Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders

What is the research?

This research will investigate the strategies that project managers adopt to deal effectively with difficult situations involving stakeholders. Project managers often encounter difficulties with some of the people they engage with during projects. For example, they can encounter apathy, mild resistance or outright hostility, which will cause the project manager varying degrees of discomfort and stress that need to be overcome for the engagement to be effective.

In general, there are alternative strategies that people can adopt to cope with difficult situations in the work environment. These strategies are open to project managers, though what is not clear is how specific and often unique characteristics of project environments, compared to work involving operations/business-as-usual, moderate the use and the effectiveness of these generic strategies. Hence the research will analyse the influence of different characteristics of projects on the strategies, including whether different strategies are utilised depending upon the type of stakeholder the project manager has to deal with.

Why is it important?

APM research found that “Competent project teams” is one of 12 Project Success Factors identified as playing a crucial role in the formation and delivery of the project, and a crucial element of this factor is the ability of the project manager to cope with difficulties they encounter arising out of managing relationships with others, both inside and outside of the team. In terms of the project team, a project manager who is not coping well might not be able to motivate and lead people effectively, resulting in negative behaviours by team members that inhibit success. 

In terms of external stakeholders, a failure to cope can lead to dysfunctional relationships with key stakeholders, such as clients, which will be to the detriment of the project. So a better understanding of how effective project managers cope with such difficulties, in different situations, is important to enhancing the competencies of project teams.

The research is also important in relation to the wider “Health & Wellbeing” agenda – which has been identified by the UK Research Councils as a major societal challenge and one of the main over-arching research themes for the UK. Projects are challenging for people and a project manager who is not effectively coping when engaging with different stakeholders can, in the worst-case scenarios, suffer extreme stress and anxiety, which can adversely affect their health and well-being (and also the health and well-being of those they manage in the team). 

There is also an additional financial costs in such situations. A recent EU report stated that “the cost related to stress and psychosocial risks at work paid by societies and organisations is considerable” and in financial terms this is a substantial cost to society and economy - in 2002, the European Commission calculated the costs of work-related stress, in the EU-15 at €20 billion a year. 

Who is the intended audience?

Project managers and those with line management responsibility for project managers, i.e. programme managers and project directors.

Those responsible for the selection, training, career development, mentoring and support of project managers, such as HR departments and PMOs.

How can I take part in the research or find out more?

We are interested in interviewing experienced project managers who have encountered difficult situations in dealing with all sorts of stakeholders to learn about the strategies adopted to overcome the difficulties.

Those interested in taking part in the research, or wishing to find out more about it, in the first instance are asked to contact Professor David Bryde at Liverpool John Moores University by email:

What are the benefits in taking part?

All participants will be provided with a summary of the findings of the research in advance of their official launch.

Any other considerations?

The research will follow stringent ethical procedures in terms of guaranteeing the anonymity of companies and individuals and respecting aspects of confidentiality.

Who is the research lead?

David Bryde is a Professor in Project Management at Liverpool John Moores University.

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