Advanced stakeholder management

Managing Stakeholder Risk & Social Acceptance

We talk about an important side of stakeholder management: risk! Find out how to manage high risk stakeholders and increase your social acceptance with these tips.

There’s a side to stakeholder management that we haven’t talked about much until now… 

We have talked a lot about stakeholder and risk in the sense that engaging with and managing stakeholders can help to reduce an organization’s risk because you have better relationships and more information to work with. 

But today we want to focus on the idea that some stakeholders themselves may present a risk to your project or organization. And if you don’t gain their social acceptance, you could face significant challenges ahead.

So, let’s dive into how you can manage stakeholder risk and increase your chances of acceptance. But first, let’s get more specific about why and how some stakeholders might be riskier than others.

When Stakeholders Present a Risk

A woman holding a microphone stands up at her table to speak at an event.

Technically, any stakeholder could be considered a risk to your project or business these days. People have a lot more power to influence than they used to, thanks to social media and the ability to rally people to their opinion and cause. 

But it’s fair to say that some stakeholders still hold more power and influence than others — and are more likely to cause problems for projects they’re opposed to. Their social acceptance could mean the difference between a project that goes ahead and one that falls apart.

Examples of higher risk stakeholders include:

  • Those with negative opinions – Especially if they share their opinions publicly and influence others, this could lead to a loss of reputation, poor publicity, and loss of customers/clients.
  • Those with legal power – Some stakeholders may have the power to pursue legal action or push for regulatory changes that impact your organization or project.
  • People with conflicts of interest – If certain stakeholders aren’t fully onboard with your project or organization due to conflicting interests, they might cause delays, performance issues, and relationship problems.
  • Stakeholders presenting a security risk – Cybersecurity in particular is a huge concern right now, and in some cases, stakeholders might present an additional vulnerability to your organization that could introduce malware or lead to a data breach.
  • Stakeholders that might disrupt supply chains – Stakeholders that form part of your supply chain could risk disrupting your operations and causing loss of reputation or poor financial outcomes.

10 Strategies to Manage Stakeholder Risk & Increase Social Acceptance

So, what can you do to better target and manage these riskier stakeholders? Here are 10 strategies and approaches that can help…

1. Identify Stakeholders and Analyze Risk

First thing’s first… you need to know who your stakeholders are. From there, you can start to understand the situation from their perspective, who your riskiest stakeholders are, and who you need to prioritize first.

Stakeholder analysis and stakeholder mapping can help you identify key stakeholders based on interest, influence, and impact. And sentiment analysis can help you identify stakeholders who feel negatively about your project, organization, or issue — which may indicate greater risk of opposition and lower social acceptance. Meanwhile, relationship mapping can also help you identify influential or powerful people to focus on who may help you gain broader social acceptance once you win them over.

Overall, identifying your stakeholders, analyzing them, and understanding their needs and interests will help you tailor your approach, which will prove helpful for gaining social acceptance.

2. Be Proactive

Choose proactivity over reactivity when it comes to high risk stakeholder relationships. This means:

  • Don’t wait for something or someone to become a problem
  • Communicating early and often
  • Identifying potential stakeholder risks early — and developing strategies to mitigate them
  • Anticipating issues that stakeholders might have and bring them up early on
  • Trying to solve problems before they become big enough to derail your project or relationships

3. Build Relationships

It’s always a good idea to build relationships with stakeholders, but pay special attention to stakeholder relationships that pose a higher risk. Keeping these people close can help you manage and reduce the associated risks. 

Some ways to strengthen these stakeholder relationships include:

  • Carefully listening to stakeholder concerns
  • Responding to their questions and comments quickly
  • Building trust through integrity, consistency, and transparency
  • Finding mutual interests and building shared understanding
  • Developing mutual respect

By building a strong relationship with the right people, you can establish yourself in the community and (hopefully) gain rapid traction. And increase the likelihood that even your highest risk stakeholders see you as partners instead of opponents. 

4. Communicate Well

Good communication is key to engaging with higher risk stakeholders. Come back to your stakeholder analysis so that you:

  • Understand the issues to focus on (and address their concerns)
  • Engage in a way that meets their expectations
  • Align with their communication preferences

In general, it’s best to communicate regularly and consistently to avoid surprising people with an unexpected update. Keep people informed on your plans, activities, progress, reports, and any opportunities to get involved — while managing their expectations

Other general best practices for good stakeholder communication include using multiple communication channels (to reach more people), considering accessibility and inclusion, and using clear, concise language.

5. Provide Opportunities to Participate

One way to increase social acceptance and buy-in from key people is to offer more opportunities for them to participate. You can get people involved in your decision-making process via:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Meetings
  • Events
  • Volunteering

Any opportunity to share ideas, offer feedback, or provide skills can help to get your stakeholders involved. Just make sure that their participation is meaningful — feedback should be heard and have the opportunity to impact outcomes, so don’t ask for input on things that cannot be changed.

6. Listen

Effective listening is always important, but especially when a stakeholder could present additional risk. This involves addressing any concerns and complaints promptly and effectively, showing that you’re listening and willing to take action. A welcome side-effect of listening to your stakeholders is that they might be more open to hearing your side of the story, too. And this could lead to them accepting new information and perspectives that help to change their mind or find a compromise. 

7. Be Transparent

Although we’ve already touched on this concept, transparency deserves further consideration because it shows stakeholders that your organization can be trusted — even if they don’t exactly agree with your decisions. 

One good way to increase transparency is by regularly communicating about your progress and process via reports and other channels. In your reports, be open about your governance, social responsibility, human rights issues, sustainability, and other key issues. 

8. Commit

It’s one thing to say you’re committed to doing good… but are you actually doing what you say you’ll do?

Demonstrating commitment can help you manage stakeholder risk and gain social acceptance from even some of your more difficult stakeholders. So, take action and report on what you’re doing to meet your commitments as a socially responsible organization, including sustainability, ethical business practices, environmental protection, community engagement, human rights, and more.

9. Gain Support and Build On It

Use the stakeholder analysis process to identify stakeholders that likely agree with your approach and consider building relationships with them first. In some cases, these initial relationships with lower risk stakeholders can help you demonstrate social acceptance and legitimacy, which may help you win over more challenging stakeholders. 

10. Monitor Closely

Finally, it’s always important to track your stakeholders, but even more so when you’re dealing with higher risk scenarios. Use stakeholder monitoring software like Simply Stakeholders to keep track of all your stakeholder contacts and interactions — Asana and Spreadsheets won’t cut it. Careful monitoring will help you (and your team) stay on top of issues, grievances, trends, and which stakeholders need to reach out to next.

Manage Stakeholders with Simply Stakeholders

Need a tool to track and manage your stakeholders — and better understand their unique risk profiles and social acceptance? You need Simply Stakeholders

With flexible stakeholder lists, advanced stakeholder mapping and analysis, and detailed record keeping… our stakeholder software makes even the trickiest stakeholder management processes a whole lot simpler.

Contact us with your questions or request a demo from our team today!