What is the best power of the project manager?
This was another favorite topic of mine during my PMP exam preparation.
When I was studying this topic, I saw everywhere stating that the expert and reward powers are the best powers for the project manager.
However, I was not convinced. I researched it and gave a lot of thought to this topic to find the correct answer.
Now I have passed my PMP exam and own a blog for PMP aspirants; therefore, I’m going to post my understanding and view on this topic in this blog post.
Please note that the views expressed in this blog post are my own. You may or may not agree with it; however, I would appreciate it if you share your thoughts in the comments below.
Okay, let’s get started.
You can define power as an influence on stakeholder to make a favorable decision. You can influence stakeholders in many ways: for example, you can force them to follow you, or you can attract them with your charisma, etc.
According to the PMI, a project manager can have five types of power:
- Formal or Legitimate Power
- Reward Power
- Punishment Power
- Expert Power
- Referent Power
These powers can be grouped into two categories: positional powers and personal power.
Formal power, reward power, and punishment powers are examples of positional power because you get this power just by being a project manager.
Expert and referent powers are examples of personal power.
I agree that reward and expert powers are the better influencing powers for a project manager
But do you really think that these two powers are equally good?
I don’t think so.
Let me explain in detail. I believe that after going through this blog post you will also have the same thoughts as I do.
Before I go into the detailed discussion, let’s have a quick look on all types of powers.
Formal or Legitimate Power
As a project manager, you have this power. This power comes with the position itself; therefore, this power is also known as positional power. Team members will obey orders from you because they know that you have the authority to issue orders.
However, if you are working in a functional organization or in a weak matrix organization, you will lack this power. In this case, you may have to use your soft skills to get the job done.
A reward is something people desire. Reward power is (to some extent) tied to the formal power of the project manager. You will earn the team’s support because team members think that you are capable of rewarding them if they perform well. Rewards may be monetary (salary increase, bonus, promotion, etc.) or non-monetary (recognition, professional development, appreciation letter, day off, etc.).
Giving monetary rewards is often difficult, because you may be working in a functional organization or the budget is tight. Therefore, most of the time rewards are non-monetary such as recognition, training recommendation, or a valuable assignment.
A reward should be achievable and it should not be a win-lose type of reward. Reward criteria should be fair, clear, and achievable for all.
Reward power is a positional power, and you can have this power if you are working in a projectized or in a strong matrix organization. Although you can have reward power in a functional or a weak matrix organization as well, here you can offer your team members only non-monetary benefits.
Nobody wants to get punished. Punishment power comes with the formal power of the project manager. Here, you will get your team’s obedience because the team members are afraid that if they don’t perform their duties efficiently, they may get punished. Here you use fear as a primary tool to get work done. Punishment power is also known as coercive power.
You will have this type of power if you are working in a projectized or in a strong matrix organization.
Usually you will use this power when a team member is not performing well or is creating problems that affect your project objectives.
Being a subject matter expert itself is a great influential power. Team members will respect you for your technical expertise. They trust you because they think that you are an expert and know how to handle issues.
Expert power is considered to be a positive power that influences team members to follow your lead. If you do not possess expert knowledge, then it would be difficult for you to gain respect from the team members.
If you have connections with some influential people in the organisation, you are said to possess referent power. Since you are connected with influential people, your team members want to connect with you as well.
This power may help you when you are a new project manager in the initial stages of the project when you may not have any other power except formal power; however, you may be perceived as being closely aligned with the top management.
You can have any or all of the powers explained here, but to successfully complete the project you need to have at least three of these powers; i.e. formal power, reward power, and expert power.
Formal power establishes your authority as the lead of the project, reward power helps you motivate the team members, and expert power will benefit you to gain trust and support for your decisions from the team members.
Punishment power works in some cases, and the effects of referent power are not long lasting.
Now, again, ask yourself: Which is the best power for the project manager?
Let’s revisit some key points and see in which case the team member will be more motivated and committed to performance:
- A willing team member will do a better job, and the motivation of willingness to work comes from reward power. Team members will be willing to work more efficiently if they know that they are going to be rewarded for their performance.
- With formal and punishment power, team members are beaten into submission, which I don’t think can be a cause of motivation for the team members.
- With expert power, though, team members respect you and they trust your decisions, but this trust is not going to translate into motivation. Expert power can be a hygienic factor but can never be a motivating factor. An increase in performance and efficiency cannot be found without a motivating factor.
I accept the importance of expert power; however, I strongly believe that reward power is better than expert power to motivate the team members and result in a better performance.
It is important for you to know all types of power that a project manager can use in different situations and in different types of organizations. Your management style will depend on the situation and the type of organization you are working in. If you are working in a projectized organization, you will have punishment and reward power. However, if you are working in a functional type of organization, you will have to depend on expert power and your soft skills.
NB: If you are preparing for the PMP certification exam, keep in mind that expert power and reward power are equally best as per the 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 up as an option).
If you have something to share, let me know in the comments section below.