Key Stakeholders and Strategic Decision Making (With FAQs)

Updated September 28, 2023

Key stakeholders, also known as the primary stakeholders, are essential to a company's long-term success. A stakeholder is any person who is involved with a company's operations, projects, or success. You can improve your decision-making strategies by understanding how to identify primary stakeholders. In this article, we explore who key stakeholders are, examine how to identify them, discover how they influence decision-making, review their benefits, and answer some frequently asked questions.

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Who are key stakeholders?

An organization's key stakeholders are those who have the greatest influence over its business or projects. Companies can maximize profits by investing time, money, and effort into their primary stakeholders. By enhancing strategic decision making, minimizing risks, and advancing an organization's development, they can enable organizations to grow. Companies have a variety of stakeholders, each with varying levels of interest. The most influential stakeholders for a company are its primary stakeholders.

Primary stakeholders may contribute in different roles depending on their involvement within the organization, their standing within the industry, and their objectives in the organization. They may assist the business with special projects or assignments, take part in planning leadership meetings, or provide the company with financial support. A few examples of primary stakeholders include employees, investors, shareholders, customers, market competitors, and government associations.

How to identify primary stakeholders

Here are four steps that can help you identify key stakeholders:

1. Identify all stakeholders

Before you can identify the primary stakeholders, it's important to first make a list of all the known stakeholders. When identifying stakeholders, consider all the individuals and organizations that affect the business or feel an impact by the business, influence it, or have an interest in its success. The list of shareholders may include:

  • Employees

  • Customers

  • Investors

  • Shareholders

  • Vendors

  • Financial advisors

  • Company executives

  • Department managers

  • Suppliers

  • Distributors

  • Unions

  • Government agencies

  • Competitors

  • Trade groups

  • Supervisors

  • Target markets

  • Potential customers

  • Financial contributors like funding organizations

  • Press

  • Analysts

  • Local community


  • Identifying Stakeholders (With Stakeholder Engagement Tips)

  • Target Market Examples (With Consideration for Your Own)

2. Establish and prioritize the purpose of each stakeholder

Making a list of stakeholders allows you to determine the level of influence and power each organization holds. By assessing stakeholder positions with their power and influence, a company can measure its ability to communicate effectively with each stakeholder about a variety of organizational topics. For example, company leaders have substantial influence over projects while the press may show an interest in specific projects and developments but rarely possess authority over production decisions.

If you're working with a large organization, prioritizing the primary stakeholders for a particular project can be as valuable as identifying the primary stakeholders of the entire company. These lists of key stakeholders can overlap or differ depending on the project. For example, one project may include department heads and investors, whereas another project may involve department heads and department employees. The primary stakeholders for a specific project also typically involve the target customer groups and the vendors because they're an essential part of development and sales.

Related: What Is a Stakeholder, and How Should You Prioritize Them?

3. Assess the operational impact

Analyze which stakeholders have the biggest impact, whether it's on a particular project or the entire company. You may consider the following as you review your list of stakeholders:

  • What does the business hope to gain from the relationship with the stakeholder?

  • Can the stakeholder help the business develop or grow?

  • Have they affected the business in the past?

  • Is there a fundamental difference they can make to the business?

  • Can another stakeholder easily perform the same responsibilities?

  • Does the stakeholder exist in multiple categories, such as an investor and an executive?

4. Determine the needs of each stakeholder

When you know and understand the views of the primary stakeholders, you can more easily determine if their recommendations and opinions are valuable to the decision-making process. It's also important to learn how to engage and communicate with different stakeholders. Directly addressing stakeholders is an excellent way of establishing a successful relationship. Here are some questions that can help you learn more about various stakeholders:

  • Why are they interested in the company or project?

  • What are their expectations for the project or the entire business?

  • What role or influence do they expect to have over operations?

  • How frequently can you contact them or send them updates?

  • How important is their satisfaction with the project or organization?

  • What financial or emotional interest do they have in the project's outcome?

  • What motivates them to interact with the company continually and actively?

  • What is their current opinion of the company and how did they form that opinion?

  • Who can they influence, and what is the extent of their reach?

Related: A Complete Guide to Performing a Stakeholder Analysis

Primary stakeholders and strategic decision-making

With their influence, knowledge, and insight into the company, primary stakeholders can help owners and managers make important decisions to expand their market share or industry reach. Understanding the stakeholders' interests and needs is essential to improving decision-making strategies. The success of stakeholder engagement depends on the level of participation each stakeholder can provide individually, according to the financial regulations and goals of the project. It's essential to communicate early and often with stakeholders to ensure a clear understanding and alignment of project and organization goals.

Here are some questions you may consider when deciding how and when to engage stakeholders:

  • How much stakeholder involvement is necessary for stakeholders to feel confident of the change's effectiveness?

  • Can the stakeholders make a decision, formulate an agreement, and devise a plan for change within a reasonable amount of time?

  • How do both the stakeholders and primary stakeholders view the overall impact of the decision?

  • How can the information and expertise of the primary stakeholders contribute to making a quality decision?

  • Which stakeholder is most competent and experienced in making critical decisions?

  • Can this be an opportunity to encourage stronger relationships and build a more effective team?

Related: What Are Decision-Making Skills and How to Improve Them

Benefits of stakeholders

There are a variety of benefits that primary stakeholders can provide, depending on factors such as their role, expectations, and if they're actively taking part in a project. The following are a few ways primary stakeholders can a benefit business:

  • Minimize risk: It's possible to gain different perspectives on projects or business operations from various groups of stakeholders. The stakeholder's unique views of business risks can help companies reduce the impact of those risks or avoid them entirely.

  • Promote development: An organization's primary stakeholders typically make the most critical decisions. They can make decisions regarding a company's expansion, development, or structural changes because they have a personal interest in the company's growth.

  • Provide resources: Companies often rely on stakeholders to supply the resources necessary for their operations or goals. Resources may include financial help, project materials, access to new technologies, or human resources.

  • Increase efficiency: Primary stakeholders, such as employees and department heads, influence the company's day-to-day operations by ensuring tasks and assignments operate effectively and efficiently.

  • Align operations: Primary stakeholders understand the company's long-term goals. Their understanding of the company's overall objectives ensures that specific projects or operations meet the company's ultimate vision.

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Primary stakeholder FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about primary stakeholders:

What is the difference between internal and external stakeholders?

External or internal stakeholders can be primary stakeholders. An internal stakeholder refers to a company member who has a direct role within the company. Internal stakeholders may include employees, business owners, investors, or board members. External stakeholders are outside parties who interact with the business. External stakeholders may include distributors, regulators, customers, and creditors. A company's internal stakeholders have both a financial and personal stake in its operations and success. Most external stakeholders benefit financially, but rarely have a personal interest in the company.

What are the differences between a shareholder and a stakeholder?

An important distinction between a shareholder and a stakeholder is that a shareholder is a type of stakeholder. Shareholders are external stakeholders because they do not have a direct relationship with the company, but they have a financial stake in its success. The most important factor for shareholders to consider is the company's stock-market valuation because when this increases, the shareholder's value also increases. A shareholder's interest in a company can end the moment they sell their shares.

Who are the primary stakeholders in an educational setting?

Students are the major stakeholders in education. Academic staff are also essential in ensuring educational quality, coordinating study processes, and delivering study programmes. The development of curriculum involves input from a variety of internal stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, school principals, administrators, and school boards. External stakeholders such as school authorities, local policymakers, other schools in the district, and school donors can also be a vital part of ensuring a successful education.

Related: A Comprehensive Guide to Stakeholder Mapping (With Tips)

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