It looks like shareholder activists are increasingly getting their way with companies, or at least convincing management that if they don’t compromise they could wind up paying a steeper price down the road.

A number of recent corporate governance developments suggest that activists are starting to gain the upper hand, and companies are reacting by changing policies or proposing alternatives even when they are not required to.

These trends are playing out in the proxy access and say-on-pay movements.

The latest example: Hewlett-Packard reportedly agreed to put a proxy access bylaw proposal on its ballot in 2013 after reaching a settlement with Amalgamated Bank, a long-time activist investor which had filed a nonbinding proposal for the company’s March 2012 meeting. Under HP’s proposal, shareholders who own at least 3 percent of the tech company’s stock for at least three years would be allowed to nominate up to 20 percent of the company’s directors, according to The Wall Street Journal, which stressed the vote would be binding.

Amalgamated Bank’s LongView Fund had planned to submit a nonbinding proposal at HP’s March 2012 annual meeting that presumably would have made it even easier for shareholders to nominate directors.

In January  we reported that Western Union and KSW, a microcap heating and ventilating company, submitted No-Action Letters to the SEC Staff seeking to exclude proxy access shareholder proposals so they could submit their own plans to prevent a softer proposal from being voted upon.

Keep in mind that over the years as the proxy access issue has played out at the Securities and Exchange Commission and in the courts, the corporate community has been fiercely fighting the right for shareholders to nominate directors under any circumstance. The fact that several companies are willing to compromise and trot out their own plans is significant.

“Management finally realizes the vote has meaning,” says Charles Elson, corporate governance expert at the University of Delaware. “The threat to replace is real.”

At the same time, companies are starting to respond to low support in say-on-pay votes. Thanks to the Dodd-Frank bill, shareholders at annual meetings can now express support or dissatisfaction with the overall pay of the named executives in the proxy, although they are not binding.

Through September 25, 2011 only about 38 of the 2,746 companies with annual meeting results that included say-on-pay votes failed to receive majority shareholder support for their say-on-pay votes at last year’s annual meetings, according to the law firm Foley & Lardner.