How to communicate with external stakeholders when managing complex projects

Energy Career Advice
Horkiz Rouzi

By Horkiz Rouzi
June 4, 2024

June 4, 2024

0 min read

Effective stakeholder communication is crucial for successful project management, particularly within the energy industry. With over 15 years of experience in project development and management in the energy sector, I have found that managing projects involves a delicate balance of people, processes, and financial resources.

Stakeholder management is paramount as it involves engaging with various internal and external stakeholders and categorising them into primary, secondary, and key stakeholders.

Engaging stakeholders through effective communication is vital to managing finances and following processes. Mapping, identifying, and engaging with stakeholders in diverse ways are essential to project success.

Understanding stakeholders

Effective stakeholder management is crucial for the success of complex projects. It involves identifying, addressing, and integrating stakeholders' needs, expectations, and concerns into all phases of the project.

Nothing good can happen without the project understanding what a project WILL DO to its stakeholders. Nothing will happen if you don’t have the buy-in from your stakeholders. There are many approaches to stakeholder management, and all boil down to listening, planning together and communicating effectively.

To manage stakeholders effectively, I identify all relevant parties, including team members, collaborators, community members, government entities, and regulatory bodies, using tools like Excel, Primavera, or Microsoft Project. I consult with my team and seek advice from subject matter experts to conduct a thorough analysis and ensure all key stakeholders are considered, especially those indirectly influenced by the project.

I then categorise stakeholders into four groups:

  • Their influence and engagement
  • Those influenced by the project
  • Influencers of the project
  • Those impacted either positively or negatively

This helps assess how their interests align with the project's goals.

Stakeholders are further classified as key, primary, or secondary. This classification aids in assigning team members to communicate effectively with each group.

Communication strategies are customiseed based on the stakeholders' importance, ranging from personal meetings with top officials to regular updates through calls and written communications. This tailored approach ensures that all stakeholders’ expectations are met appropriately at different engagement levels.

A group of businesspeople discussing around a table

Communication strategies

Effective stakeholder communication requires tailoring approaches to fit different groups' needs and preferences.

 For instance, communicating with a CEO might necessitate a formal and concise style, whereas project managers may prefer more detailed updates. Adapting communication style, frequency, and content to stakeholder preferences ensures effective engagement. Regular check-ins and adjustments to communication strategies are crucial for successful stakeholder management.

In my experience, meeting stakeholders through in-person or video interactions, especially key figures like senior executives or project managers, is highly effective. Face-to-face meetings enhance understanding of communication styles and preferences. Following these, sending emails summarising discussions to track and document key points is important, as well as ensuring messages are clear and well-received.

The frequency of communication with stakeholders in complex projects depends on their interests and influence. I recommend weekly updates via written communication, calls, or meetings for those with high interest and influence. Stakeholders with high influence but low interest require regular engagement to maintain their involvement, with communication ranging from weekly to quarterly.

After in-person meetings, sending detailed email summaries to reinforce discussed points and keep stakeholders updated is beneficial. Proactively addressing potential challenges or changes with early notifications fosters transparency and builds trust.


Proactive communication and transparency are vital

Managing stakeholder expectations and transparency

Open and honest communication is paramount for me. I proactively discuss potential setbacks or delays, good or bad, to manage expectations from the start. To avoid issues, I keep myself informed about the client's organisation and stakeholder environment. This awareness allows me to tailor my communication style and strategically address challenges before they escalate.

Transparency is key to fostering trust with stakeholders. I believe in upfront communication, even when delivering difficult news about project delays. By being proactive, I demonstrate my commitment to positive stakeholder relationships.

Handling situations where stakeholders have conflicting interests or priorities

When navigating conflicting stakeholder interests, I prioritise understanding the root cause. I often find solutions that address personal concerns through effective communication and focusing on their perspective. If a stakeholder remains resistant, I may escalate the issue professionally, emphasising the project's overall value.

Encouraging open communication and feedback from external stakeholders

My approach to stakeholder management focuses on building strong relationships by demonstrating professionalism and expertise, fostering transparency and approachability.

I engage stakeholders personally, beyond formal interactions, to showcase my values and build trust. This personal connection enhances our understanding of each other’s communication styles and expectations, smoothing professional interactions.

Sharing personal life aspects also strengthens these bonds, proving essential in navigating challenges and maintaining positive relationships throughout my career.

A group of people in business attire standing around a table that has some documents

How to manage difficult stakeholders

Effective project management hinges on open communication and collaboration. However, not all stakeholders are easy to deal with. Some may be resistant to change, overly demanding, or even downright hostile.

Overcoming stakeholder challenges

One of the most challenging situations I faced involved a Vice President from a different background who underestimated me due to cultural and generational gaps. To build rapport, I took the time to get to know him personally, learning about his family and career and moving beyond just business interactions.

Demonstrate your value

To further demonstrate my value, I included him in important meetings with high-level clients. He witnessed my communication skills and the strong relationships I had established. It was a gradual process, but our working relationship improved significantly after a year of consistent effort.

Persevere and adapt

This experience underscored the importance of perseverance and finding the right approach for each stakeholder. When dealing with complex stakeholders, I set clear expectations about deliverables, communication styles, and timelines. Documenting these helps prevent misunderstandings.

Adopt flexible communication strategies

If emails prove ineffective, I do not hesitate to switch to phone calls or face-to-face meetings. In some cases, escalating the issue to my supervisor has been necessary. This allows me to discuss challenges and strategise, or even involve the stakeholder's superior when needed.

Balance openness with confidentiality

Maintaining transparency while protecting sensitive data is a constant challenge. Large organisations often require non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for handling sensitive information.

Be mindful of sensitive information

For internal strategic matters, confidential one-on-one meetings are effective for controlling information flow. I ensure verbal communications are clear about confidentiality and sharing restrictions. If using emails, I employ straightforward subject lines that indicate confidentiality and outline recipient restrictions to control information dissemination.

Strategies for building relationships and maintaining trust

Build rapport with external stakeholders

Establishing solid relationships and trust with external stakeholders in complex projects hinges on building rapport early. One of the most effective methods is frequent in-person meetings, allowing for more personal interaction than emails or phone calls.

Tailor your communication

Before every meeting, I research stakeholders using LinkedIn or Google to understand their backgrounds, experiences, and interests. This helps me tailor my communication style. For instance, I keep my communication concise with quiet and reserved stakeholders to avoid overwhelming them.

Reinforce your stakeholders' value

The key to keeping external stakeholders invested is making them feel important. Regular updates, even simple ones like a text message or a group photo post-meeting, help maintain their interest and involvement. For example, if a high-level executive misses a meeting, sending them a text with the highlights can make them feel included and up-to-date.

Celebrate milestones and accomplishments

Celebrating project milestones and achievements is crucial for fostering a positive environment. Organising casual group events outside of the office, like a three-day team-building event, helps build camaraderie. Such celebrations allow team members to connect on a personal level.

Continuing the momentum with celebrations and recognition at company-wide town hall meetings further highlights achievements and showcases the project's success to a global audience. This approach builds a strong reputation and enhances personal connections with stakeholders.

By celebrating both big and small successes, we create a motivated work environment where people feel valued for their contributions. This leads to greater commitment and achievement in future project goals.

A trio of people in business attire applauding two people in the foreground shaking hands

Lessons learned and future trends

Looking back, two key lessons stand out regarding communication with external stakeholders, especially for those new to the field. The first is tailoring communication to the individual. This encompasses not only the content of the message but also the communication style. Understanding the stakeholder's background and preferences allows you to adjust your approach for maximum effectiveness.

The second lesson is the importance of documentation, particularly on complex projects with multiple stakeholders. Memories can fade, and details can get lost. Implementing a system for recording communication and stakeholder engagement protects everyone involved and ensures a clear record of the project's progress.

I've also found that building rapport on a personal level goes a long way. Getting to know stakeholders as people, not just professional contacts, fosters trust and strengthens the working relationship.

Evolving communication preferences will heavily influence stakeholder communication in project management. The trend points to a future dominated by written communication, especially with digital natives joining the workforce. Formal emails may become the norm, even internally, while traditional phone calls and meetings may decrease in frequency.

Parting words

Always maintain a growth mindset. The most crucial lesson I've learned is acknowledging that you don't know everything. Project management involves a complex interplay of people, money, and processes, regardless of the industry. Even with experience, there's always more to learn. Embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Seek out mentors with extensive knowledge and cultivate a network of valuable contacts. Humility and a willingness to learn will make you a more effective project manager overall.

Furthermore, prioritise understanding your stakeholders on a deeper level. While budgets and timelines are significant, knowing your people is paramount. By understanding each individual's talents, you can leverage their strengths, weaknesses, and communication styles to optimise project outcomes. Effective communication hinges on this deeper understanding, allowing you to tailor your approach and build stronger relationships with external stakeholders.

A holographic image with bubbles of currency symbols surrounding the word "stakeholder", and a finger points to the word

About the Author

Horkiz Rouzi is the founder and CEO of an international Project development and management company – RHIS Group. Through RHIS, Rouzi developed TotalEnergies offshore wind projects in the US.  Also developed Hexas Biomass projects globally.

Currently, she is developing GRIDVISE (Microgrid design and solutions) projects and Texas Innovate (Hydrogen innovation incubator) projects. a. She is the strategic advisor to the US Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD) and a mentor at United Ways women’s initiatives.  
Rouzi pursued her education in China (Peking University), Australia (South Australia University) and the USA (Harvard University). She has worked and lived in 10 countries throughout Asia and America.
Rouzi is multilingual and scales high in social and emotional intelligence.

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