How to understand project stakeholders


for project success



By Alfonso Bucero

Madrid, Spain

  1. Introduction

The ability to understand people is one of the greatest assets anyone can ever have. It has the potential to positively impact every area of your life, not just the business arena. If you are not able to understand project stakeholders, you will not be able to influence them. You need to know what their worries are, what do they expect from you, what are their expectations and desires; you need to listen to them. Then you will have the possibility to influence them.

Understanding people certainly impacts your ability to communicate with others. The biggest mistake I made in the past frequently, as a project manager, was to put my highest priority on expressing my ideas and feelings. What most people really want is to be listened to, respected, and understood. The moment people see that they are being understood, they become more motivated to understand your points of view. If you can learn to understand people, how they think, what they feel, what inspires them, how they’re likely to act and react in a given situation – then you can motivate and influence them in a positive way.

Then, in order to influence people, we need to consider what is best, to be loved or feared. Machiavelli pondered that timeless conundrum five hundred years ago and hedged his bets. Machiavelli poses a basic question that all politicians have to answer for themselves: is it better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? And his answer is clear: fear is better. “Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? One should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

  1. Why people fail to understand others?

Lack of understanding concerning others is a recurrent source of stress in our society. In order to understand project stakeholders, we need to listen to them. In fact, their voices need to be listened to if we want to be successful in our project. If understanding is such an asset, why do not more people practice it? There are many reasons:

  • Fear

When people do not understand others, they rarely try to overcome their fear in order to learn more about them. It becomes a vicious cycle. Unfortunately, fear is evident in the workplace when it comes to employee’s reactions toward their leaders. Laborers fear their managers. Middle managers are intimidated by senior managers and in some cases project managers too. The three groups are sometimes afraid of executives. The whole situation causes undue suspicion, lack of communication, and reduced productivity.  Fear can undermine cognitive potential, creativity, and problem solving, and cause employees to get stuck and even disengage. It is a “hot” emotion, with long lasting effects. It burns into our memory in a way that cooler emotions do not.

I strongly believe that warmth is the conduit of influence. It facilitates trust and communication and absorption of ideas. There are many signs from your body language that can show people that you are pleased to be in their company. When warmth is your priority it helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them. For example, when I was working on IT projects in banking organizations, I observed the following behaviors from project managers:

They think their ideas will be rejected
They feel colleagues won’t like the ideas
They think they won’t get credit if the ideas work
They are afraid the boss will be threatened by the ideas
They are concerned that they will be labelled as troublemakers
They are afraid of losing their jobs if they suggest ideas that don’t work

All those project managers tried to avoid conflict generation in the projects they managed. What happens is that sometimes we assume some negative behaviors from other project stakeholders without talking to them, without listening to them. Based on my professional experience some level of stakeholder’s conflict is healthy. In my opinion if you give the others the benefit of the doubt and replace fear with understanding, everyone can work together positively.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at 2015 PMI Global Congress Proceedings in London, UK and included in the congress Proceedings.It is republished here with the author’s permission.

How to cite this paper: Bucero, A. (2023. 2015). How to understand project stakeholders for project success; originally included in the Proceedings, 2015 PMI Global Congress, London, UK; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue IX, September 2023. Available online at: https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/pmwj133-Sep2023-Bucero-How-to-understand-project-stakeholders-2nd-edition.pdf

About the Author

Alfonso Bucero

Madrid, Spain


Alfonso Bucero, MSc, CPS, ACE, PMP, PMI-RMP, PfMP, SFC, IPMO-E, PMI Fellow, is an International Correspondent and Contributing Editor for the PM World Journal in Madrid, Spain. Mr. Bucero is also the founder and Managing Partner of BUCERO PM Consulting. Alfonso was the founder, sponsor, and President of the PMI Barcelona Chapter until April 2005 and belonged to PMI’s LIAG (Leadership Institute Advisory Group). He was the past President of the PMI Madrid Spain Chapter and then nominated as a PMI EMEA Region 8 Component Mentor. Alfonso was a member of the PMIEF Engagement Committee. Alfonso has a Computer Science Engineering degree from Universidad Politécnica in Madrid and is studying for his Ph.D. in Project Management. He has 36 years of practical experience and is actively advancing the PM profession in Spain and Europe. Alfonso received the PMI Distinguished Contribution Award on October 9, 2010, the PMI Fellow Award on October 22, 2011, and the PMI Eric Jenett Excellence Award on October 28, 2017. Mr. Bucero can be contacted at alfonso.bucero@abucero.com.

To see other works by Alfonso Bucero, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alfonso-bucero/