The Best, Free, and Complete Guide for Conducting Stakeholder Engagement & Management

Stakeholder management is one of the most important areas of change management. It begins with identifying which stakeholders are being impacted by a change project and where each stands on receptiveness. It has the goal of bringing all stakeholders onboard through engagement that mitigates resistance and drives support.

This guide is designed for Change Practitioners, HR, Project Managers, and program leads for conducting an effective change impact analysis to identify the people, processes, tools, and policies that will be impacted by a change.

Stakeholder engagement and management is a vital component of any project and organizational change management as it increases the success of your projects, programs, and your firm’s business changes.

“I have been a Senior Change Management Lead for over 15 years and have delivered complex projects across top organizations including Intel, Apple, Cisco, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Accenture, and Deloitte that have impacted thousands of employees and end-users. Throughout my tenure, I have discovered that following the best stakeholder management practices described below increases the success of change implementation by an additional 78.5% on average.”

Ogbe Airiodion
Senior Change Management Consultant

This guide provides you with a step-by-step overview and everything you need to know for engaging and managing stakeholder groups, including key, primary, secondary, internal, external, and critical stakeholders.

Illustration: Sample Stakeholder Engagement Reporting Dashboard

stakeholder assessment matrix

AGS Cloud Stakeholder Management Tool

First, What is Stakeholder Management? (Definition)

Stakeholder management is the set of tasks that you perform to identify and manage stakeholder groups, including the primary and secondary stakeholders that have a stake in a project or business transformation. There are different types of project stakeholders that need to be managed, but key stakeholders are what people generally refer to when they say “stakeholder management.”

Key stakeholders have more impact on a project than other stakeholders. They may be managers that can impact how a change happens within the departments they lead. They can also be executives that have the ability to change the budget or timeline of a change project. It’s important that these key stakeholders be on board with a change for it to be implemented successfully.

What is Stakeholder Engagement?

Stakeholder engagement is part of the stakeholder management process. A stakeholder engagement strategy involves the set of tasks and activities that you need to conduct to communicate with and engage with primary and secondary stakeholders.

As the project progresses, it is essential to keep key stakeholders engaged and updated on the progress of the implementation, as well as coach them to support change management and project implementation activities.

Stakeholder Management and Mapping

Do You Really Need a Stakeholder Engagement & Management Plan?

A stakeholder management plan is a structured document that outlines the strategy, stakeholder mapping, and project activities that will be implemented to engage stakeholders, including leaders and managers that are impacted by a project or a business change. 

But, do you really need to take the time to develop a stakeholder engagement plan? Are there stakeholder engagement templates that you can use to maximize your stakeholder management planning and activities?

Importance of a Stakeholder Management Plan

Before going further, let us address the question “why is a stakeholder engagement plan important?” This is a question that is asked often by a lot of project managers and change management practitioners.

Stakeholder management is very important because stakeholders are in a position to increase, block, or decrease the success of the project. If stakeholder groups are resistant to the change, this will have a negative impact on the implementation of the project. If, on the other hand, they are very supportive of the change, then the probability of project success is greatly increased.

As such, it is very important to engage and manage all stakeholders to ensure that they provide continual buy-in and support of the change throughout the course of the implementation.

Something else you should note before we provide an overview of how to create your stakeholder management plan is that primary, key, and critical stakeholders are needed to play key change management roles to help increase end-user adoption of the change.

For example, we might need your primary stakeholders to cascade or waterfall down communications to their respective groups and direct reports. In addition, when we need to train impacted end-users, we often will need the help of our key leadership stakeholders (also referred to as primary stakeholders) to remind their employees to attend the training sessions.

These are just a few examples of the importance of stakeholder management.  

And this brings us to the importance of having a stakeholder management plan and strategy, as well as how to develop your own stakeholder engagement strategy.

Developing an Effective Stakeholder Management Plan (4 Key Steps)

To develop an effective stakeholder management plan, there are four key steps you need to take.

  • The first step is to identify the universe of potential stakeholder groups. This step is often referred to as stakeholder identification.
  • The second step is to assess each stakeholder and stakeholder group, and their willingness to support or resist the change.
  • The third step is to engage these stakeholders and prepare them for the change.
  • And the final step is continual engagement and management of these stakeholders throughout the strategic (planning) and tactical (execution) phases of the project.

4 Key Steps for Engaging & Managing Project Stakeholders

Click any of the links below, or keep on scrolling down this page, for an overview of each of these four critical steps for your stakeholder management approach.

As mentioned above, having a defined and planned out stakeholder management plan will help increase your engagement and management of the various types of stakeholder groups including primary stakeholders and key stakeholders, as well as internal and external stakeholders. All of these groups are generally referred to as project stakeholders. 

Stakeholder Engagement & Management Plan

 Stakeholder Management Process: 4 Steps

Step 1: Stakeholder Identification & Mapping

The first step in the stakeholder management process is to identify all potential leaders, senior managers, and executives that have or might have a stake in the project. This list of individuals is generally referred to as the “Universal List of Project Stakeholder Groups.”

To obtain your list, you can work with members of the program team, including project managers, program leads, subject matter experts (SMEs), primary sponsors of the project, and other key project resources.

When meeting with these people, inform them that you are conducting a stakeholder identification assessment, and are looking to identify managers and stakeholder groups who will be impacted by the project.

You should also mention to them that you are looking to also identify senior managers and executives of impacted organizations who are considered critical internal stakeholders.

As you conduct your stakeholder identification and information gathering, you should document your findings in your AGS Stakeholder Management Matrix Template.

Click here to obtain your copy: #1 Stakeholder Engagement & Management Toolkit.

Stakeholder Engagement Template 1

The AGS Cloud stakeholder management template includes a ready-to-use stakeholder identification and mapping template, as well as defined fields that are critical to effective stakeholder management.

This tool is an online change manager that is designed to help you plan, manage, and execute a successful change project. Choose from a Cloud or Excel version that includes real-time analytics and stakeholder assessment samples, as well as simplified templates for gathering your organizational stakeholder and key stakeholder information. 

AGS Cloud allows you to easily segment your stakeholder groups and to quickly see which stakeholders are resisting the business change, and which ones are strong advocates of the change.
Stakeholder Management Toolkit Template

Stakeholder Assessment, Engagement & Management Tool

As part of your stakeholder engagement process, you should also conduct a change impact assessment which involves reviewing the current state process flows and the future state process flows to identify what is changing and who will be impacted.

From your change impact analysis, you should be able to identify a broader list of stakeholder groups, including primary, secondary, and critical stakeholders that need to be engaged and managed.

Step 2. Stakeholder Assessment

The next step in your stakeholder engagement strategy, after gathering your list of stakeholders and stakeholder groups, will be to conduct an assessment of each stakeholder’s desired commitment levels and influence of the program. And, then document this information in your AGS stakeholder matrix and mapping tool.

The AGS stakeholder management toolkit includes sample stakeholder management plans and examples that you can leverage for your needs.

Your stakeholder mapping template will be used to capture basic stakeholder information (part of step 1), and then for step 2 will be used to document the level of each stakeholder’s receptiveness or resistance to the project, as well as the change management approach for mitigating any identified resistance.

You should also gather information on who will be responsible for executing the engagement and management approach for each identified stakeholder.

Enter all of this information into your AGS Stakeholder Management Toolkit’s template which includes columns for capturing each individual’s current level of commitment, desired level of commitment, and other important information including: role, title, reporting structure, level of influence, and ability to impact the project’s success.

Make sure to develop reporting stats and insights from your stakeholder identification and analysis. For example, the AGS Stakeholder Tool has an analytics dashboard that provides a holistic view of how many stakeholders have a high ability to impact the project, how many are considered Critical Stakeholders, as well as visual views of each stakeholder’s organizational change management competency.

importance of stakeholder analysis stakeholder management tools importance of stakeholder analysis

AGS Stakeholder Management Templates, Dashboard & Samples

Another important criteria to assess is identifying which manager is receptive or resistant to the change. This knowledge will enable you to develop more efficient stakeholder engagement and a resistance management plan. This will also need to be documented in your stakeholder engagement matrix template.

Step 3: Engage and Prepare Stakeholders

The next step in the stakeholder management process is stakeholder engagement.

During the stakeholder engagement stage, you should conduct 1-on-1 meetings or group meetings with stakeholders to provide awareness, program status updates, and also to address any questions or concerns they might have (they often have some level of concerns).

For primary, critical, or secondary stakeholders that you identified as needing coaching and change management support, you should prepare and provide them with the necessary level of coaching and education to support them in their role as change agents for the program.

Your coaching plan should define how you will support managers and supervisors during the change.

Read more: Organizational Change Management Coaching Plan.

A key focus of your stakeholder engagement approach will be to fully enable these primary and secondary stakeholders to:

  1. Sponsor the change
  2. Advocate for the change
  3. Support their employees during the change
  4. Communicate the change
  5. Support their employees in the new, changed environment
  6. Reduce resistance to the change  
  7. Overcome barriers and obstacles

Step 4: Engage and Manage Your Stakeholder Groups

The final step in the stakeholder engagement process will occur throughout the project life cycle. Until the project is completed, you will need to continually engage with stakeholders to provide regular status updates and to ensure that they continue to support the project.

Something to keep in mind is that your stakeholder management strategic plan should not be set in stone. It needs to be a living document that will be updated on a regular basis.

As the project progresses, individuals will switch roles and so might need to be removed from your list of stakeholders, and new individuals will need to be added.

You will need to revisit and refine your stakeholder relationship management periodically as the project progresses and as more information is discovered.

Stakeholder Management Toolkit Template

  Stakeholder Management Tool

Types of Stakeholders (Definition)

For project management and organizational change management purposes, there are different types of stakeholders that need to be identified, engaged, and managed for a project to be successful. These include primary stakeholders, internal and external stakeholders, critical managers, key stakeholders, and other stakeholder groups defined below.

Primary Stakeholder (Definition)

Primary stakeholders are managers, senior managers, executives, heads of departments, or business leaders that have a “stake” in the game because their department or organization will be impacted in some way by the change. Primary stakeholders are also referred to as key stakeholders because of their ability to hinder or promote the project.

Primary stakeholders represent businesses that will be impacted by a project, which is why they are also referred to as key stakeholders.

Project Sponsor (Definition)

Project sponsors are managers or leaders that are tasked with approving and being responsible for the overall success of the completion of a project. These individuals are generally the ones that approve the budget for the project and sign off on the project getting kicked off. This role involves approving the allocation of resources, approving project goals & objectives, and approving the implementation roadmap. A project sponsor is also referred to as an executive sponsor.

Critical Stakeholders (Definition)

A critical stakeholder is any internal stakeholder that is absolutely needed to be a sponsor or an advocate of the program in order for the program to succeed. Critical stakeholders are often powerful or highly influential managers within the organization who will be impacted by the program. They may or may not be sponsors at this point in time.

As part of your stakeholder management plan, you will need to identify these influential internal stakeholders and engage them to ensure that they are supportive of the change. 

Internal Stakeholders (Definition)

Internal stakeholders are groups and individuals that are part of the company’s organizational structure and that are being impacted by the change. They are employees, managers, and leaders that are employed by the company.

External Stakeholders (Definition)

External stakeholders are groups and individuals that are NOT part of the company’s organizational structure. They include customers, clients, suppliers, vendors, and other partners that will be impacted directly or indirectly by the change project.

Stakeholders vs Project Sponsors

Before going further, let us quickly discuss stakeholders vs. sponsors, as these two related groups of individuals will make up your stakeholder target audience, and are often confused by program managers and project leads.

As mentioned above, stakeholders are managers, heads of departments, or business leaders that have a “stake” in the game because their department or organization will be impacted in some way by the change, while a project sponsor is a manager or leader that is willing to sponsor a change or someone who has been mandated by the organization’s leaders to sponsor a change.

A sponsor may also be a stakeholder. However, a stakeholder may or may not be a sponsor of the change (and may not be supportive of the change at this point in time).

Engaging Program Sponsors and Key Stakeholders-min

Different Levels of Sponsorship

There are different levels of program management sponsorship. A sponsor might just be responsible for approving and managing the budget for a project as well as overseeing the overall success of the initiative. This type of sponsor is often referred to as the primary sponsor.

Other sponsors might solely be responsible for helping to spread awareness about the change, and helping to overcome roadblocks within their group. Another type of stakeholder sponsor is a leader that is willing to support the change program by engaging other senior leaders to solicit buy-in for the change and helping to reduce resistance. These are commonly referred to as secondary stakeholders.

Sponsors generally wear different hats and manage different responsibilities.

Change and Program Management - Sponsors and Stakeholders


We hope this end-to-end stakeholder management guide has helped in answering the key questions you might have had regarding stakeholders of a change project, including:

  • What is stakeholder management?
  • Who are stakeholders in a project?
  • Why are stakeholders important?
  • Why is stakeholder engagement important?
  • What is the role of stakeholders in project management? 

As discussed above, a sponsorship and stakeholder engagement plan needs to be developed for your project. which will then be used to build commitment (sponsorship and support of the program) from key individuals across impacted groups or target audiences.

Developing your stakeholder engagement strategy and plan will help ensure consistency, a deliberate engagement with sponsors, primary, secondary, internal, and external stakeholders.

In order to effectively support a project, these stakeholder groups need regular communication to keep them in the loop, as well as coaching on best change management practices to help them perform their roles as agents of the change. Such support will involve providing sponsors with prepared communications for them to cascade across the organization.

Types of Stakeholders Groups

Types of Stakeholders Groups

Stakeholder Management Made Easy

The AGS Stakeholder Assessment & Management Tool includes a best-in-class stakeholder management database templates, samples, a 360-degree analytics view of impacted groups, and much more.

AGS Cloud is a full-featured cloud platform to help you plan, manage, and execute a successful change project, end-to-end, whether this is your first change project or your one-hundredth.  You can choose all nine modules in the tool or just choose the Stakeholder Management Tool. 

Get Your Copy of AGS Cloud Stakeholder Engagement & Management Tool Today!

Stakeholder Management Toolkit Template

Stakeholder Mapping Templates and Tools

why is stakeholder management important?

Stakeholder management is the set of tasks that you perform to identify and manage stakeholder groups, including the primary and secondary stakeholders that have a stake in a project or business transformation. Stakeholder management is very important because if stakeholders do not support a change, or if they resist the change, then the project will likely fail.

Why is stakeholder engagement important?

Stakeholder engagement is the process of engaging with stakeholders to get their buy-in and support for a change. If stakeholders resist a change, the probability of success for the change is reduced, and the initiative might actually fail. As such, it is important that stakeholders are engaged before and during the change implementation.

What is stakeholder engagement and why is it important?

Stakeholder management is one of the most critial areas of project and change management. Without stakeholder buy-in and support of a change, the probability of success for the change is reduced, and the project might actually fail. As such, it is important that stakeholders are engaged throughout the duration of the project.

How do you manage stakeholder engagement?

The process of managing stakeholders for project or initiative begins with identifying which stakeholders are being impacted by a change project and also understanding whether each stakeholder is receptive to or resisting the change. Then you want to develop a similar stakeholder management plan outlined on this page.

What are the benefits of stakeholder engagement? And why are stakeholders so important?

Stakeholders are very important because they are in a position to increase, block, or decrease the success of the project. If stakeholder groups are resistant to the change, this will have a negative impact on the implementation of the project. If, on the other hand, they are very supportive of the change, then the probability of project success is greatly increased.

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