How to Assess Your Project Stakeholders’ Power and Interest

By Stanley E. Portny

A stakeholder’s potential impact on a project depends on the power she can exercise and the interest she has in exercising that power. Assessing the relative levels of each helps you decide with whom you should spend your time and effort to realize the greatest benefits.

Power is a person’s ability to influence the actions of others. This ability can derive either from the direct authority the person has to require people to respond to her requests or the ability she has to induce others to do what she asks because of the respect they have for her professionally or personally.

In either case, the more power a person has, the better able she is to marshal people and resources to support your project. Typically, drivers and supporters have higher levels of power over your project than observers do.

On the other hand, a person’s interest in something is how much she cares or is curious about it or how much she pays attention to it. The more interested a person is in your project, the more likely she is to want to use her power to help the project succeed.

You can define a stakeholder’s relative levels of power and interest related to your project as being either high or low. You then have four possible combinations for each stakeholder’s relative levels of power and interest. The particular values of a stakeholder’s power and interest ratings suggest the chances that the stakeholder may have a significant impact on your project and, therefore, the relative importance of keeping that stakeholder interested and involved in your project.

Most often, you base the assessments of a stakeholder’s power over and interest in your project on the aggregated individual, subjective opinions of several parties: you, your team members, your project’s other stakeholders, people who have worked with the stakeholder on other projects, subject matter experts, and/or the stakeholder himself or herself. If you assign a value of 1 to each individual rating of high and 0 to each individual rating of low, you’d rate a stakeholder’s power or interest as high if the average of the individual assessments were 0.5 or greater and low if the average were below 0.5.

The image below depicts a Power-Interest Grid, which represents these four possible power-interest combinations as distinct quadrants on a two-dimensional graph.

As the project manager, you should spend a minimal amount of time and effort with stakeholders who have low levels of both power and interest (Quadrant I). Spend increasingly greater amounts of time and effort with stakeholders who have a low level of power and a high level of interest (Quadrant II) and a low level of interest and a high level of power (Quadrant III), respectively. You should spend the most time and effort keeping stakeholders with high degrees of both power and interest (Quadrant IV) informed and involved.

power interest grid
Involving stakeholders with different levels of power and interest in your project.