A Leap from Negative to Positive Bond. A Step towards Project Sustainability
This study examines stakeholder management and sustainable development. The authors use major public infrastructure and construction projects (MPIC) as a microcosm to evaluate how to make projects more sustainable. Di Maddaloni and Derakhshan posit that MPIC projects are particularly fraught by stakeholder issues due to their complexity, divergent stakeholder interests and perceived impact on the community. At the same time, MPIC projects have an exponential promise to enact positive change in those same communities.
According to the authors, stakeholder management theory has historically emphasized primary or vital stakeholders, placing less value or potential impact on secondary stakeholders. There is a trend that is now taking a closer look at secondary actors in a more prominent place in stakeholder identification processes. Thorough stakeholder analysis should build up the picture of the stakeholder environment. Sustainable development fits into this by molding itself to the project management processes. Sustainable development is defined in this paper as transparency and inclusivity with the community. The authors propose that this amalgamation puts project management at the forefront of sustainable development in the organization and broader society. Societal objectives, project process and project goals are aligned.
Di Maddaloni and Derakhshan use attribution theory to explain how to meld sustainable development into project stakeholder management (2019). The background they provide explains the two stakeholder approaches: management of stakeholders vs. management for stakeholders. The latter approach is inclusive in that it prioritizes respect of and giving legitimacy to stakeholders. This holistic approach tells the project manager to care about and understand the interests of the stakeholders, which aligns with sustainable development. Attribution theory explains that the stakeholders and the project manager are trapped in a negative bond that becomes a cycle. The cycle is fed by automatic perceptions on behalf of both parties. This negative bond can be broken if the project manager utilizes sustainable development methods in stakeholder management.
The authors suggest two methods to break negative bonds. The first method is increasing transparency with the stakeholders. The second method is increased involvement in the community. Both of these tactics change perceptions of the community stakeholders and the project manager. With the increase in information about the project and understanding of the other perspective, each is forced to utilize a more conscious effort to perceive the other as opposed to mental shortcuts based on scant information. The authors hope to further knowledge in the area of project stakeholder management with this emphasis on relationships and connections. The research and proposed approach are conceptual, and the authors recommend empirical studies to further elucidate this inclusive stakeholder management approach.
An inclusive and holistic stakeholder management approach contrasts against the conventional categorization of stakeholders by salience or an engagement matrix as illustrated in the PMBOK (Project Management Institute, 2017). However, the trends noted in the PMBOK do point to concepts like co-creation and casting a wider net when identifying stakeholders. While traditional methods are still relevant and effective, the holistic approach addresses issues that repeatedly arise in MCIP projects when the community stakeholders are left out of the loop. This approach can be applied to any project. Specifically, the two methods of transparency and community involvement. The authors use the term sustainable development to describe the holistic approach they suggest. While this term suits this description, I believe it often is misunderstood or misconstrued. Sustainable development can mean many different things and can be applied to multiple disciplines. Being in the agriculture industry, it means something different than how Di Maddaloni and Derakhshan describe it. Nevertheless, I agree that integrating sustainable development into project stakeholder management could improve project success and has the potential to do a better job of understanding and collaborating with stakeholders.
Di Maddaloni, F., & Derakhshan, R. (2019). A Leap from Negative to Positive Bond. A Step towards Project Sustainability. Administrative Sciences (2076-3387), 9(2), 41. https://doi.org/10.3390/admsci9020041
Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.
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