C10.4.3.3 Effective Communication with Stakeholders


The way in which managers perceive and act upon the pressures from stakeholders at the site level depends upon site and parent-company-specific factors. These may include their track record of environmental performance, the competitive position of the parent company and the organizational structure of the site.

The diagram below identifies stakeholder pressures and their potential influence.

Source: M. Delmas & M.W. Toffel, 2004, “Stakeholders and Environmental Management Practices: An Institutional Framework”, published in Business Strategy and the Environment by Wiley InterScience.


It is important that you realize early on in the project how important the stakeholders are to your chances of a successful conclusion to it. One of the worst mistakes you could make is to underestimate the importance of good communication with them.


In General:

  • Always be honest. It can be tempting at times to try and avoid a difficult conversation with the stakeholders by telling them what they want to hear even when it isn’t actually true. This might seem like a smart idea at the time but it could end up causing you some big problems later on. It is far better for the long term success of your project to stick to the truth, no matter what how uncomfortable it is. Don’t forget that even a subtle little lie can get found out later on and cause the relationship you have with the stakeholders to collapse. It is far better for both the smooth running of the project and your conscience if you simply tell the truth at all times and look for suitable solutions whenever things get too complicated.
  • Listen to what they say. Make an effort to find out what they want and what they expect you to deliver.
  • Seek their opinions. The Board of Directors will happily tell you what they want, but customers or local interest groups might not be so forthcoming. So ask them! Just make sure that you feedback to them, especially if you are not going forward with their suggestions.
  • Go to them. You may find that they are more comfortable in their own environment.
  • Do not assume that they know what their role as a stakeholder involves. Your investors, customers and regulators probably do know what their role is in relation to you and what they expect from you. However, local residents or environmental groups may not. They may need more background information than other stakeholder groups.
  • You should keep the communication concise. Do not provide them with so much information that they cannot get to the key points (although be prepared with more detailed information to be able to respond to specific questions should any arise).
  • Try not to use too many technical terms or any jargon. Even regulators might not understand specific technical terms, let alone those stakeholders who know little of your industry (customers, neighbours, public etc).
  • Taylor the type of communication to the stakeholder group you are addressing. For example, is a PowerPoint presentation more suitable, or would a newsletter type document be more appropriate?
  • If the stakeholders need to take action (perhaps a further discussion at board level, or some joint effort from a Client), make sure that you write them up an action list. It is in your best interests to ensure that they know what is expected of them and that they complete the task.
  • Never commit to anything where you do not have the authority to do so (and even then, never without knowing the cost implications).
  • Keep your promises. This is very important, which is why the point above is included. You need to build trust and making broken promises is a sure fire way to destroy that.


With an issue that may not prove popular with your stakeholders:

  • Early communication is essential. If you are building something that the local residents are likely to be opposed to it, the sooner you start alleviating their fears the better.
  • If you are raising a problem, always offer a solution.