When I hear project managers talk “stakeholder engagement,” it usually makes me cringe.

Too many project managers throw around buzzwords without understanding what they really mean. Sadly, they also adhere to antiquated or inefficient processes.

Enough already.

Let’s start by defining what a stakeholder is. Project stakeholders are people, groups, and organizations who have power (the ability to influence ) or interest (positive or negative) in the project deliverables and outcomes.

The image below is an excellent example of stakeholders and will help guide your identification.

Most project managers and organizations do a decent job identifying stakeholders yet struggle to prioritize them correctly. As a result, they spend too much time and energy incorrectly engaging with stakeholders.

Time and energy are both finite. Stop wasting them,

Taking a moment to objectively reflect upon the ACTUAL levels of power and interest your project stakeholder possess saves you time, energy, and money in the long run.

Let the image below serve as a guide to standardizing your engagement strategies.

Also, I often get this question, so I will address it quickly: identifying a stakeholder with “low” power or interest in your project is not an insult to them. You aren’t challenging their professionalism, and you aren’t calling them lazy. You also aren’t spending time and energy on them during this project. It’s what they can do for THIS project that matters.

Below is a guide to engaging with stakeholders according to the levels of power and interest each possesses. Feel free to change the phrasing of the definitions below, and realize there is no one-size-fits-all engagement plan.

MONITOR: Track this stakeholder’s commentary in traditional and social media to see if their level of interest and/or access to power changes.

INFORM: Provide this stakeholder with RELEVANT high-level information at regular intervals.

CONSULT: Obtain this stakeholder’s feedback on key project decisions relevant to them.

INVOLVE: Rely on their expert advice when making decisions about the project.

COLLABORATE: Partner with this stakeholder to develop alternatives and arrive at solutions acceptable to the collaboration group.

EMPOWER: Authorize this stakeholder to make specific decisions about the project.

I’ve made bold some words in the definitions above. Use them as a guide to differentiating how you need to engage with each stakeholder.

Yes, I am telling you to stop with blanket “empowerment” of people in your projects due to a personal relationship with them, a title they hold, and more. Only empower those who possess the proper level of power and interest in the project. Only consult relevant stakeholders after you’ve made progress on a decision or activity, and only involve those who possess knowledge or skills relevant to project goals.

Starting to see how this works?

Lastly, when you do “empower” someone, do so intentionally and then get out of their way.

Engaging with project stakeholders at the right time and in the right way will, in the long run, pay massive dividends to ensure you have the project and corporate culture you crave.

Projects are often complicated enough, even more so when people get involved. In today’s world, filled with redundant meetings, fuzzy and unclear project scopes, and ever-shifting environments, it’s vital you protect yourself and your project resources.

In essence, learn to work smarter. Not harder.