The Definition of Stakeholders in Project Management

Understanding who the stakeholders are is crucial to a project's success.
Understanding who the stakeholders are is crucial to a project's success. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

It is not exaggerating to say that stakeholders are key to the successful management of any project. However, as important as they are to a well-managed project, understanding who all the stakeholders are and the roles of each is often not as straightforward as many believe. This is why defining project stakeholders can be a difficult, yet necessary, process and one that needs to occur at the onset of the project.


Individuals directly, or even indirectly, impacted by the project, are stakeholders and should be treated as such. This means involving them in the process, at least by regularly updating and communicating with them. Examples of individual stakeholders would be the owner of the building being constructed, each person on the construction team and even the future neighbors of the building. Recognizing these stakeholders and securing their buy-in early increases the chances of a successful project.


Stakeholders in a project can be both internal or external to the team managing the daily aspects of the process. A software team developing a new application for use by its fellow employees in another department must recognize those in the other department as stakeholders. If this same software application is to be sold to the public, it, too, becomes a stakeholder and should be consulted as the project commences and through each subsequent stage.

Positive Stakeholders

Positive stakeholders are defined as those who stand to gain from the successful completion of the project. Their gain does not necessarily have to be monetary, although that may be the case. In the example of a commercial construction project, if the end result is larger, more comfortable office space for company employees, they, too, are positive stakeholders in the project.

Negative Stakeholders

At times, an individual or group believes the end result of a project will have a negative impact on it. An example of a negative stakeholder would be a manufacturing facility that is considering installing automated systems to increase efficiencies and lower expenses. Since this is likely to mean the end of some positions, current employees who are potentially impacted are negative stakeholders in the project. This is crucial information to acknowledge, since full cooperation from negative stakeholders is hard to attain.

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