a shared vision of revitalization and leveraging their emotional investment to drive project acceptance and support (Bass, 1985).


Case Study 2

A state-funded healthcare reform project aimed at improving mental health services faced challenges due to misalignment with stakeholder needs. The project team had primarily engaged healthcare providers and policymakers, overlooking patient groups and advocacy organizations that would be implementing the improved services with patients. The team conducted a Stakeholder Salience Model analysis to assess stakeholders based on power, legitimacy, and urgency. They identified key patient groups and advocacy organizations and engaged them in the planning process. This led to a more inclusive reform strategy, improving patient outcomes and stakeholder satisfaction.

  • Why This Technique? The Stakeholder Salience Model provided a structured approach to identifying and prioritizing overlooked stakeholders. This model is often underutilized because it requires an in-depth understanding of stakeholder attributes, which can be time-consuming but highly effective.
  • Application of Leadership Theory: The project manager used servant leadership principles, focusing on the needs of patient groups and advocacy organizations. By prioritizing their well-being and involving them in decision-making, the manager fostered a sense of ownership and support for the project (Greenleaf, 1977).


Though effective stakeholder engagement and analysis are essential and can generate positive momentum toward strategic goals, stakeholder management must move beyond analysis; it requires strong leadership to inspire and motivate stakeholders. Engaging stakeholders emotionally is crucial for building strong relationships and driving project success. Leaders who can harness the emotional aspects of stakeholder engagement—such as trust, loyalty, and commitment—can create a more supportive project environment. They are able to harness the collective power of the people and the outcomes of the work to achieve deep impact and success. This level of leadership involves actively listening to stakeholder concerns, addressing their needs, and fostering a sense of inclusion and value (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2013). 


Leadership theories such as transformational and servant leadership emphasize the importance of inspiring stakeholders and aligning their goals with the project vision. Transformational leaders motivate stakeholders by articulating a compelling vision and demonstrating commitment to shared goals (Northouse, 2019). Servant leaders, on the other hand, prioritize the needs of stakeholders, building trust and fostering a collaborative environment (Greenleaf, 1977). Building trust and credibility is the foundation of leadership—people don’t want to follow or work alongside individuals who they don’t feel are authentic or right for the job. Leaders should provide regular updates, share project successes and challenges, and solicit feedback to demonstrate transparency and accountability (Lee, 2020). Understanding stakeholders’ individual concerns and motivations is key to developing customized engagement plans (Smith, 2019). A project manager’s ability to articulate a clear and compelling vision is crucial for aligning stakeholder goals with project objectives. Communicating the project’s broader impact and benefits can inspire stakeholders to commit to and support the project. 


By prioritizing stakeholder engagement and continuously refining practices, project managers can ensure the success of project outcomes and contribute to the achievement of strategic goals in the public sector. Effective stakeholder engagement is key to delivering projects on time, within budget, and with a satisfied client. By building strong relationships with stakeholders and harnessing their support, we can navigate challenges more effectively and ensure successful project outcomes (Cameron, Sankaran, & Scales, 2020). Practitioners in the public sector must address gaps in current practices and adopt a leadership-focused approach. Through advanced stakeholder analysis, trend identification, and strong leadership, robust stakeholder relationships can be built to foster collaboration and achieve project goals.



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At Solarity, we believe that mastering these skills is key to driving project success and achieving strategic goals. Our expert-led classes provide practical, actionable insights and hands-on training that will empower you to build strong stakeholder relationships, navigate challenges with confidence, and lead your projects to success.

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Join us at Solarity and take the next step in your professional development journey. Learn how to effectively engage stakeholders, communicate with clarity and impact, and lead with confidence. Visit our website at Solarity: A HealthTech Solutions Company to explore our course offerings and register for our upcoming classes today!



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