7 roles for stakeholdersSammy worked hard to be a good leader to the nine people in his department.

He was diligent in providing coaching, recognition, and advice. His door was always open to his team. He delegated work assignments to develop new skills. Sammy even handled his people’s work himself when they were sick or on vacation.

His direct reports loved him.

His boss didn’t want to promote him.

His peers and his boss’s boss had no idea who he was.

Sammy was great at managing and leading down. He wasn’t good at leading up, across, or diagonally within the organization.

Powerful, effective, and inspirational leadership requires functioning with a 360-degree orientation.

Stakeholder management, a tool long used in IT and project management, is a positive approach that all leaders—no matter their function—can use to build and maintain that far-reaching perspective.

Every decision, project, strategy, etc., that you make or do impacts others, and that makes them your stakeholders.

Stakeholder:  a person, group, or organization that has interest or concern in an organization. ~BusinessDictionary.com

Your stakeholders are the employees who do the work you assign to them.

Your stakeholders may approve your project or agree to fund it.

They may provide resources or remove barriers.

They may sponsor you and your work.

Sometimes they’re the folks who can directly or indirectly influence the outcomes you’re seeking.

To be successful in leading up, down, across, and diagonally, you need to identify and involve the right people in the right way. Once you know what goal you want to achieve, there’s a whole spectrum of stakeholder engagement to consider.

7 roles your stakeholders fill


Role Contribution
Act Doing the work
Inform Staying updated on developments, decisions, and progress
Permit Providing authorization or permission before work begins or for changes; accepts work performed
Consult Offering advice or input as a subject matter expert; giving data or relevant opinions
Sponsor Empowering work; serves as thought and opinion leader; secures resources or removes barriers
Partner Agreeing voluntarily to participate formally or informally in the work in the absence of a job requirement to do so
Advocate Supporting, recommending, or defending—in public—a particular cause or policy
BIG tip:  Don’t feel compelled to turn this analysis into a full-blown exercise in complexity, complete with a whole host of forms, graphs, spreadsheets, computer models, and 37 meetings. An hour or so of dedicated thought and reflection will allow you to determine who plays what role.

For his book, Why Decisions Fail, Paul Nutt analyzed over 400 strategic decisions. He discovered that over half of those decision failed (defining failed as not being implemented, being only partially implemented, or producing poor results) “in large part because decision-makers failed to attend to interests and information held by key stakeholders.”

Determining who has rights in what you’re doing, responsibilities for doing it, and who will share in the reward/revenue/return helps you gain an appreciation of the perspectives and contributions of others in what you’re doing.

It all boils down to figuring out who and what matters, and then making it so.

What’s been your experience in engaging stakeholders?


Image source before quote:  morgueFile.com