In whose interest?

Repositioning the stakeholder paradox


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School

United Kingdom



Stakeholders represent a significant, albeit a relatively more recent addition to the project management discourse. The 7th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge (APM, 2019) positions stakeholders as the individuals or groups who have an interest or role in the project, programme or portfolio, or who are impacted by it. Other bodies of knowledge and some texts make use of the notion of stakeholder management, implying that stakeholder behaviours and actions can be managed, but as many project failures attest, it is highly debateable whether such behaviours and actions of stakeholders can indeed be predicted, planned and controlled in the full management sense (Dalcher, 2014a; 2015a; Eskerod et al. 2015).

Put simply, a stakeholder is anyone affected, or potentially affected, by your work. Given that managing people, let alone those not directly under our power and control, raises many objections, instead, we need to embrace the necessity of forming relationships with stakeholders. This implies employing a softer type of relationship management as we endeavour to understand, engage and influence stakeholders.

Moreover, given the recognition that the success of any activity undertaken by organisations, be it at the strategic, tactical or operational level, can only be achieved with the input, commitment and support of its people, the stakeholders (Bourne, 2009; 2015), it is essential to position these people and their needs at the very core of any conversations around projects, actions, impacts, value and success.

The origin of stakeholder thinking

The focus on stakeholders at the core of organisations can be traced to early discourse within systems thinking and systems analysis. Systems thinkers traditionally contrast technical aspects with the need to account for social concerns and form supportive coalitions to enable change, whilst the IS community has often shown a similar interest in socio-technical considerations and focuses on the users and their requirements. However, the defining seminal writing in this area is associated with Edward Freeman’s (1984) Strategic Management: A Stakeholder’s approach, which has explored previous work and established a position as the leading foundational resource. At the core of the approach lies the recognition that managers have to deal with those groups and individuals that could affect, or be affected, by their company. Placing stakeholders at the core, requires a shift towards a more relational perspective regarding business and its management. Numerous financial crises and ethical breakdowns have reinforced the need to develop a more balanced approach to the ethical management of organisations, thereby encouraging the development of extended governance structures and approaches that can support a wider scope.

Freeman’s original thesis is that as the pressures on managers intensify due to new government regulations, media scrutiny and substantial competition together with an increase in external demand and a decrease in internal flexibility, managers are required to reconsider their approaches. He therefore calls for new concepts that enable managers to reposition their role and work effectively whilst considering economic as well as social issues. The business context has expanded to incorporate internal and external impacts that shape and influence the organisation and all planned actions. In Freeman’s view, reinvigorating management therefore calls for shifting attention to stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, stockholders, banks, environmentalists, government and other groups who can help or hurt the corporation (Freeman, 1984: vi). Successful implementation of any strategic intent will ultimately depend on the ability to engage with the different groups and develop and sustain beneficial progress through new and enhanced coalitions.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge publishers.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

How to cite this paper: Dalcher, D. (2020). In whose interest? Repositioning the stakeholder paradox, Advances in Project Management Series, PM World Journal, Volume IX, Issue IX, September. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/pmwj97-Sep2020-Dalcher-in-whose-interest.pdf



About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School, UK


Darren Dalcher, Ph.D., HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor in Strategic Project Management at Lancaster University, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, A Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board.  He is the Academic Advisor and Consulting Editor for the next APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He is the academic advisor and consulting editor for the forthcoming edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. He can be contacted at d.dalcher@lancaster.ac.uk.

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.