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How to please a project stakeholder

Adeline Teoh ed.
May 16, 2014

Money is not the only reason people care about projects. Securing buy-in from stakeholders can be one of the most difficult areas to achieve—and sustain.

I almost cried. In front of me sat a couple of hundred volunteers undergoing orientation for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Behind me were a couple of dozen staff and experienced volunteers who I’d come to know over many years. In my hands I held a bunch of tulips handed to me for my 10 years of volunteer service.

I’m often asked why I volunteer. The hours can be long and gruelling and often there’s nothing to show at the end of it except tired feet and an ebbing faith in humanity after one too many run-ins with a narky audience member. And don’t even get me started on the time cost of being out of the office for five business days. But moments of appreciation eclipse the aches and the conflicts, turning the whole ordeal into the next volunteer registration form I fill in.

I compare my experience at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to another big Sydney event, one for which I no longer volunteer and has steadily been losing volunteers for years. I thought particularly about buy-in for project stakeholders, particularly ones that are not directly employed as part of the project team but are nevertheless important.

Here are three key areas where I see differences between good and bad practice:

Good project managers manage expectations by clearly communicating upfront what the stakeholders should expect of the project team but also what the team expects of them.
Bad project managers assume the stakeholders know what to expect.

Good project managers identify what motivates stakeholders to drive buy-in.
Bad project managers ignore the importance of buy-in and/or try to retrospectively align features and benefits to please stakeholders.

Good project managers understand and appreciate that the project cannot be successful without the buy-in of its stakeholders.
Bad project managers measure the success of the project on deliverables, not how stakeholders perceive the project.

The thing to note here is that although the initial process of securing buy-in is important, the constant need to ensure stakeholder support as the project progresses is also instrumental.

There are so many lessons project managers can learn about buy-in from the volunteer sector and vice versa. Celebrate National Volunteer Week by appreciating a volunteer—or at least a non-financial stakeholder.

What’s your advice for securing buy-in from stakeholders?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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