best power project manager

A project’s environment is much like a startup company’s environment. There is continuous pressure to perform with a limited budget and a fixed schedule. More importantly, you will always have new team members.

In this situation, you will have to manage your team and motivate them to perform their best.

This is not an easy task, and you will have to use your soft and hard skills to push team members continuously.

As a project manager, you can have many powers. The sixth edition of the PMBOK Guide recognizes the following fourteen powers of a project manager:

  • Formal or Legitimate Power
  • Reward Power
  • Punishment Power
  • Expert Power
  • Relational Power
  • Informational Power
  • Persuasive Power
  • Ingratiating Power
  • Personal Power
  • Situational Power
  • Pressure-Based Power
  • Guilt-Based Power
  • Avoiding Power
  • Referent Power

Now the question arises—which one is the best power of the project manager?

This was my favorite part of my PMP exam preparation.

While I was studying this topic, it was stated everywhere that expert and reward powers were the best powers for a project manager. However, I could not understand this; are they the best together or separately?

I researched it and gave much to think on, but I did not find a convincing answer anywhere.

Since I have passed my PMP exam and own a blog, I am posting my understanding of this topic.

Please note that all the views expressed in this blog post are my own. You might disagree with them. I would appreciate it if you would share your thoughts in the comments below.

Let’s get started.

Power of the Project Manager

You can define power as influence over stakeholders to make a favorable decision. For example, you can force them to dance to your song, or you can attract them with your charisma.

You can group these powers into two categories: positional power and personal power.

You get positional power just by being the project manager. Some examples are formal power, reward power, and punishment power.

Personal power is something you have due to your personality, experience, or knowledge. Some examples are expert power and referent power.

Many experts say that reward and expert powers are the best. I agree that these are the better influencing powers for a project manager.

However, are you sure that these two powers are equally good, and that each one alone can help a project manager to complete their project successfully?

I do not fully agree with this.

Let me explain this to you in detail; I believe that after going through this blog post, you will agree with me.

First, we will take a quick look at all the types of power, and then we will have a detailed discussion.

Formal or Legitimate Power

As long as you are a project manager, you have this power. This power comes with the position itself; therefore, this power is also called positional power. Team members will obey orders from you because they know that you have the authority.

This type of power is found in projectized and strong matrix-type organizations.

However, this power does not exist in a functional organization or a weak matrix organization. In those cases, you will have to use your soft skills to get the job done.

Reward Power

Rewards are desirable, and team members will support you because they think that you will reward them if they perform well. Rewards may be monetary such as a salary increase, a bonus, or a promotion, or non-monetary such as recognition, professional development, an appreciation letter, or days off.

Reward power is attached to the formal authority of the project manager.

You may be working in a functional organization or with a tight budget, so giving monetary rewards may be difficult. Therefore, non-monetary rewards such as recognition, training recommendations, or a valuable assignment are common.

A reward should be achievable, and it should not be a win-lose type of reward. Criteria for it should be fair, transparent, and possible for all.

Reward power is a positional power, and you can have it if you are working in a projectized or 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.

Punishment Power

Nobody wants to receive a punishment. Punishment power comes with the formal authority of the project manager. Here, team members will obey you because they are afraid that if they do not perform 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.

This type of power is associated with a strong-matrix organization.

Usually, you will use this power when a member is not performing well or is creating problems.

Expert Power

Being a subject matter expert is an excellent influential power. Team members will respect you for your expertise. They trust you because you are an expert and you know how to manage work.

Expert power is considered to be a positive power that influences others to follow your lead. If you do not possess expert knowledge, it is difficult for you to gain respect from team members.

Relational Power

If you have connections with some influential people in the organization, you possess relational power. Your connections mean team members want to connect with you as well.

If you are a new project manager, this power may help you in the initial stages of the project when you may not have any other power, except formal power, as you may be perceived as being closely aligned with the top management.

Informational Power

As the saying goes, well informed means well-armed. Information is a key to success for any project. If you are responsible for processing information or you possess some information, you have a greater chance of completing the project successfully.

Persuasive Power

If you can say “go to hell” in such a way that people look forward to the trip, you have this power. The point is that you can convince your team to follow your lead. 

Ingratiating Power

If you are an expert in flattery, you have this power. Here, you try to find common ground, emphasize, and achieve cooperation. This is a beneficial skill when avoiding tough situations.

Personal Power

This power depends on your personality; how you look, how you speak, and how you behave. This power is also known as charismatic power.

Situational Power

If you have rescued your project from a crisis in the past, you have this power. Team members will remember your efforts and respect you for your heroic act.

Pressure-Based Power

If you regularly pressure your team members to work harder and complete the task within a tight schedule, sometimes in unrealistic conditions, you have this power.

Guilt-Based Power

Here, you inform team members that they are performing poorly and it is affecting the project; even if they are performing well. You instill in them that they have to perform better. Therefore, the team member will feel guilty and try to work harder.

Avoiding Power

If you avoid making tough decisions and miss meetings, you have avoiding power. This is one of the most negative powers, and you don’t want to be associated with it.

Referent Power

If you have been working in a profession for a long time and earned some credibility, you have this power.

My View

You can have any or all of the powers explained here, but to complete the project successfully with the minimal hassle you should have at least three of these powers; i.e., formal power, reward power, and expert power.

For example: formal power establishes your authority as the lead of the project, reward power helps you motivate team members, and expert power will help you to gain trust and support from your team members.

Punishment power works in some cases. The effects of relational power are not long-lasting.

Now, again, ask yourself: what is the best power for a project manager?

Let’s see in which cases the team members will be more motivated and committed to performance:

A willing team member will do a better job, and the motivation to work comes from reward power. Team members will be more committed if they know that they are going to be rewarded.

With formal and punishment power, team members are beaten into submission, which does not motivate them.

With expert power, though team members respect you and they trust your decisions, this trust is not going to translate into motivation; it can be a stabilizing influence but can never be a motivation. An increase in performance and efficiency will not happen without a motivating factor.

I accept the importance of expert power; however, I firmly believe that reward power is better than expert power in motivating team members and results in a better performance.

Summary

It is vital to understand every type of power that a project manager can use in different situations and various kinds of organizations so that you can be flexible and adaptive. If you are working in a projectized organization, you will have punishment and reward power. However, if you are working in a functional organization, you will have to depend on expert power and your soft skills.

What kind of power do you hold in your organization, and how do you find it useful? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Speak Your Mind

  • For me,except some standardized form of power such as formal or legitimate; relational; Punishment; all other forms are more of an attribute of a personality, something related to own perception;

  • Fahad Thanks so much for what you are doing and I am really loving PMP. Please can you give me a guide on professional courses that will be vital for me as a QA/QC Inspector in the Heavy Fabrication Industry.

    • Hello Emmanuel, are you a PMP?

      For QA, I would suggest you go for ISO lead auditor course. Regarding QC, please check your peers.

  • Thanks for putting your excellent work into making this blog a great blessing to all PMP aspirants. With your useful explanation on Earned Value Management, I now answer EVM questions with ease.

    And I have passed my PMP exam last week.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Hi Fahad,

    Thanks for all your guidance and help. I have passed the exam on 26/01/2017

    Your notes were of great help. And in future it will keep me updated, I am sure.

    • It helps him manage communication better.

      Update: You can find total number of communication lines and classify them according to the their importance. And then you will be able to manage them effectively; for example, you can plan to distribute information according to the need of each stakeholdrs

  • I am a little baffled by this practice question – which I answered incorrectly.
    “Which power of the project manager comes from another person respecting him/her?”
    A. Expert
    B. Formal
    C. Reward
    D. Referent
    I read your blog before seeing this question so I naturally answered A. Expert based on this comment “Team members will respect you for your technical expertise on the subject.” However, the correct answer is D. Referent. Please advise.

    Thank you,
    Stacy

      • If the question says both top management and team members respect you, then It is Referent power. If it is only team members, then it is Expert power.

        • It is about connection with higher management. If you have connections with influential people, you will have this power.

      • Fahad, Its a very interesting read but I noticed you wrote/explained Relational Power twice. One should be for Referent Power. I like how you make it simple and I am grateful I spend more of my idle work time on your blog. Thanks.

  • Hi Fahad,

    Your posts very well explains the areas in details. Thank you.

    In your last statement where you mentioned about if the exam asks about selecting best power for PM and the options listed are Expert and Reward Powers are two independent options. Then i think we need to look for other information in the question such as “PM is working in which organization?”. If PM is in functional organization which likely would have less power to Reward. In such a case Expert power is best option that can be selected.

    Thanks
    Sushil

  • Hi Fahad!!

    Hope u r doing good.

    From many days i have a lot of confusion in the study of “effort driven tasks”.
    I am not at all able to understand its meaning.
    Can u plz explain me. Will be of great help.

    Thanks,
    Yogish.

  • Hello Dear

    Very simple & easy to understand . though i read two books still i had little confusion , now its clear & unnderstand the importance of Power .
    Thanks to you .
    I am going to read all your postings . I am planning to take exam in Nov 2015

    -Prakash

  • Hi Fahad

    First of all, thanks a lot for the help. I really like the way you explain the concepts. Keep sharing! 🙂

    Now, I have been looking in which one of the 47 processes the PMI refers to the different type of authority the PM has over the people, can you share?

    Thanks again!

      • Can you share the page number under pmbok, where it says about these authorities and power? I’m not getting it under pmbok.

        • This topic is not specifically mentioned in the PMBOK Guides but questions are often seen on the exam.

          The other example is kickoff meeting. This topic is also not mentioned in the guide but in exam you will see many questions on it.

  • Hi thanks again for u r blogs….
    Do u have any article on Monte Carlo simulation… Feeling bit difficult to understand … And if u reply to my comments do I get an email ….it would be great if u r reply or comments by anyone …keep me notified … Thanks for great job

  • Your boss isn’t satisfied with the way one of your colleagues is handling a project and she reassigns the project to you. She tells you to work with this person to find out what he has done already and discuss any other necessary information that he might have. She wants your project report by the end of the month. This person is upset and angry over the reassignment and won’t give you the information you need to even start, much less complete, the project. You won’t be able to meet your deadline unless you get this information.

    What type of power does your colleague appears to be using?

  • Wikipedia says about referent power
    Referent power is power of an individual over the Team or Followers, based on a high level of identification with, admiration of, or respect for the powerholder/ leader.

    Your blog says
    has some kind of connection with some influential people in the organisation, the project manager is said to possess Referent Power.

    which is right?
    Thanks.

  • Hi Fahad,

    Good Work… Keep it up!…

    Have PMP exam in a week… Will join u after passing PMP exams to answer people queries..

    Do feel free to message me..

  • Hi Fahad,

    I just found your site & i found it very helpful, so many thanks. could you please help me with the following question I came across. The answer as per the test is Project 3, but I don’t see why project 1 is not also right !!!!

    Based on the following information, which project is definitely profitable?
    Project 1 with NPV of $300,000
    project 2 with Benefit to cost Ratio of 1:1.7
    project 3 with an internal Rate of Return of 15%
    or can’t be determined

    • Sorry Marwan for replying you late.

      Here is my understanding, let me know if you are agree with it or not!

      NPV is the difference between the current value of cash inflow and the current value of cash outflow of the project. It does not show you exactly how much you are going to invest.

      On the other hand, IRR is shown in percentage regardless of invested money. Therefore, it is safe to proceed with 15% IRR.

  • Hi,

    For estimate activity duration, Enterprise Env factor is rightly mentioned as input but examples of EEF are confusing. It states estimation database and productivity metrics as part of EEF. I believe these should rightly belong to Org Process assets . Can you pls clarify and guide?

    • Estimation database is based on the market condition. For example, rate of the labor, cost of raw materials, etc. Therefore, it comes under Enterprise Environmental Factor.

      Let me know your thoughts.

  • Hi Fahad,

    Can you please explain to me why we have Approved change request as an input in the Direct and Manage project execution and an output in the same knowledge area. for some reason I thought that changes can only be approved in the monitioing an controlling process and that were it is approved and changed

    • Just visualize it.

      You’re in executing phase of your project.

      And you notice that certain procedure is not correct that causing you some trouble. Therefore, you raise a change request and get it approved.

      Since your change request is approved and your procedure is updated, you will now execute your work as per current updated procedure.

      See, you are still in executive phase.

      In first statement, change request is an output, and in second statement it is an input.

      Hope it clears your doubt.

  • Hi Fahad,

    You have explained it very precisely and in simple language.
    I am glad I found your posts before my exam.

    Please keep posting.

    Regards,
    Rajesh

  • Hi,

    I want to share my experience , recently i attended the PMP workshop in hyderabad. it was really good. but when i started reading the PMBOK , i use to read 2-3 times to understand that topic.

    But last week when i found your site in google. i covered may topics in 2 days .. which is really surprising for me.

    You have explained in very simple words and example.

    Please don’t stop posting new post.

    November i am planning to write PMP exam.

    • Hello Naga,

      Thank you for liking my blog and I appreciate your visit.

      Best of luck for your exam and let me know if you require any assistance. I will be glad to help you.

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