I agree with everybody that Reward Power and Expert Power are the best powers for a project manager, but how can both be the best? Can they really share the top position together?
I don’t think so.
Let me explain it to you in detail. I hope that after going through this blog post you will also have the same thoughts as mine.
First I will give you a short brief about all the types of powers that a project manager can possess, and then we will discuss that which power is the best for a project manager.
There are basically five kinds of powers (from the PMP certification exam point of view) that a project manager may use to influence his team members, and these are:
- Formal or Legitimate power
- Reward power
- Coercive or Punishment or Penalty power
- Expert power and
- Referent power.
Formal or Legitimate Power: Since you are a project manager, you have this power. This power comes with the position itself; therefore, this is also known as positional power. Team members will obey orders from the project manager because they know that the project manager has the formal power and authority to issue orders.
Reward Power: A Reward is something people desire. Reward power is up-to some extent tied to the formal power of the project manager. The project manager will get the team support since team members think that the project manager is capable of rewarding them if they perform well. Rewards may be monetary (salary increment, bonus and promotion etc.) or non-monetary (recognition, professional development, appreciation letter, day-off and picnic etc.).
Punishment Power: Nobody wants to get punished. Punishment Power comes with the formal power of the project manager. Here, the project manager will get his team’s obedience because the team members afraid that if they don’t perform their duties as required by the project manager, they may get punished. Punishment Power is also known as coercive power.
Expert Power: Being a subject matter expert itself is a great influential power. Team members will respect the project manager just for his technical soundness on the subject. They trust him and obey his orders because they think that the project manager is an expert, has special knowledge on the matter, and knows how to handle issues. Expert Power is considered to be a positive power that influences the team members to follow the lead of the project manager. If the project manager does not possess the expert knowledge then it would be difficult for him to gain respect from the team members.
Referent Power: If the project manager is well associated with higher management, or has some kind of connection with some influential people in the organisation, the project manager is said to possess Referent Power. This power may help a new project manager in the initial stage of the project when he may not have any other power except formal power; however, he may be perceived as being closely aligned with the top management.
A project manager can have any or all of the powers explained here, and to be a successful project manager he need to have at-least three of the powers; i.e. formal power, reward power, and expert power.
Formal power establishes his authority as the lead of the project, reward power helps to motivate the team members, and expert power will benefit to gain trust and support for his decisions from the team members.
Punishment power works in some cases, and effects of referent power are not long lasting.
Now, again… Which is the best power for the project manager?
Let’s revisit some key points for all these kinds of power, and determine in which case the team member will be more motivated and committed to the performance:
- A willing team member will do a better job, and this motivation of willingness to work comes from the reward power. Team members will be willing to work more efficiently if they know that they are going to be rewarded for their performance.
- In formal and punishment power, team members are beaten into submission, which I don’t think can be a cause of motivation for the team member, and
- In expert power; though, team members respect the project manager, they will have trust in his decision, but this trust is not going to translate into motivation. Expert power of the project manager can be a hygienic factor but can never be a motivating factor. An increase in performance and efficiency cannot be found without the motivating factor.
Although, I accept the importance of Expert Power of the project manager, I strongly believe that the Reward Power is better than Expert Power to motivate the team members and getting better performance from them.
Please note: If you are preparing for the PMP Certification Exam, please keep in mind that Expert Power and Reward Power are equally best as per PMI, and if you get any question on this topic then you can select any of two (and of course pray that both do not come as an option).