The Project Manager’s Power and Influence

05 May, 2014

Probably the first thing you learn on any Project Management Professional (PMP)© exam preparation course is that all projects have some unique aspect to them. Often that unique aspect relates to the performing organization itself, or the team members involved. So a project manager might move from one company to another and be asked to manage what appears to be the exact same task, but will have to adjust to a new management style because of the different structure being used.

Types of Leadership in Project Management

We have met this in our PMP© training. Organizations can be classified as functional, where project managers have to cajole resources from functional, line managers; matrix, where the project manager has equal authority with the functional managers and projectized, where the project manager is in charge. Your approach to project management has to vary depending on what level of authority you have.

Broadly speaking, there are three approaches you can take to managing a project: (1) you can be a humanist. That is, you can use rational persuasion, consultation and inspirational appeal to get things done. You can be (2) a politician, relying on ingratiation, exchange and personal appeal, or (3) authoritarian and apply coalition, pressure and legitimating.

Managers with higher levels of authority tend to use pressure and personal appeal more frequently and use consultation less frequently.  Project managers with weak authority tend to choose humanist tactics to influence team members. Thus your approach to your team and your stakeholders will differ, depending on the amount of power and influence you have in the organization.

Converting these broad categories of project managers into specific tactics shows that there is quite a variety to choose from. For instance, there is rational persuasion. Here, the project manager uses logical arguments and factual evidence to persuade the team (or other stakeholders) that a proposal or request is viable and likely to achieve task objectives. If the project is a ground-breaking one, you might try inspirational appeals. This is when you make a request or proposal that arouses enthusiasm by appealing to the team’s values, ideals, aspirations, or by increasing their confidence that they can do it. In situations where you are managing professionals, a consultation approach is very effective. The project manager seeks the team’s participation in planning a strategy, activity, or change for which their support and assistance are desired, or is willing to modify a proposal to deal with the team’s concerns and suggestions.

So far, these tactics align with the humanist approach. This is needed when the project manager’s power is limited. It also works when you are dealing with rational people who can appreciate intelligent argument. However, in more political structures, appeals to emotion and people’s self-interest are probably more effective. Project managers can use ingratiation – you try to get your stakeholders in a good mood or to think favourably of you before asking them to do something. Related to this are personal appeals. As the project manager, you can appeal to the team’s feelings of loyalty and friendship toward you when asking them to do something.

Of course, any politician will tell you that exchange is how politics works: You offer an exchange of favours, indicate a willingness to reciprocate at a later time, or promise them a share of the benefits if they help accomplish a task. Another political technique is the use of coalition tactics. The project manager seeks the aid of others to persuade a stakeholder to do something or uses the support of others as a reason for them to agree also.

Of course, project managers can use blunter instruments (if their authority allows it). Pressure may be applied by making demands supplemented by threats. Micro-managing - making frequent checks or offering persistent reminders – can bully the team into doing what you want. Legitimacy tactics also come under the authoritarian heading. The project manager seeks to establish the legitimacy of a request by claiming the authority or right to make it, or by verifying that it is consistent with organisational policies, rules, practices, or traditions.

As a project manager, your style needs to conform to the environment you find yourself in. Some approaches are very effective in some structures, but will not work in others. If you have a preferred style then it is important to find an organization where that style works. Anyone who values consensus and team input will not be happy laying down the law “because I’m the boss!”

If you would like to learn more about project human resource management, or earn a certificate in project management, please visit our training page. We run our project management courses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. To get more details, please contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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