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Silent but deadly – why silent stakeholders are your worst nightmare

Silent stakeholders: A businessman holding a sword behind his back

Managing your stakeholders is one of the most fraught tasks a project manager faces. Even if you’re involved in a large programme with dedicated change managers, managing the project stakeholders inevitably falls to you.

You know what it’s like – you do your stakeholder analysis and have a nice diagram of the high power, low interest; high power, high interest; low power, low interest and low power, high interest stakeholders. From that you identify the ranty ones, the saboteurs, the friends, the power hungry and the influencers and have strategies in place to manage each of them.

But what about the silent ones? You know, the ones that just sit by quietly, occasionally nod their heads and say nothing? Normally you see those and give a huge sigh of relief because it means everything is going well, but this group can be the most deadly of all.

With silent stakeholders you have no idea how they’re feeling about your project and that’s a dangerous place to be.

So how do you engage quiet stakeholders? Here are a few suggestions:

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

My best advice in how to deal with silent stakeholders is to communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s worth using both passive and active engagement models to promote two way conversations. Use other means like videos, email updates, town hall sessions or newsletters.

One-on-one meetings

If you can, it’s worth setting up regular one-on-one meetings with silent stakeholders just to give them a general overview of the status of the project. It doesn’t have to be very long, or even in depth – just enough to engage them.

Speak to the silent stakeholder’s influencers

If you are having trouble engaging with the silent one(s), it can be well worth engaging with people who influence them. They can then subtly influence the silent stakeholder on your behalf.

To reiterate my earlier point, the key to engaging silent stakeholders and to neutralise any negative impact they can have on your project is to be vocal and communicate with them clearly and often.

That way you can make sure the silent treatment does not go both ways.

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