The Salience Model for Project Managers

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When you study Project Stakeholder Management for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam, you will be faced with an array of Stakeholder Analysis techniques to prioritize your stakeholders.

The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) lists Power / Interest, Power / Influence and Influence / Impact grids and explains how all three grids work. Depending on your project and your stakeholders’ profiles, you can use whichever factors are most appropriate. Indeed, we have offered some advice on working with these grids in a previous article.

The Guide also lists a Stakeholder Cude, which allows stakeholders to be categorized across three factors at once, as does the final technique listed: the Salience Model. This is explained in one paragraph, but no supporting diagram is provided. So what does a Salience Model look like? How are we supposed to employ it? When it comes down to it, it is a straightforward technique, made intimidating by its reasonably exotic name. According to the Oxford Dictionary, salient is the “most noticeable or important” aspect of whatever is being considered. So, yet again, the Salience Model is just another way to get at who are the important stakeholders. This model was presented in an Academy of Management paper in 1997 called “Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts”, written by Ronald Mitchell, Bradley Agle and Donna Wood.

Unlike the various grid techniques – the Salience Model, like the Stakeholder Cube, provides Project Managers with the means to consider stakeholders across three dimensions. But, instead of using a three-dimensional cube, a Venn diagram is employed instead.

There are three categories defined in the Salience Model and all stakeholders must be placed somewhere within those categories. These are:

Power: For a Project Manager, stakeholders with power are those who can influence the outcomes of the project.

Legitimacy: This relates to the level of authority the stakeholder has. For instance, the Project Sponsor would have greater legitimacy than a team member would.

Urgency: How soon do the stakeholders need responses from the Project Manager?

Obviously, just like in the various grids, stakeholders can be filed under several or even all of these categories. This means Project Managers can file their stakeholders under a total of seven headings, all conveniently labelled with words beginning with “D”.

In terms of priority, the more categories the project stakeholder appears in, the higher their priority. Thus the Definitive stakeholders – those that represent power, urgency and legitimacy are your primary concern, followed by those with who have two of the three attributes – the Dominant, Dangerous and Dependent stakeholders. If a project stakeholder is in only one category – Dormant, Discretionary or Demanding – they should have least priority.

We can use this idea to map the seven categories of stakeholders provided in the Salience Model to the four management approaches used in the various grids giving:

Manage CloselyDefinitive, Dependent
Keep SatisfiedDangerous
Keep InformedDominant, Demanding
Monitor (minimum effort)Dormant, Discretionary

Obviously, Definitive stakeholders need to be managed closely but, although Dependent stakeholders lack power, they can form coalitions with other stakeholders and achieve power in this way.

Dangerous stakeholders could be a threat to the project. For instance, another Project Sponsor could set out to damage your project in order to get approval for one of their pet projects. Careful management can encourage them to seek an easier target.

Although lacking in urgency, make sure that you keep the Dominant stakeholders well informed. Remember these people have power and legitimacy, so be aware of their needs becoming urgent along the way. In fact, make sure you revisit your Salience Model during the project – stakeholders tend to contribute to projects at different times and their classification can change.

Keeping Demanding stakeholders informed is a self-preservation exercise. If they know what is going on, they might be less inclined to demand updates from you. It is a big danger for any Project Manager to spend too much time oiling the squeaky wheel – make sure you focus your communication efforts on more worthwhile stakeholders.

Finally, the Dormant and Discretionary stakeholders, who have power and legitimacy respectively, need to be watched in case they become more influential on the project. The CEO, for instance, might suddenly realize that your project is becoming vital to the emerging corporate strategy and become very Dangerous very quickly.

As part of our PMP® exam preparation courses we cover Project Stakeholder Management. If you seek to develop your skills in this area, please visit our training page or contact us directly. For your convenience, our PMP® training is carried out virtually in an online classroom.

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