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Understanding a Salience Model in Project Stakeholder Management

By: Meredith G. Malinawan, PMP

 Are you a project manager struggling to deal with an ever-growing list of stakeholders, each with demands that seem equally urgent and important? Prioritizing these demands could stress out your team and complicate your strategic management strategies. It would be nice to have stakeholder management skills that will help you recognize your stakeholders and understand their profound impact on your organization’s dynamics and outcomes.

Imagine employing a straightforward, structured approach grounded in stakeholder theory that helps you comprehensively identify your key stakeholders and evaluate their impact. Mastering stakeholder salience can streamline your process, allowing for more effective resource allocation and swifter decision-making strategies. This method ensures that you meet critical stakeholder needs without overwhelming your team, enhancing your organization’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Read on to discover a step-by-step guide on effectively analyzing stakeholder salience. This guide will equip you with the tools to prioritize and engage stakeholders based on a proven model for better outcomes and strategic focus in the team. Embrace a method to optimize stakeholder engagement and safeguard operational success while applying conflict resolution techniques to mitigate risks and ensure harmonious relationships within your business environment.

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Decoding Stakeholder Salience: Unveiling its Core Concepts

Stakeholder salience is a fundamental concept in stakeholder theory, helping managers understand, prioritize, and respond to the various stakeholders of a project or organization. It refers to the degree of importance or priority given to the needs, demands, or claims of stakeholders within an organization’s decision-making processes. It reflects how much attention a stakeholder commands based on specific attributes—power, legitimacy, and urgency—that influence managerial perceptions.

The salience model, proposed by Ronald K. Mitchell, Bradley R. Agle, and Donna J. Wood, categorizes stakeholders based on these key attributes central to understanding the power dynamics and legitimacy criteria within any organizational structure. Power pertains to the ability of stakeholders to impose their will or influence organizational outcomes, encompassing a range of influences from subtle persuasion to blatant pressure. Legitimacy is the perceived appropriateness or acceptability of the stakeholder’s involvement, assessed against societal norms and values that establish legitimacy criteria. Urgency describes the time sensitivity of the stakeholder’s needs and the extent to which their claims require immediate attention, adding a critical time-based dimension to stakeholder analysis.

The salience of stakeholders is determined by the presence of these attributes, individually or in combination. Stakeholders with all three attributes—power, legitimacy, and urgency—are often considered the most salient and, thus, the highest priority in managerial decision-making. By leveraging stakeholder attributes effectively, organizations can manage relationships more efficiently and address critical stakeholder needs amidst complex organizational operations.

Why Understanding Stakeholder Salience is Crucial for Your Business

Understanding stakeholder salience is essential for efficiently managing relationships within different stakeholder groups. Organizations can prioritize their efforts and resources by evaluating which stakeholders hold the most influence, urgency, and legitimacy, aligning with strategic management principles and organizational behavior to address the most pressing demands and expectations.

  • Improved Resource Allocation: By identifying the most salient stakeholders, organizations can prioritize resource allocation more effectively and address critical issues promptly. This process of resource prioritization is fundamental in streamlining operations and maximizing impact where it is most needed.
  • Enhanced Decision-Making: Understanding stakeholder salience aids in making informed decisions that consider the impact on key stakeholders, thus improving the overall strategic direction. This alignment with strategic management principles helps organizations navigate complex decision-making landscapes.
  • Risk Management: Recognizing the urgency and power of stakeholder claims can help anticipate and mitigate potential risks before they escalate. Effective risk assessment processes are crucial in this context, allowing organizations to proactively address issues that could affect stability and growth.
  • Strengthened Relationships: By addressing the concerns of the most salient stakeholders, organizations can build stronger, more cooperative relationships that contribute to long-term success. This aspect of organizational behavior underpins the development of a resilient and responsive corporate culture.
  • Increased Organizational Legitimacy: Organizations that effectively manage stakeholder relationships enhance their legitimacy and reputation in the eyes of stakeholders and the broader public. This improvement in perceived legitimacy is critical to maintaining a favorable operational context.

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Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Analyzing Stakeholder Salience Effectively

Analyzing stakeholder salience is a systematic process that empowers organizations to map out and prioritize their stakeholders based on attributes that dictate their influence over organizational outcomes. Stakeholder mapping based on salience can provide clarity and insight, helping managers recognize and effectively engage with their most crucial stakeholders through tailored stakeholder engagement strategies. Here’s a structured approach to ensure your organization can address stakeholder needs accurately and efficiently:

  1. Identify Project Stakeholders: Map out everyone involved or affected. This initial step of stakeholder mapping sets the foundation by identifying all parties with a stake in organizational activities, whether directly or indirectly impacted.
  2. Attribute Assessment: Evaluate power, legitimacy, and urgency. Use detailed analysis techniques to assess these attributes critical in determining the stakeholders’ ability to affect organizational outcomes. This evaluation should be quantifiable, using established evaluation metrics to ensure consistency and objectivity.
  3. Salience Mapping: Visualize stakeholder attributes on a salience map. This visualization helps in understanding the intersections of power, legitimacy, and urgency, providing a graphical representation that aids in quick comprehension and decision-making.
  4. Engagement Strategy: Formulate targeted strategies for key stakeholders. This step involves crafting engagement approaches tailored to each stakeholder’s needs and salience, ensuring that interactions are strategic and practical.
  5. Continuous Evaluation: Regularly update and revise stakeholder assessments. Stakeholder dynamics can change; thus, constant evaluation is crucial to keep the analysis current and relevant, allowing the organization to adapt to new information or evolving conditions swiftly.

Identify Project Stakeholders

The first step in analyzing stakeholder salience is stakeholder identification, which involves recognizing all potential stakeholders of the organization. Anyone who can affect or is affected by the organization’s actions, objectives, and policies must be considered a potential stakeholder. Stakeholder categories, such as internal versus external stakeholders, help understand their varying degrees of influence and interest.

Start by listing internal stakeholders, like employees and management, who are intrinsic to the organization’s operations and may have significant stakeholder influence in internal decision-making. Simultaneously, identify external stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, investors, and community groups, whose interaction with the organization shapes its external business environment and strategic outlook.

This comprehensive list of stakeholders will form the foundation for a thorough analysis in the subsequent steps. By understanding each group’s stakeholder influence and distinguishing between internal and external stakeholders, the organization can prioritize and tailor its engagement strategies more effectively, covering all potential impacts on its operations.

Attribute Assessment

After identifying the stakeholders, proceed to the attribute evaluation phase, where stakeholders are assessed based on power, legitimacy, and urgency. This attribute evaluation is essential in forming a strategic response tailored to stakeholder needs and influences.

  • Power Assessment: Determine which stakeholders have the power to influence the organization, either positively or negatively. This power assessment should consider both direct and indirect forms of influence, ranging from decision-making authority within the organization to external pressures that can shape operational outcomes.
  • Legitimacy Assessment: Consider the legitimacy of each stakeholder’s involvement based on their ethical or moral claim to influence. This legitimacy assessment evaluates the appropriateness of stakeholder claims in the context of societal norms and organizational values, ensuring that stakeholder engagement aligns with ethical practices.
  • Urgency Evaluation: Evaluate the level of urgency by which the stakeholders’ claims need addressing based on the time-sensitivity of their issues. This urgency evaluation helps identify which problems require immediate action and prioritization to mitigate risks or capitalize on opportunities.

The project team can place a value on each attribute by simply assigning low or high or scoring out of 10. This quantification aids in systematically comparing and contrasting the influence of different stakeholders, guiding the prioritization process effectively.

This assessment is crucial for understanding which stakeholders are most significant and why, thus shaping the organization’s strategic stakeholder engagement and management practices.

Salience Mapping

Once the attributes assessment is complete, the next step in stakeholder analysis is to plot stakeholders on a salience diagram based on the model developed by Mitchell et al. This process involves a visualization technique that employs a Venn Diagram to help identify which stakeholders possess one, two, or all three key attributes, thereby indicating their salience level.

To begin, use mapping tools to draw three overlapping circles, each representing one of the attributes: power, legitimacy, and urgency. Visual representation of attribute correlation is as follows:

"Basic Venn diagram depicting the relationships between power, legitimacy, and urgency without any specific data points or labels."

  • Areas that do not intersect with any other circle/attribute:
  1. Dormant Stakeholders – high power only.
  2. Discretionary Stakeholders – high legitimacy only.
  3. Demanding Stakeholders – high urgency only.
  • Areas that intersect with one circle/attribute:
  1. Dominant Stakeholders – the intersection of power and legitimacy (high power – high legitimacy – low urgency).
  2. Dangerous Stakeholders – the intersection of power and urgency (high power – low legitimacy – high urgency).
  3. Dependent Stakeholders – the intersection of legitimacy and urgency (low power – high legitimacy – high urgency).
  • The area that intersects with all circles/attributes:

 

  1. Definitive Stakeholders take the center intersection of the three circles (high power – high legitimacy – high urgency).
  • The area that is outside the circles/attributes:
  1. Non-stakeholder or Potential Stakeholders are outside the Venn Diagram.

Based on the previous assessment, plot each stakeholder to the areas corresponding to their attributes’ levels. Here is a sample assessment tabulation for a project that has 15 identified stakeholders with varying levels of attributes:

"Comprehensive table listing stakeholders along with their scores in power, legitimacy, and urgency categories, with annotations for stakeholder group classifications such as Dangerous, Demanding, or Dormant."

In this example, each attribute was scored from 0 to 10, with 0 to 5 being in the “Low” spectrum and 6 to 10 being in the “High” spectrum. Each stakeholder was classified into a group corresponding to their levels of attributes. For example, Stakeholder A-Anna, having both power and urgency in the Low spectrum and only legitimacy in the High spectrum, was classified as Discretionary.

After classifying the stakeholders into their respective groups, map each stakeholder into their corresponding areas on the Venn Diagram.

"Detailed Venn diagram categorizing stakeholders by power, legitimacy, and urgency with specific stakeholder groups like Definitive, Dangerous, and Dependent identified within intersecting circles."

Note: This example is an improvisation that only serves as a simple guide. Advanced visualization software is highly recommended for more accurate visualization techniques and efficient data interpretation.

Making Sense of the Salience Model: Insights and Interpretations

Now that the salience mapping is complete, a salience model analysis will allow us to interpret its results comprehensively and understand the stakeholder impact based on their categorized attributes of power, legitimacy, and urgency.

Latent Stakeholders

Having only one prominent stakeholder attribute, Latent stakeholders have minimal salience. This class of stakeholders barely pays any attention or recognition to the project, but their presence cannot be ignored due to their potential stakeholder impact.

  • Dormant Stakeholders: Stakeholders in this section can influence organizational decisions, but their interests might not be seen as legitimate or urgent. They have little to no interaction with the project. This group typically includes minor investors or suppliers who can affect supply but whose claims do not require immediate action or are not central to organizational operations.
  • Discretionary Stakeholders: These stakeholders have a legitimate interest or claim in the organization but lack the power to influence outcomes directly, and their needs are not immediate. This group often includes local community groups or NGOs whose concerns are ethical or value-based.
  • Demanding Stakeholders: They are stakeholders whose needs or claims require immediate attention but might not have the power or legitimacy. They can be frustrating but not harmful, bothersome, but not requiring more than passing attention from management. This group comprises temporary employees or short-term contractors needing immediate attention for contracts or payments.
Expectant Stakeholders

The presence of two prominent attributes in Expectant stakeholders shifts their position from passive to active, resulting in increased project responsiveness toward the stakeholder’s interests. Dominant, Dangerous, and Dependent Stakeholders belong to this class. With a moderate level of salience, project managers have increased engagement with Expectant stakeholders.

  • Dominant Stakeholders: These are stakeholders who influence the organization and have legitimate claims but whose needs are not urgent. They have a guaranteed influence within the project as they create the “dominant coalition.” Senior investors or long-term clients often fall into this category.
  • Dangerous Stakeholders: Stakeholders in this group have the ability to influence and have immediate needs, but involvement might not be seen as entirely legitimate. Their actions could be coercive and potentially violent, rendering the stakeholder a “threat” to the project. This group includes powerful clients demanding immediate delivery that conflicts with fair business practices.
  • Dependent Stakeholders: This group of stakeholders have legitimate and urgent claims but lack the power to enforce them. These stakeholders rely on others, such as other stakeholders or project managers, to provide the power they need to execute their intentions. Often, these are employees or communities affected by organizational decisions requiring immediate redress but lacking direct influence.
Definitive Stakeholders

Definitive Stakeholders have a class of their own. Having powerful, legitimate, and urgent claims, these stakeholders are considered the most salient and, thus, the highest priority in organizational strategies. This group could include key customers, regulatory bodies, or major investors who can significantly impact the organization’s operations and have urgent, legitimate claims.

Potential (or Non) Stakeholders

Not having any prominent attributes at the moment, Potential or Non-Stakeholders do not hold any salience in the project. However, they must still be accounted for in the stakeholder analysis as they can acquire one or more attributes and move inside the Venn Diagram at any given time.

Engagement Strategy

Developing a targeted stakeholder engagement strategy is the main objective of identifying and mapping the salience of stakeholders. Each type of stakeholder requires a distinct approach to engagement that optimizes resource allocation and maximizes organizational outcomes. Strategy development in this context involves crafting tailored engagement plans that address specific needs and capitalize on the potential benefits of strong stakeholder relationships. Here are some of the recommended engagement methods per stakeholder group.

  • Dormant Stakeholders: These stakeholders may attempt to influence the organization for their benefit. Engagement should be cautious, aiming to manage their influence without overly committing resources. Regular communication strategies such as formal meetings and periodic updates can keep these stakeholders informed and involved while ensuring their power does not unfairly dominate decision-making.
  • Discretionary Stakeholders: This group should focus on maintaining ethical standards and corporate social responsibility. Engagement strategies can include community outreach programs and regular updates about the organization’s activities that impact these groups, ensuring they feel heard and valued.
  • Demanding Stakeholders: The strategy for these stakeholders should focus on quickly resolving their issues to prevent escalations. Setting up rapid response teams or direct communication lines can be effective.
  • Dominant Stakeholders: These stakeholders are essential to the organization’s success and should have close integration into planning processes. Engagement might involve strategic collaboration, joint planning sessions, and integrative decision-making roles. These stakeholders often help steer the organization in sustainable and beneficial directions.
  • Dangerous Stakeholders: Managing these stakeholders requires immediate and focused attention due to their ability to influence and the immediacy of their claims. Prepare crisis management techniques and immediate action plans to swiftly address their needs or demands to maintain a favorable relationship.
  • Dependent Stakeholders: Making ethical considerations and quick responses is crucial for this stakeholder group. Engagement strategies could include dedicated support services, community engagement officers, and transparency in actions affecting these groups.
  • Definitive Stakeholders: Stakeholders in this category are the most salient and must be the central focus of engagement strategies. They should be treated as key partners with frequent, if not continuous, engagement through high-level meetings, personalized communications, and involvement in critical decision-making processes. Project teams should actively seek inputs and feedback from this stakeholder group and promptly act to reinforce their significance to the organization.
  • Potential (or Non) Stakeholders: Engagement is unnecessary as they do not hold saliency at the moment. However, monitoring any changes in the salience level of these stakeholders is a must.

For successful engagement, allocating resources appropriately across these strategies is vital to ensure that efforts are proportional to the stakeholders’ salience. Engagement must be dynamic, adapting to changes in stakeholder attributes and organizational contexts. Furthermore, CRM systems can help manage and track engagements, ensuring all actions align with the overall strategy and stakeholders’ expectations.

A well-crafted stakeholder engagement strategy effectively addresses stakeholder needs and builds robust relationships supporting sustainable organizational growth and stability.

Continuous Evaluation

As projects evolve and external environments shift, stakeholder dynamics can change significantly. Engaging in a rigorous evaluation process is vital to continuously updating the analysis of stakeholder salience. This ongoing evaluation process involves regularly revisiting the stakeholder list, their attributes, and the salience map to ensure that the organization remains highly responsive to changes and can adapt its strategies accordingly.

Update procedures should be well-defined and routinely implemented, allowing for the integration of new data and insights into the stakeholder model. These procedures should include mechanisms for gathering and incorporating stakeholder feedback, essential for understanding shifts in stakeholder expectations and perceptions. Such feedback is a critical input for dynamic adjustments to the engagement strategies and operational approaches.

This continuous evaluation is not just about maintaining accuracy in stakeholder analysis; it’s about ensuring that your organization can effectively prioritize and engage with its stakeholders in a dynamic environment. The process helps adapt real-time strategies, address emerging challenges, and leverage new opportunities as stakeholders’ influence and needs evolve.

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Key Considerations for Successfully Analyzing Stakeholder Salience

Several strategic considerations can significantly impact the success of your efforts when analyzing stakeholder salience. These insights delve into the subtleties of effective stakeholder analysis, highlighting the importance of understanding stakeholder dynamics and the broader external influences that shape these dynamics.

The context in which your organization operates plays a critical role in shaping stakeholder dynamics. Factors such as industry norms, regulatory environments, and cultural aspects can influence stakeholders’ expectations and interactions with your organization. It is essential to contextualize your analysis within these external influences to ensure that it accurately reflects the reality of your stakeholders’ influence and expectations. This contextual understanding aligns strategic responses with the actual pressures and opportunities present in the external environment.

Teams should consider the interrelationships and interdependencies among stakeholders. Stakeholders often do not exist in isolation; their demands and influences are interconnected, sometimes in complex and unexpected ways. Understanding these interrelationships can help anticipate the combined effects of stakeholder actions on your organization, allowing for more sophisticated and strategic responses that consider the network effects of stakeholder interactions.

Transparency and communication are crucial throughout the stakeholder salience analysis process. Keeping stakeholders informed about their salience assessment and how it influences organizational decisions can foster trust and enhance cooperative relationships. This openness not only boosts stakeholder relations but also strengthens the organization’s legitimacy and ethical standing in the eyes of all its stakeholders. Effective communication ensures stakeholders know their roles and expectations, facilitating smoother interactions and engagements.

Enhancing Your Stakeholder Salience Model

To enhance your salience model, consider integrating advanced analytics and technologies such as data visualization tools and artificial intelligence (AI). These technologies can provide deeper insights and predict potential shifts in stakeholder dynamics before they are perceived. For instance, AI applications in stakeholder analysis can analyze large volumes of data to identify emerging trends and sentiments among stakeholders, enabling proactive adjustments to your engagement strategies.

Technology integration, such as AI and sophisticated data analytics, allows processing and interpreting complex data sets at speeds and accuracies beyond human capabilities. This integration can lead to more precise predictions and more informed decision-making processes. By utilizing these advanced analytics, organizations can uncover hidden patterns in stakeholder behavior and preferences, which can be critical for preemptive strategy formulation.

Regular stakeholder dialogues or roundtable discussions can offer refined insights into stakeholder concerns and aspirations, enriching the traditional analysis model with real-time feedback. This real-time feedback is invaluable as it provides immediate data points that can dynamically adjust strategies, fostering stronger and more responsive relationships.

Innovative Approaches to the Stakeholder Salience Model

While the traditional model of stakeholder salience analysis is highly effective, some alternative models better suit different organizational contexts or specific project needs.

One such alternative is the stakeholder influence network technique, which focuses on mapping the influence network stakeholders have over each other rather than just their attributes of power, legitimacy, and urgency. This method can be helpful in complex projects where stakeholders interact in sophisticated networks, allowing organizations to visualize and analyze the dynamics of stakeholder influence more comprehensively.

Another innovative alternative is the use of stakeholder personas. This approach creates detailed profiles for each stakeholder or stakeholder group, encapsulating their basic demographic information, motivations, preferences, and behavioral patterns. Stakeholder personas introduce a more personalized understanding of stakeholder needs and expectations and can be effective in customer-centric projects or industries where deeper insight into stakeholder behavior is crucial.

Each alternative offers different perspectives and benefits and can be used independently or with traditional salience analysis to enrich stakeholder management practices. By incorporating these alternative models, organizations can tailor their analysis to meet specific requirements and challenges, enhancing the effectiveness of their stakeholder engagement strategies and improving overall project outcomes.

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Concluding Insights on Stakeholder Salience

Mastering stakeholder salience is essential for any organization to navigate its stakeholder landscape effectively. This tutorial has guided you through a systematic approach to identifying, evaluating, and engaging stakeholders based on the pivotal attributes of power, legitimacy, and urgency. By applying these steps, you can ensure that your organization recognizes and addresses the needs of its most influential stakeholders through strategic stakeholder salience application.

Despite the effort it takes to set it up properly, the impact of stakeholder salience in the organizations and projects I have worked with is commendable. Well-conducted stakeholder salience analysis transformed organizational strategy, enhanced stakeholder relations, and fostered sustainable project management practices in our teams. The organizational impact of applying these principles led to strategy transformation and operational enhancements and improved the organizational perception and operation within our environment.

Leveraging these insights and methodologies in stakeholder salience will enable your organization to prioritize effectively, respond appropriately to stakeholder demands, and maintain a competitive edge in your industry. I encourage you to integrate these practices into your strategic planning to witness the profound impact they can have on your organizational success. By applying these principles, your organization can achieve enhanced stakeholder engagement, resulting in improved strategic outcomes and more robust, sustainable business operations.

References

Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute, Newtown Square.

Project Management Institute. (2022). Process Groups: A Practice Guide. Newton Square, PA: Project Management Institute

Hendricks, A. (2024, January 25). Stakeholder Mapping: Methods, Benefits & Examples. Simply Stakeholders. https://simplystakeholders.com/stakeholder-mapping/#heading-6

Mitchell, R. K., Agle, B. R., & Wood, D. J. (1997). Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts. The Academy of Management Review22(4), 853–886. https://doi.org/10.2307/259247

Yang, R. J., Wang, Y., & Jin, X.-H. (2014). Stakeholders’ attributes, behaviors, and decision-making strategies in construction projects: importance and correlations in practice. Project Management Journal, 45(3), 74–90. https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/stakeholders-decision-making-strategies-construction-projects-2283

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