Project Management

Project Manager Power!

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Richard Maltzman
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I had promised to give you an update on our solar power installation and I will shortly.  In fact, here’s a tidbit: we have produced 700KwH of power in just our first 2.5 months.  We're on our way to our first megawatt hour of power!

But I want to wait until I start seeing the economic benefit.  As soon as I see what this does to our electric bill, I’ll be back to you with more.  For now, I want to talk about power but of a very different kind: the power we use to run our PROJECTS.  Human power.  Project management power!  So this is a bit of a departure from the sustainability subject.  Or is it?  Don’t we want to make a difference? Don’t we want that ability to make a difference to be long-lasting?  So, I could easily make an argument that this IS a posting about sustainability in perhaps an even more meaningful sense.

Much of this post originates in – or at least the thinking behind it was stimulated by an article which in turn comes from a book called, “The Power Paradox” by Dacher Keltner.

What is "power" in the world of humans, and therefore in the world of project management?

From the book:

Power defines the waking life of every human being. It is found not only in extraordinary acts but also in quotidian (blogger’s confession: I had to look this word up – it means ‘everyday’) acts, indeed in every interaction and every relationship, be it an attempt to get a two-year-old to eat green vegetables or to inspire a stubborn colleague to do her best work. It lies in providing an opportunity to someone, or asking a friend the right question to stir creative thought, or calming a colleague’s rattled nerves, or directing resources to a young person trying to make it in society. Power dynamics, patterns of mutual influence, define the ongoing interactions between fetus and mother, infant and parent, between romantic partners, childhood friends, teens, people at work, and groups in conflict. Power is the medium through which we relate to one another. Power is about making a difference in the world by influencing others.


So that actually should make sense to you – it did to me.  But there is a problem, and thus the ‘power paradox’.

The power paradox is this: we rise in power and make a difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst. We gain a capacity to make a difference in the world by enhancing the lives of others, but the very experience of having power and privilege leads us to behave, in our worst moments, like impulsive, out-of-control sociopaths.

How we handle the power paradox guides our personal and work lives and determines, ultimately, how happy we and the people we care about will be. It determines our empathy, generosity, civility, innovation, intellectual rigor, and the collaborative strength of our communities (Blogger’s note: also our PROJECTS) and social networks. Its ripple effects shape the patterns that make up our families, neighborhoods, and workplaces, as well as the broader patterns of social organization that define societies and our current political struggles

As project managers, I think this next quote will ‘move’ you a bit.  Read it carefully, perhaps even read it twice, slowly:

Our influence, the lasting difference that we make in the world, is ultimately only as good as what others think of us. Having enduring power is a privilege that depends on other people continuing to give it to us.


We gain power (and the ability to influence) by improving how others think about us, whether it’s good-natured-ness, or competence, or expertise.  But watch out, project managers, we can lose this power easily, because…

…another paradox lives inside the power paradox — the more powerful a person becomes, the busier and more rushed she is, which cuts her off from the very qualities that define the truly powerful. What would the studies Keltner cites look like if we controlled not only for power, but for time — for the perception of being rushed and demand-strained beyond capacity?

Does that sound familiar, busy project managers?

I plan on covering this a bit more in Part 2, including any feedback from all of you all, and some definitions of  Power, Status, Control, and even Social Class.

That means I would like to influence you to respond to this post with your observations and reflections on how you have successfully made a difference in your projects by using your personal project management power.  Will you help?  Sure, you will!  Do it now while you are thinking about it!  Your comments may appear powerfully in powerful part 2!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: March 08, 2020 09:48 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Richard, an interesting question. I expect I rely more competence and camaraderie by establishing a mutual respect and shared passion for the goal.

Fundamentally, projects come to existence to make an impact on society through various means using the change to provide product/service or result.
However, positive or negative impact is in the "eyes of beholder" and that is where stakeholder engagement, communication comes into play.
Where one can communicate on the subject, once can use "domain knowledge expertise" as an influence/ power and how the change can impact with "what is in it for me" (WIIFM).
In some situations, one has to use "sheer position power" to turn things around and at all times one should practice mutual respect, ethical approach to influence. OF course, this takes time and that is where stakeholder analysis and communication facilitates in convincing stakeholders.

Good Article. Thanks for sharing !

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"Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don't do that by sitting around wondering about yourself."

- Katharine Hepburn