Bridging the gap between sales and project management: Issue 3 of 6

Stakeholder types and their quirks

Power versus proximity

This is the third instalment of our mini-series on Bridging the gap between sales and project management.

Issue 1: Assess your client & project alignment
Issue 2: From sales to project setup
Issue 3: Stakeholder types and their quirks
Issue 4: Stakeholder alignment
Issue 5: Tips for stakeholder onboarding
Issue 6: Wrap-up & resources

Let’s dig in:

Welcome back. We’re halfway there. Let’s 101 with a twist.

Stakeholders: NOT people holding stakes

What are stakeholders? They’re people who have something to gain or lose in relation to your project, and can directly or indirectly impact, or be impacted by its direction. They may or may not have a direct say on the project. Sometimes it might feel like they’re carrying stakes behind their backs, but generally speaking, remember that folks are operating at their best capacity and want to be good people.

As a project lead, you’re a stakeholder. And your boss and their boss are stakeholders. Your point of contact is also a stakeholder as well as every single person on the client side who pipes up about project direction. Puppies are not stakeholders—just to be clear. It’s a good idea to put some parameters around these differences since they frame the level of involvement a stakeholder ought to have.

An diagram of two series of touching concentric circles: one showing the layers of your internal team and the other showing an external team

Internal stakeholders

These are people who work in your organization. Generally speaking, treat the contractors you hire as internal stakeholders to create better cohesion and alignment on your project teams (but recognize that they bring greater risk as their goals might differ from your core team’s e.g. they might take vacation while your project is running—too bad for you).


On your project, you and your immediate project team are primary stakeholders. Sales is temporarily part of this circle, but if sales transitions the project to you and you take over additional negotiations on scope, your sales team is no longer part of the primary stakeholder list.

A diagram showing you inside of your team

You and your core team

Watch out for:

  • Misaligned contractors who can’t commit
  • Sick days, holidays, and lower periods of productivity
  • Drama, infighting, passive-aggressive interactions
  • Hiding feature creep or effort creep from project lead or clients


Your boss and other executives are secondary stakeholders on your project. They may not have direct contact with your clients (or speak directly with other executive stakeholders on internal projects), but they have the most to financially gain or lose from this project. They keep the lights on and your pay cheques coming so they have a vested interest in how happy your projects are.

A diagram of you inside your team inside your organization

Your boss and other directors, executives, management layers.

Watch out for:

  • Swoop and pooping (surprise requests/feedback that derails team)
  • Poor estimating and scoping by optimistic leaders
  • Favours agreed upon above that you must comply with


These are folks who aren’t directly tied to your project but are still impacted by it, including financial advisors, investors, consultants, or board members. You could argue that these stakeholders are external if they are not employed by your organization, but what’s important is to recognize their distance from the day to day activities of your projects. They may still have a huge impact on project direction, but you might not ever meet them or hear from them directly. Watch for mystery voices that demand action without explanation.

A diagram of you inside your team inside your org inside your external influences

Watch out for:

  • Rapid growth, downsizing, being acquired or dissolved
  • Infighting, misalignment, or cronyism
  • Unclear processes, bureaucracy, or red tape

External stakeholders

These are folks who employ you and are your clients or vendors you pay to help complete the work. Let’s keep contractors out of this list unless they’re employed by your client.


If you’re a client services org, your client point of contact and their immediate core team make up your primary external stakeholders. These stakeholders are the closest to the day to day project activities and often are most vocal about how they are impacted by it (but often have less to lose than their managers or bosses).

A diagram of your influences beside your point of contact inside their project team

Your client point of contact and your client’s core team.

Watch out for:

  • Fear based decision making in middle management (e.g. protecting role in org)
  • Seeking perfection through rounds of revisions or feature requests
  • Hiding progress or delaying feedback from agency org or own boss
  • Misalignment or distrust between client team and agency team


Secondary stakeholders are your client’s bosses, owners, CEOs, or other executive bodies who have everything gain or lose if this project fails. Remember that if you’re a client services company, you are running several client projects, but this is the only project your client is running with you which makes it very important. Note how much further they are from the day to day activities.

A diagram of your influences beside your point of contact inside their project team inside their executive team

Your client’s owners, execs, VPs, directors.

Watch out for:

  • Swoop and poops (requests and features requests galore)
  • Changes in project direction or goals
  • Lack of clarity, stakeholder misalignment
  • Infighting and undermining decisions (‘climbing the ladder’)


Those tertiary stakeholders are the real multiplier. They are, by far, the furthest removed from the day to day activities of the project (you may not even know their names) but they have a huge impact on project timeline, scope, and budget. Usually, these stakeholders include folks on regulatory boards, legal teams, advisors, and consultants who work directly or indirectly with your clients and may have standardized processes that slow down reviews and approvals. They may also introduce surprise criteria to the project that inflate the scope or drag timelines.

A diagram of your influences beside your point of contact inside their project team inside their executive team inside their external influences

Your client’s advisors, investors, consultants, board, or legal team.

Watch out for:

  • Sudden changes to project direction
  • Massive delays and scope changes
  • Mystery voices that derail the project (surprise feedback/requests)

Up next

Keep your peepers on your inbox. Next week we’ll be covering Stakeholder alignment.

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