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 (12)

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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.

Using influence or authority to get work done has been a debate in many industries and managing cultures. In project management, even when our organizations subscribe to an authoritarian approach to management, we still can and do use our influence within our project teams to get work accomplished.
Overall, I have found that the more collaborative and participatory the project environment has been on my projects, the better the project and product outcomes have been. As project managers we have the responsibility to create and protect that environment.

If I have my druthers, I like participatory managers who listen to the project team, and then make a decision that takes into account the team's ideas and concerns. It should be noted, that often a PM will still make decisions that appear counter to the team's desires, this can be due to many things, such as expectations from those higher up in the food chain, or other constraints that have been placed on the PM.

Hi Marian: Great article. In my personal experience, I have found that inspiring teams brings the greatest project and team outcomes. I guess that would fall under participatory leadership style?

Making influence part of the team, we can have the team by itself to get aligned with Business or project strategy. However at times is necessary a bit of authority to make realignment faster.

For me a blend of both with caution is not bad. Thru the timeline it's important to help the team to understand the business objectives.

Teams represent a microcosm of democracy. It is said that a fully functional democracy is one where people are heard and their ideas implemented. Conceptually Agile is based on these fundamentals. Having volunteered extensively for furthering the Right to Information Act (RTI) in India (US has Freedom of Information) for bringing change in Education and road infrastructure, I applied the essence of RTI in my teams at work. It worked wonders - how people responded and how the team performance improve manifolds. While a blog post on this had remained in works for several years, a short description is captured here https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/uday_gosain/Shaking-up-a-TeamUdayGosain. I love playing with these ideas to Inspire teams

Excellent Authoritarian vs. Participatory Project Management. thanks.

Dictatorship may yield results but not always whereas the other approach Participatory Project management makes each stakeholder in the project important and also contribute towards project success.

I fail to be believe that authoritarian style works best in rigid organizations or govt. or military situations. There are corporate organizations that are as rigid as any govt establishment.

I believe a mix of both the style is essential.

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