Project Management

On Whose Authority?

Vincent is a Senior Project Management Consultant and e-Learning Developer.

Many project managers complain that they don’t have any real authority over their teams — and they don’t if authority is about command and control. But we can earn a different type of authority, one that is more effective in the world of projects anyway. It is based on postion and relationship power.

I’ve heard a number of project managers complain that since they cannot give raises, promotions or bonuses they have no authority. To them, only functional managers have authority. Quite frankly, until I heard others complain I did not know this was a problem. I found that by properly doing my job, making sure everybody knew where they fit into the project, and treating people as valuable contributors, then I had appropriate authority to manage the project. So here we’ll look at what kind of authority a project manager actually has.

First let’s define authority. According to Merriam-Webster the primary definition of authority is: the power to give orders or make decisions; the power or right to direct or control someone or something; the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior. By this definition authority is power. But it defines a type of power — hard power — that a project manager should only rarely have to exercise.

Most of the time a project manager will be more effective by exercising soft power, e.g. …

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If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there is a man on base.

- Dave Barry