Stakeholder Engagement: Building a Plan for Good Stakeholder Communication

Your stakeholders will make or break your project. So, how you treat them is critical. This means you have to plan your stakeholder communication with care. In this article, we’ll look at the three elements of a solid stakeholder communication plan. That is:

  1. Stakeholder communication strategy
  2. Communication plan
  3. Preparation for reactive communication
  1. Stakeholder Communication Strategy

For each stakeholder or stakeholder group, the place to start is your strategic intent. That is, what are you aiming to achieve with these stakeholders? For example, you may want to influence their thinking, gather their input, collaborate deeply, or simply inform them of what’s going on.

There are a number of dimensions to your stakeholder engagement strategy. Some relate to the nature of the stakeholders, and others to what you want to achieve with them.

The Nature of Your Stakeholders

All stakeholders are not equal. While you want to treat them all with respect, you will need to prioritize some, and tailor your messaging strategy to their needs and how they can impact your project.

The familiar questions to ask about your stakeholders are things like:

  • What is their influence, authority, or impact on the project?
  • How does the project affect them?
  • What are their experiences, attitudes, and expectations of the project?
  • What are their interests, needs, and priorities?

The more information you can gather about each stakeholder or stakeholder group, the better you’ll be able to assess what you want to achieve – along with the best way to do that.

This will allow you to determine the extent to which you need to:

  • Reflect their opinions and wishes
  • Win them over
  • Invest your time in them

What You Aim to Achieve

Next, think about the kind of interaction you need to have with each stakeholder, so you can best serve the needs of your project. There is a wide spectrum of possibilities, based on the extent to which you:

  • Actively engage with them – or choose to withdraw
  • Seek to work with them – or need to compete with them

These suggest a range of strategic postures. The following table illustrates some of the main ones:

Focus on StakeholdersAccommodatingPrepared to make substantial concessions to the stakeholder to achieve the core intent.
CollaboratingPrepared to work together with the stakeholder to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
ConsultingConsulting actively, and open to compromise.
NeutralInformingOpen sharing of information
Focus on organisation or project objectivesPromotionalUse of promotional and persuasive tactics to influence stakeholders positively.
DefensiveResisting compromise and providing strong counter arguments to stakeholders’ perceptions.
AssertivePrepared to fight hard to optimise the position of the project or organisation.  Extent of tactics dictated by ethics and long-term pragmatism.
Source: The Influence Agenda, by Mike Clayton.  Palgrave Macmillan 2014
  1. Communication Plan

Once you know what you need to achieve with each stakeholder or stakeholder group, the next step is to consider how you will do this. Typically, each key stakeholder will have a whole plan for the different approaches you’ll take and messages you need to deliver. This will span the project and the emphasis will likely shift from phases to phase.

For lower-priority stakeholders, and those in large group (‘broadcast stakeholders), you may have simpler plan. But, the elements of planning any one communication will be similar. I like to remember what it will include with “eight T’s.” This mnemonic makes use of the exceptional flexibility of the English language.

The 8 T’s of Stakeholder Communication Planning

  1. Target: Which stakeholder or stakeholders need to receive this communication or set of communications, and what do you want to achieve?
  2. Theme: What is this communication about?
  3. Tale: What is the message you need to impart to them?
  4. Tone: What tone of voice would best achieve your objective? Are you going to be inquiring or informing, testing or telling, consulting or commanding, influencing or instructing?
  5. Timing: When should the messages go out? This can be specific date or a frequency for regular cycles of communication.
  6. Tool: What medium will you use to get your message out? Choose tools that are appropriate to your stakeholders and the message.
  7. Test: How will you know that your messages have been received, understood, and acted upon? This is about getting feedback and preparing to receive it.
  8. Teller: Who will be responsible for crafting the message, reviewing it, and ensuring it goes out properly?

Crafting a CPP Message

My simple formula for good communication is that it must be compelling, persuasive, and powerful – CPP.


The message must engage your stakeholders by drawing them in, holding their attention, and helping them to understand with clear language. We do this by structuring our messages. We use a logical sequence, questions and answers, and storytelling.


Your messages need the ability to change thinking. So, the understanding we convey must be accurate. We need to use a good argument that demonstrates why the receiver should pay attention to the message, solid reasoning, and an appeal to their emotions.

Powerful It’s not enough that they understand and agree. Your message needs to stick, and trigger action. Create impact by tuning into your audience and using memory hooks and psychology.

Chart for crafting a "CCP" message: compelling, persuasive, powerful.
Crafting a CPP Message. Source: The Influence Agenda, by Mike Clayton.  Palgrave Macmillan 2014

Selecting the Right Medium

The range of media available to convey our message is huge. So don’t just stick to email and presentations. Decide which to use, based on:

  • Whether your message is narrowcast (to a small number of people) or broadcast (to many)
  • The closeness of engagement and collaboration you want to engender. Emails and newsletters are great for basic information and explanation. But for involving people in collaboration, prioritize meetings and collaboration tools.
  • The intellectual complexity of your message, which may only need simple tools like posters or a quick chat, or may demand more detail, lite a report, presentation, or formal meeting.
  • The emotional impact of your message, which may allow a remote and impersonal medium like a letter or voice message, but could require something more personal, like a long conversation or detailed briefing.

Evolving Your Messages Throughout the Project

Many projects, particularly change or transformation projects, go through a number of stages. And the nature and intention of your stakeholder communication will change at each stage.

For this, you can use a Progression Plan. There are many ways to construct one, but it starts with three things:

  1. What are the stages that are relevant to your changing stakeholder communication priorities?
  2. Which stakeholders are most important to engage with in each of those stages?
  3. For each stage and stakeholder, what are the essential messages to convey and objectives in conveying them?

Drawing up a progression plan can be a powerful way to see the big picture of your stakeholder engagement throughout your project or program.

Preparing for Reactive Stakeholder Communication

The last thing to plan for is how you will respond to incoming communication from your stakeholders. As a minimum, you need a process for:

  • logging incoming calls, emails, and other messages
  • ensuring that the right person gets them
  • recording relevant responses

For important stakeholders, it can be helpful to allocate members of the project team to be the first contact for each of them, with an alternate point of contact for when that team member is unavailable.

Another approach can be to have a dedicated communications team within the project. This is typical in large projects with a big “political” impact. I use quotation marks here because this may not be capital-P politics. Certainly, some projects have a high profile or a big social or community impact. For these, you may even contract a specialist communications or public relations (PR) agency.

The Importance of Planning Reactive Stakeholder Engagement

There is an old saying that we should not ‘spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar’. This means that if you try to save a little money on waterproofing, you could lose the whole ship.

You’ve put a lot of work (I hope) into planning your stakeholder engagement strategy and outgoing communications. Don’t waste it by not preparing to deal with stakeholder enquiries, responses, concerns, or challenges.

There is a good chance that your stakeholders will judge you more on how you deal with unplanned interactions than on your set-piece planned communication.

Concluding Remarks on Stakeholder Communications Planning

There are good reasons why, over the last 20 years, we have stopped using the term ‘stakeholder management’ and come to prefer ‘stakeholder engagement’. Not least of these is because it suggests a more respectful mindset towards the people who matter most, our customers and clients, colleagues and collaborators, and our communities.

However, the process of stakeholder engagement needs to be managed. So, I also use the term ‘stakeholder engagement management’. And anything that we manage, needs a plan.

Stakeholder communication is a big subject – and one I could write a whole book on. In fact, I did. This article introduces some of the ideas from my 2014 book, ‘The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change’. It is published by Palgrave and you can get a copy anywhere that you buy your books.

Related Content

Stakeholder Analysis: A Comprehensive Guide for Project Managers

Who Are Project Stakeholders and Why Are They Important?

What is a Stakeholder?

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Written by Mike Clayton
Dr. Mike Clayton Mike Clayton is a Project Manager. He is founder of and presenter of the successful Project Management YouTube Channel, OnlinePMCourses. Contact Mike by email:
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