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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This power depends on your personality; how you look, how you speak, and how you behave. This power is also known as charismatic 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.
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.
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.
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.
If you have been working in a profession for a long time and earned some credibility, you have this power.
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.
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.