Stakeholder Engagement step

Stakeholder Engagement - Definition and Overview

This is Step 4 of a 4 step guide to Stakeholder Management. If you haven't read Steps 1 - 3 you can access them here. Step 1 Stakeholder Definition, Step 2 Stakeholder Analysis, Step 3 Stakeholder Planning.

What is Stakeholder Engagement?

Finding a definitive definition of the term Stakeholder Engagement isn't straight forward. Various definitions are available driven by a range of schools of thought or philosophies on organizational performance, change and sustainability.

Some definitions see Stakeholder Engagement as a process, with the end goal being the success of the organization or an initiative/project.
Stakeholder engagement is the process used by an organization to engage relevant stakeholders for a purpose to achieve accepted outcomes (AccountAbility, 2008).
The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) explicitly link stakeholder engagement to success, explaining that "stakeholder support for the portfolio is gained by effective consultation and involvement in the definition and delivery of the portfolio".

More philosophical approaches emphasize inclusivity and imply an organizational mission or vision of continuous stakeholder/societal engagement.
Today, the term "stakeholder engagement" is emerging as a means of describing a broader, more inclusive, and continuous process between a company and those potentially impacted that encompasses a range of activities and approaches, and spans the entire life of a project (International Finance Corporation, 2007).
Engagement is not an end in itself, but a means to help build better relationships with the societies in which we operate, ultimately resulting in improved business planning and performance (Altria Corporate Services, Inc., 2004).
Whether you intend to engage to meet a specific goal or start a long term conversation all communication methods engage stakeholders in some way and it is only by completing Stakeholder Analysis that efficient, cost effective approaches can be chosen.

For example, push communications are appropriate for low interest/low influence stakeholders. Attempts at partnership would be a waste of resources and time.

Collaboration and partnership is only appropriate for key players, stakeholders with high influence and high interest who could bring considerable benefits to the organization or project, but conversely - if not well managed - could bring considerable risk.

Choosing the stakeholder engagement approach

The diagram below illustrates the relationship between stakeholder influence/power and stakeholder engagement approaches.
Stakeholder Engagement

Each approach is a valid method of stakeholder engagement, but different methods are suited to different stakeholder types. Pull communications are one-way and depend on stakeholders deciding to access the information. At the top of the pyramid partnership engagement approaches give shared accountability, decision making, joint learning and actions. The table below describes each approach.

Stakeholder Engagement approaches

Engagement approach Description
Partnership Shared accountability and responsibility. Two-way engagement joint learning, decision making and actions
Participation Part of the team, engaged in delivering tasks or with responsibility for a particular area/activity. Two-way engagement within limits of responsibility.
Consultation Involved, but not responsible and not necessarily having influence outside of consultation boundaries. Limited two-way engagement: organization asks questions, stakeholders answer.
Push communications One-way engagement. organization may broadcast information to all stakeholders or target particular stakeholder groups using various channels, e.g. emails, letters, webcasts, podcasts, videos, leaflets.
Pull communications One-way engagement. Information is made available, and stakeholders choose whether to engage with it, e.g. web-pages, construction hoardings.
Use the Stakeholder Engagement Model pictured above to review your communication plan and stakeholder analysis:
  • Make sure that your engagement approaches are appropriate to each stakeholder group.
  • Check that your communication plan isn't over-reliant on push or pull communications.
  • Check you aren't spending too much time in face-to-face consultations with less influential stakeholders.
  • Can more costly push communication methods like printed materials be replaced with cheaper options like email, online surveys or online newsletters?

For more ways to engage stakeholders see 60 Ways to Engage Stakeholders
Once you have reviewed your plans you just need to pull your work together to form your stakeholder engagement strategy. This should contain the following sections:

Stakeholder Engagement Plan Contents >> Get a real-world example and template

Make sure that you get your strategy signed-off by your project sponsor or project board. Sign-off must include approval from your client and should be at a senior level. Ensure that anyone who is involved in delivering the plan has read and approved it and understands the actions that they need to take.

Final words

So you know who your stakeholders are, you have identified the key players and you have a plan for engaging with them. By taking these steps you are already way ahead and your project has a much greater chance of success. However, you do actually need to implement your strategy and this is where some plans fall down.
Review your strengths and weaknesses. If you are great at writing clear plain English, but would rather die than brief 30 people on your project, try delegating (you can delegate up as well as down). See How to Delegate the Fast Effective Way. If your grammar isn't too hot you could consider asking someone in Marketing or Public Relations to edit your work.
Finally do some research to improve your skills; there is a wealth of information on Effective Communication, influencing and negotiation. I have carefully selected some of my favourite guides below.

Stakeholder Engagement References and further reading

International Finance Corporation, 2007. Stakeholder Engagement: A Good Practice Handbook for Companies Doing Business in Emerging Markets [pdf] Available at: PDF Download
[Accessed 13 February 2021]

AccountAbility, 2008. AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (AA1000SES) [pdf] Available at:
PDF Download [Accessed 19 March 2013]

Neil Jeffrey, 2009. Stakeholder Engagement: A Road Map to Meaningful Engagement [pdf] Available at:
PDF Download [Accessed 13 February 2021]

Altria Corporate Services, Inc., 2004. Stakeholder Engagement Planning Overview [pdf] Available at:
PDF Download [Accessed 13 February 2021]

Bryan W. Husted and David Bruce Allen, (2010).Corporate Social Strategy: Stakeholder Engagement and Competitive Advantage, Cambridge University Press.

Stakeholder Engagement resources

5 Key Ways to Engage with Stakeholder

60 Stakeholder Engagement Approaches

5 Tips on Presenting to Stakeholders

Get a list of Questions to Help you Identify your Stakeholders.

Get a list of Questions to Help you analyze your Stakeholders.

What is a Stakeholder? Mind Map

Stakeholder Management

Stakeholders - List of 105 Typical Stakeholders

FREE Stakeholder Analysis Power/Interest Template

Basic Stakeholder Analysis Method

Stakeholder Salience