Role, Challenges and Limitations of Communications


in Project Stakeholder Management

and Engagement



by Aurangzeb Z. Khani, Miroslaw Skibniewskiii, John H. Cableiii

  1. Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS University, Islamabad, Pakistan
  2. Project Management Center for Excellence, A. James A. Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
  3. Project Management Center for Excellence, A. James Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA


Communication persistently ranks amongst the top critical success factors identified in the project literature across the globe and over time. Its importance is universally ack­nowledged by project practitioners as well as project theoreticians. No project can be accomplished successfully in the absence of good communication which is sustain­ed over the entire project lifecycle.

Communication assumes added im­por­tance and criti­cality with increasing project size and techni­cal, organizational, social and environmental complexity, and number of stakeholders. Yet, communicational deficiencies con­tinue to seriously over­shadow many projects resulting for them, inter alia, in cost overruns and schedule delays, unwanted scope modifications, staff de­motivation, damage to the project image and a significantly higher risk of project fai­lure. Hence, a serious effort must be made to ex­plore and critically analyze from the perspective of projects the specific role commu­ni­cation plays on projects, the myriad accompanying challenges and limitations it poses, as well as ways and means by which these identified challenges and limitations can, if not overcome, at least be managed effectively.

For this study the authors have reviewed the available literature on over twenty large-scale projects primarily in construction and civil infrastructure development. Several inter­views with project practitioners were also conducted to determine their views on communication in projects of this project category. Projects in this project category possess the advantage of typically having a comparatively very sizeable and diverse community of primary and especially secondary stakeholders which necessitates the crea­tion of complex communication­al systems and which from research perspective opens up the opportunity for gaining more interesting insights through an in-depth explorative study and analysis.

The authors examine the communication which occurs between projects and their stakeholders and discuss key factors which influence communication effective­ness. Various practical and specific suggestions as to how to the quality of communication on projects can be significantly improved will be discussed in a follow-up study. Project practitioners can benefit through the insights on communication dynamics offered by this study which can help them shape their communication systems in a stakeholder-responsive manner in order to satisfy their stakeholders as well as to enhance project effectiveness and operational efficiency.


Communication has been termed the ‘blood’ of projects by some and the ‘glue’ which holds a project together by others. It is an integral component and universally acknow­led­ged critical success factor of every project regardless of project location, size, com­plexity and type. Its criticality has been repeatedly highlighted in numerous project surveys undertaken from time to time across the globe in project categories as diverse as IT and construction, or events and new product or service development, where respon­dents rank factors in order of their impact and influence on project success. Communication, directly or indirectly, appears in most of these surveys under the top rank­ed identified factors, oftentimes sitting higher up the ranking ladder then the tech­ni­cal difficulties or environmental challenges and complexities encountered by pro­jects. Indeed, long is the list of projects that over time failed to achieve the degree of success which was expected of them or which were forced into premature termination caused by serious experienced communicational deficiencies or shortcomings.

Communication works in tandem with the activities of cooperation, coordination and colla­bo­ration. Effective and sustained cooperation, co­or­dina­tion or collaboration bet­ween project stakeholders, which indisputably are essential for successfully under­taking any project, are impossible without adequate communication between them. Indeed, it is reasonable to assume that the better the quality of communi­cation is on a project over time, the higher is the likelihood that the project operational performance will exhibit greater efficiency and the project will deliver better results subsequent to its completion.

Despite its profound significance, communication on projects can even at the best of times be fraught with considerable difficulties, issues and challenges. Communication on projects has traditionally been regarded as a ‘soft’ area whose undertaking and manage­ment is usually perceived as being easy or comparatively much simpler to per­­form than complex technical tasks and activities. Consequently, on many occa­sions, inadequate thought, effort and planning goes into project communications with disastrous results.


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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 the 9th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2022.  It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Khan, A. Z., Skibniewski, M., Cable, J. (2023). Role, Challenges and Limitations of Communications in Project Stakeholder Management and Engagement; presented at the 9th Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in May 2022; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue II, February. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/pmwj126-Feb2023-Khan-Skibniewski-Cable-role-challenges-limitations-of-Communications-in-project-stakeholder-engagement.pdf

About the Authors

Dr. Aurangzeb Z. Khan

COMSATS University
Islamabad, Pakistan


Dr. Aurangzeb Z. Khan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management Sciences at COMSATS University in Islamabad, Pakistan. He introduced Pakistan’s first master’s degree program in project management at his university in the fall semester 2008. Dr. Khan is the recipient of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan’s Best Teacher Award 2007 and in 2010-11 he spent one year under the Fulbright Program as a Post-Doc Research Fellow at the University of Maryland’s Project Management Center of Excellence. His prime areas of research interest are project stakeholder management and engagement, and project monitoring and evaluation, which he teaches to project management graduate-level students.  He can be contacted at aurangzeb_khan@comsats.edu.pk


Dr. Miroslaw J. Skibniewski

University of Maryland
College Park, MD, USA


Dr. Miroslaw Skibniewski is a Professor in the Center of Excellence in Project Management at the University of Maryland.  He is also Editor-in-Chief of Automation in Construction, an international research journal published by Elsevier, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers of Engineering Management, a scholarly journal published by Springer and Higher Education Press.  An author/coauthor of over 300 research publications, he lectures on information/automation technologies in construction, construction equipment management, and legal aspects of engineering.  Miroslaw can be contacted at mirek@umd.edu


John Cable

Florida, USA


 John Cable is the founder and former Director of the Project Management Center for Excellence in the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, where he was also a professor and teacher of several graduate courses in project management. His program at the University of Maryland offered undergraduate minors, a graduate certificate, and masters and PhD level programs focused on project management. John retired in 2022.