Are You a Project Driver or Enabler?

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Categories: Project Delivery

Project managers are tasked with many simultaneous responsibilities. They manage and drive the delivery of a project while managing their team to deliver results according to the business expectations, on time and on budget. It's no small feat when this is accomplished seamlessly.

As a project manager, many times I find myself to be the driver, serving as the catalyst for movement and action.

A driver is someone who takes on the responsibility and accountability for the project deliverables. So, in addition to day-to-day team management, I drive the alignment of the team to the project plan, maintain quality standards with the delivered work and determine the project execution and communication methods.

Enablers act as complements to the driver. They go beyond the task of effectively driving the project activities and focus on the elements that empower the team by fostering a strong work ethic, high morale, satisfaction, and attaining personal and professional accomplishments. Enablers are very good at working with all the team members -- internal and external to the project and organization -- in such a way that allows everyone on the team to:

•    Align to the overall goal
•    Emotionally connect to why the project's overarching goal is important
•    See their own purpose on the team through their contribution and knowledge
•    Feel validated for their inputs and recognized for their efforts and outputs

Enablers add life and color to the project. They are known as the glue that keeps the team together. An enabler can exist within the project team, and he or she doesn't have to be the project manager.

The great value of project managers serving as enablers is that -- when combined with their authority, they are able to drive the project and enable their teams to deliver higher quality projects and longer lasting results. This value is reflected in the quality of the product or service, processes and process adoption rate, plus greater organizational awareness and integration.

Are you an enabler or a driver? Do you think it's most beneficial to have the project manager as the driver or the enabler? Why?
Posted by Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL on: December 01, 2011 11:19 AM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Billy Waters
I completely understand what you're saying about drivers and enablers, in the way of 'thinkers and do'ers', however do you think that a project manager has to be one or the other, or all embracing?

Along with this, what about the styles of management? If a transactional style manager implements as a driver and therefore allows individual agents to enable the day to day tasks then surely your losing the creativity and flair that can emerge within a flexible and languid structured project.

Employing Taylorism works in factories yes, but in the modern day working environment? I'm not sure. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Todd/The Project Management Steps
Great article. In my opinion, having both drivers and enablers are key to any project's success.

In my experience in organizations today, there are far too many people that just want to be spectators and not really take a driver's or even an enabler's role. If you can be either on a project, I think you bring so much more to your organization!

I think it's most beneficial for the PM to be the driver since to me that role is all about leadership. With the right leader setting the vision, it is amazing what can get done.

PM Hut
Hi Dmitri,

Well, can you be both? I know many project managers (including myself) who are both. These roles are not mutually exclusive.

Portfolio Management
Professional environment defines a team of members, who are working together in a project for their mutual and organizational goals. Here, the leader (i.e. the project manager) plays a key role in managing the team to complete these goals.

Conflicts are unavoidable but a solution is essential to give mutual benefits for both employees and organization to complete the project. So, do drivers, enablers and project managers have different functions?

I have found myself in both roles, but can honestly be classified as an enabler. I agree that PM's can serve a project and their team best if they are enablers for the very reasons you mentioned in your blog post. Teams where I was the driver felt more like being in the military telling everyone what to do. As an enabler, we are working together and my excitement level with regards to the project is higher and experienced by the other team members.

I am a team/people oriented person so the enabler role comes naturally for the most part. I believe a project succeeds or fails as a team, not because of one person. When a PM is an enabler, they are more in touch with the team dynamics and human factors as well as the project requirements. I am not one to toot my own horn, but I can speak from the feedback I have received that teams tend to run more efficiently and are more motivated when the PM is an enabler.

I will conclude by stating that this is my perception and recognize that personalities ultimately will determine whether you should be a driver or an enabler. In retrospect, it may be fair to say that both are needed depending on the team members and how they are best motivated.

Thank you very much for this article. I have always felt somewhat in the minority for my team approach - the company I worked for prized driven PM's only. I thankfully have seen this is not the case outside their walls.

Dmitri Ivanenko
I find that the enabler is also the driver. I agree, it's comparable to how we use the term "thinker" vs "Do'er".

The driver is not an enabler, just someone who is good at executing and driving solutions. Can't do without them. Can do more with enablers.

Neeraj Arora
You need to be Driver and Enabler to run the project successfully in a company.

You might be successful only being one if you are a consultant but if you are working in a company (especially with a Matrix organization) where you have to work with same people again for various projects, it's more challenging and requires to play both together.

Driver gets you attention from Management so you gets next project and Enabler gets you a healthy relationship with people.

Jayapratap Kothapalli
Absolutely agree - A driver is someone who takes on the responsibility and accountability for the project deliverables; Enablers act as complements to the driver.

Dmitri has explained clearly what makes the Enablers different from Drivers and that:

- Enablers add life and color to the project
- They are known as the glue that keeps the team together
- An enabler can exist within the project team, and he or she doesn't have to be the project manager.

Among the other points he mentioned about enablers, the one I would like to highlight here to focus is - Enablers are very good at working with all the team members -- internal and external to the project and organization -- in such a way that allows everyone on the team to emotionally connect to why the project's overarching goal is important.

We all might have had experienced and continue experiencing emotions day-in and day-out in both professional and personal lives

- Emotions influence everything we do in the workplace also
- Emotional intelligence enables leaders to have more meaningful and effective relationships with their people

However, today's work environment requires a leadership approach that recognizes and appreciates how decisions will affect people. Emotional Intelligence is a skill of leadership that cannot be overlooked. The primary role of leadership management is to handle the emotions of others.

Emotional Intelligence describes an ability or capacity to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, and of others. Emotional Quotient (EQ) is how one measures Emotional Intelligence.

Understanding emotional intelligence enables the employees to increase their ability to control their own emotions and understand the emotions of others.

Thus, whether one is a team member or project manager – can become a better ENABLER if he/she has a better Emotional Quotient. I believe that is the key!


Geoff Mattie
Great article, Dmitri.

I agree with classifications above and would add one more: traffic cop. I have not only seen folks who drive and/or enable projects, but I also see folks who seem to be content simply managing a timeline and performing an "observe and report" role for the team.

It seems very administrative and does not seem very fun or fulfilling. I think it is important for PMs to understand that their role is not simply driving a timeline and documentaing milestones but also to LEAD the team and help ensure they have what they need to be successful. It is beneficial to the whole field when we consistently support these standards.

Stuart Brown
Is it possible to be a delivery focused Enabler? I think there are instances where a Project Manager needs to adapt to what is required with a particular project. While the skillsets between Enabler and Driver differ, there are still overlaps, most importantly with the alignment to the plan/overall goal.

I strongly feel,in the present working environment, for successful project completion,PM should wear different hats, simultaneously. He has to demonstrate and lead when the going is tough at the same time strong belief in "Team work Works'' will help the PM to take the team along with him to get the confidence of the team .Participative management,recognition and giving due credit to the team members are the important key drivers for PM to succeed.

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