Authoritarian vs. Participatory Project Management

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Categories: Communication, Leadership


By Marian Haus, PMP

Project managers have a major influence on the projects they run. Attitudes and leadership styles play a large part in how the team works together, how projects are delivered and the general environment for everyone involved.

Here’s a look at two very different project management approaches— authoritarian and participatory—and how they impact the entire project team.

Authoritarian Project Management

An authoritarian project manager dominates the project with his or her personality and ego, putting objectives first with a low emphasis on how the project team feels about the project journey. He or she imposes unquestionable edicts that must be followed no matter what. And goals and milestones are set without necessarily consulting the project team.

An authoritarian management and leadership style generally creates a tense project environment, with little room for independent actions and joy.

While an authoritarian style may be suitable in a rigid organization or in government or military institutions, this style will rarely work in other project environments where participation is encouraged or decisions must be made with the input of multiple departments.

Participatory Project Management

A participative project manager involves other team members or leaders in the decision-making process. A participatory project environment is, in general, a positive working environment, where responsibility and accountability are shared.

A participative project manager is typically more successful in small and collaborative teams and in projectized organizations where the project and its outcome are prioritized over obedience to the chain of command.

Without radical cultural changes, the participatory management and leadership style can be quite challenging when applied in a rigid and functionally organized project environment.

To quote author and management expert Kenneth H. Blanchard, a participative project manager understands that “the key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”

What attitudes and leadership styles have you encountered? I’d like to hear your story.

Posted by Marian Haus on: February 15, 2017 04:53 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Authoritarian style is more prevalent in govt. organisations where as participative project management is more prevalent in private organisation, but its not necessarily bound by the type of the organisation, rather the style is more tied to organisational culture and behaviour, which one holds good against which one is quite argumentative, but both style do prevail. Thanks for articulating.

Although there is one Project Manager in-charge of the Project ,managing the project is not and should never a one man show.Managing the project is a collaborative effort that defines the success or failure of project.Project risks are multidimensional with different pattern of risks requiring inputs from different sources internal as well external which can only be ideally managed through participative project management .This is the reason why the democratic system has succeeded in governing a countries the world over.

The project management style depends on organizational style (Style if one of the strategical variables to take into account). No project manager will survive inside an organization if her/his style is not aligned with the organizational style.

The agile approach encourages develper/designer collaboration, cooperation, team ownership and accountability.

Influencing using rapport, bargaining and outlining consequence of delay works for most team members. Sometimes escalation is needed to clarify conflicting priorities outside a project. I think It depends on the individual. Many Individuals and line managers will stop listening if too much is getting escalated.

Even some black and white cases where the authoritarian approach seems obvious, like a contracting company not delivering to schedule, may backfire if contractor downs tools and decides to play the waiting game. In short when to use the authoritarian approach needs to be carefully considered.

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