Are you practising stakeholder engagement by stealth?

Lynda Bourne
February 9, 2016

Chances are your organisation already focuses on ‘stakeholder engagement’ but is using another name for the activity. From an organisational perspective, stakeholder engagement is a means to achieve outcomes that are increasingly seen as being commercially desirable or necessary to comply with various rules and regulations. Some of the overarching terms that incorporate stakeholder engagement as a core competency, that is essential for their implementation are:

Corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility is generally defined as the continuing commitment by an organisation to contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large. The social responsibilities of organisations are those responsibilities that arise in the context of stakeholder relationships.

Stakeholders have expectations about the behaviour and responsibilities of organisations that increasingly go beyond the provision of jobs and products or services. No two organisations are likely to have the exact same set of responsibilities, because each organisation has different products, services and strategies and therefore, different combinations of stakeholders and stakeholder interests and issues.


Sustainability, in an organisational context, goes beyond environmental issues to include every dimension of how a business operates in the social, cultural, and economic environment. It is a business approach that creates long-term consumer and employee value and directly contributes to the sustainability of the organisation itself.

The ‘triple bottom line’

The triple bottom line is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental (or ecological) and financial. These three divisions are also called the three Ps—people, planet and profit—or the ‘three pillars of sustainability’. Many corporations are required to report in the triple bottom line as part of their exchange listing rules.

triple bottom line

ISO 26000 and GRIG4 reporting

International Standard, ISO 26000:2010, Guidance on social responsibility, and the closely aligned Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Guidelines (GRIG4) set out the framework for social responsibility and guidelines for reporting.

What this means for you

As project managers we do not have input to organisational policies, but we are at the cutting edge of organisational change and many projects have a significant impact on stakeholders outside of the organisation. Therefore if your organisation’s executives are using any of these terms and are ‘walking the talk’ you need to make sure your project activities support the organisation’s overall stakeholder engagement philosophy.

Project failures such as the recent tailings dam failure in Brazil can undo decades of work by the organisation to achieve a reputation of being a good corporate citizen. And this is not purely altruistic! ISO 26000 suggests organisations that practice corporate social responsibility, sustainability and focus on the triple bottom line have a distinct competitive advantage that includes:

  • Reputation
  • Ability to attract and retain workers or members, customers, clients or users
  • Maintenance of employees’ morale, commitment and productivity
  • View of investors, owners, donors, sponsors and the financial community
  • Relationship with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which it operates.

In summary, project managers cannot create corporate policy but if the organisation is focused on its triple bottom line, the wise project manager will make sure his or her project supports the organisation’s objectives and this means including proactive stakeholder engagement in the project management plan.

How much focus does your organisation place on stakeholder engagement?

Author avatar
Lynda Bourne
Dr Lynda Bourne PMP, FAIM, is an international authority on stakeholder engagement and the Stakeholder Circle visualisation tool. She is the author of 'Making Projects Work' (2015), 'Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders' (2011), and 'Stakeholder Relationship Management' (2009) and a contributor to many others.
Read more