Delegation and a sharing of authority by the project manager

Wright State University


William R. Johnston

Wright-Patterson AFB


One of the greatest challenges to managers in contemporary organizations is how to structure resources for the most effective and efficient accomplishment of organizational objectives. Organizations, if they are to successfully overcome that challenge, must establish and maintain meaningful relationships between and among all resources, especially human resources. These human relationships are reflected, in part, by the organization's formal authority, responsibility and accountability patterns. These patterns are established through the delegation process involving a sharing of authority. These relationships are primarily the traditional and vertical superior-subordinate relationships, but in project management, and especially the matrix organization, they also include horizontal and diagonal relationships which add complexity to the delegation process.

This article discusses the nature of the delegation process in project organizations and the necessity of a sharing of authority within and outside the project organization. Effective delegation and the sharing of authority are vital prerequisites to the successful management of a project. Without them, the project manager will not be seen by others as a manager, but most likely will be considered the main technician on the project. The project manager should always strive to be primarily a manager and only secondarily a technical expert. In addition, for project managers who fail to effectively delegate and share authority there is a high probability that the project will fail to achieve its objectives. If delegation and a sharing of authority are so critical to project success, why is it often not effectively accomplished by project managers? The factors contributing to this failure are thoroughly discussed and guides to being an effective delegator are presented.

The authors propose that project managers who become effective delegators will be seen by others, within and outside the project organization, primarily as managers rather than as project technicians. Effective delegation is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for project success. The total success of a project is contingent upon the interpersonal skills of the project manager. It is imperative for him to establish, through effective delegation, and then to maintain, a mutuality of commitment to the project by all parties and organizational elements. The primary orientation of all parties should be achievement of organizational objectives first, and then achievement of project and functional objectives secondarily. This process and orientation provides the framework to achieve the mutuality of commitment by both project and functional personnel which is so essential for project success and the accomplishment of both project and functional objectives. These are major factors contributing to the success of the project as well as to the success of the organization and its functional elements. Management is the key to success and the delegation process enables the project manager to be seen and to operate as a manager rather than as a technical expert.

Project Management and Delegation

In order to better understand the implications and the complexity of the delegation process in the project management environment, the basic concepts inherent in the design and operation of project organizations must be considered. Delegation is a critical aspect of the management function of organizing; organizing involves establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships between and among all personnel working on common tasks, regardless of their assigned department or functional speciality. For the purpose of this paper, a project is a common task involving people and resources from many differentiated segments of the organization. Integral to organizing is delegation, “delegation of authority from superior to subordinate” [8, p.235].Without delegation there is no organization. Delegation is a complex process in the traditionally designed vertical organization with its functional departmentation, but it becomes infinitely more complex in the projectized matrix organization. Because of this increased complexity, it is often not considered, or considered only superficially, as having potential impact on the success of a project. The above concepts are defined and discussed in subsequent sections to insure a mutual understanding of them as they relate to the delegation process.

Project Management in Contemporary Organizations

The rapidly changing technological environment in which most organizations operate today has required many of them to adopt the project management concept with the matrix organizational design. This has created a new and unique relationship between the traditional functional line managers and the project manager. Authority is a critical element in this relationship. The successful completion of a project in terms of time, cost and performance objectives is contingent upon the mutual understanding and acceptance of these authority patterns by all those with whom a project manager must work. Delegation and a sharing of project authority involve a reciprocal interdependency which is unique to the project matrix organization design; however, it is not understood. In addition, sharing of authority between project and functional managers has an inherent potential for conflict unless this reciprocal relationship is mutually understood and accepted. The mutual acceptance of this relationship and minimization of potential conflict is discussed in a subsequent section which discusses the systems approach.

The Matrix Organizational Design

The matrix organization is the primary focus of this article because it is within this organizational design that the most complex delegation problems exist in project management. Delegation is a complex process in most organizations, but the authors propose that this complexity reaches its height in the matrix organization. In the early phases of project management, many of the organizational structures were separate and autonomous divisions which were allocated all the resources required for successful project completion. If a project is sufficiently large and can efficiently utilize all allocated resources over its life cycle, this structure may still be a viable alternative for project management. Delegation problems are also encountered in this structure, but their complexity is not as great as that in a matrix organization. The nature of the delegation process is discussed in general for all organizational situations and then specifically for the matrix organization in the section on delegation.

When organizations find themselves involved simultaneously in several projects, with each having different technological requirements and schedules and with each competing for limited organizational resources, the matrix organization design is used for project management; it has become the more common organizational design in project management. The matrix organization is an objective-oriented organizational component for the management of projects with specified time, cost, and performance objectives. It is a horizontal overlay on the traditional departmental functional organization and the result is the creation of a new and unique relationship between two organizational managers, the functional manager and the project manager.2

Not all projects, tasks or organizational efforts qualify for project management, and it would be an error to employ this management concept for them.

The following conditions should be present [2, pp. 198-201]:

• There must be a single, identifiable, overall task

• The task must be complex

• It must be interdisciplinary

• It must have a finite termination date

If a task has the above characteristics and an organization has several tasks of this nature, the matrix organization should be adopted. A matrix organization is, “…any organization that employs a multiple command system that includes not only a multiple command structure but also related support mechanisms and an associated organizational culture and behavior pattern [3, pp. 11-18]. The matrix structure violates the traditional management principles of unity of command and equality of authority with responsibility, established many years ago by Fayol and followed by organizational designers and managers for many decades [4, pp. 192-194]. It is this violation which makes delegation in matrix organizations infinitely more complex and yet at the same time more essential. The interdisciplinary nature of projects in the multiple command structure of the matrix organization requires delegation by the project manager to others in the organization not under his direct line supervision, i.e., there are two or more managers making decisions on a project, one from the project perspective and one from the functional perspective.

Although the matrix organizational structure is one of the most adaptive, flexible, and preferred structures for organzations with multiple projects of varying scope and duration, Davis and Lawrence state that the following three conditions are prerequisites to its adoption [3, pp. 11-18]:

• Environmental pressures for a dual focus on

a. functional specialization and division of labor

b. goal accomplishment in terms of tasks, service or product-markets, or physical locations

• Internal pressures for high information processing capacity (generated by environmental uncertainty and organizational complexity).

• Pressures for shared resources.

The effective operation of a matrix organization is conditioned by the above factors and these factors become critical elements in the delegation process between project and functional managers.

The Role Of The Project Manager

In its most general sense, a project manager is an individual who is appointed to accomplish the task of integrating functional and extraorganizational efforts for the achievement of predetermined project objectives [2, p. 18]. As stated previously, the project manager achieves project objectives by a sharing of authority in a multiple command (authority) system with functional managers. A functional manager is that individual who is responsible for the achievement of objectives for an organizational component which is structured on the basis of function or process such as engineering, production, finance, marketing, etc.

Another approach to understanding the role of the project manager and the critical nature of delegation is to separate and analyze the term by dividing it into its two basic components: project and manager. For the purpose of this article and the analysis of the role of the project manager, a project is defined as a complex, identifiable task which is interdisciplinary (interfunctional) in nature and has specific objectives established for the parameters of time, cost, and performance. Thus, we can conclude that a project manager is an individual who manages a project. But, what is a manager? There are many possible definitions of a manager, but the following one illustrates the essential nature of this role in contemporary organizations:

A manager is the person responsible for

• “the coordination of all resources

• through the process of planning, organizing, directing and controlling

• in order to attain stated objectives” [8, p.9].

Therefore, a project manager is that designated individual who coordinates all resources required to achieve project objectives by planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. This primary responsibility of a project manager is clearly stated and, it is thought, easily understood. However, in the operations of a project there are many technical activities which must also be performed. A project has the following major activities:

• management activities

• technical activities

Both of these must be effectively performed to achieve success. As an individual, the project manager engages in both of these activities; the proportion of time allocated to each will vary by the nature and scope of the project. The project manager should spend a much larger proportion of his time performing management activities on projects with a large scope and a lesser amount of time if the scope is smaller. But all projects require management, and it was for this reason project managers were appointed to give each individual project the required management attention. Management is and should always be their primary responsibility. However, many project managers face a dilemma between the performance of technical versus management activities in any given period of time. Most newly appointed project managers are selected on the basis of their technical expertise in a given field (e.g., engineering) and it is probably this discipline which is most critical to the success of the project. Then, when the project manager is faced with a situation in which he should perform technical and management activities, he will probably select technical activities because of the human fallacy of omnipotence. This is known as the “I can do it better myself” fallacy [6, p. 135]; that is, others just cannot do the task quite so effectively as I. In most projects of moderate to large scope, the project manager cannot afford to become involved in the technical activities on a continuous basis; he requires most of his time for management activities. To be able to perform his managerial role, he must delegate to others the responsibility for subtask completion with the requisite authority to make decisions pertaining thereto. Delegation enables the project manager to establish relationships with others for task and project completion. Through delegation he becomes a manager and not the chief technician on a project.

Another perspective of management is that it is getting things done through people. The authors focus on this perspective because delegation involves a person-to-person relationship, the relationship between the project manager and those with whom he must coordinate to manage the project. To be an effective manager, the project manager must establish and maintain meaningful relationships between all individuals with whom he must work to achieve project objectives. These individuals, most of whom are not under his direct line of supervision, are part of the project team discussed in the next section.

One of the primary means of establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships is through the formally established patterns of authority, responsibility, and accountability which are reflected in the hierarchy of positions and ranks in the organization and policies relating thereto. These are the formally designated relationships and provide the baseline configuration from which a manager proceeds in the dynamics of organizational life. Changing roles and relationships are a normal aspect of contemporary organizations, but for projects it is much more rapid and exists in a greater environment of uncertainty, i.e., the management of a project is a fluid phenomenon requiring adjustments in relationships on a continuous basis. The authors propose that it is a primary responsibility of the project manager to make these mutually accepted adjustments in relationships with functional managers and their personnel. The delegation process is the mechanism and unless the project manager uses it, there will be a strong propensity for him to be the focal point for all decisions, technical and managerial, on a project. In most projects of any significant size, the project manager cannot afford the luxury of becoming intimately involved in the technical aspects of the project; he must delegate.

The Project Team

A factor critical to the success of matrix project management is the ability of the project manager to develop a cohesive project team. To do this, he must maintain viable relationships with functional managers and their personnel with whom he must work in order to achieve project objectives. In most matrix project organizations there are three classes of project personnel:

• personnel assigned directly to the project office in a line relationship (superior/subordinate) to the project manager

• personnel from functional departments who are assigned by a functional manager to work on the project and are co-located with the project manager

• personnel from functional departments who are assigned by a functional manager to work on the project but are not co-located with the project manager; they remain physically located in their functional departments

The project manager's delegation process involves all these personnel, although delegation is traditionally considered a line relationship between a superior and a subordinate. In project management there is also delegation to those not under the direct line of supervision of the project manager; these delegations are just as critical, if not more so, than the traditional ones.

The matrix project organization creates a new and unique relationship which does not exist in the traditional departmental organization; this relationship involves the project manager/functional manager interface. This new relationship is superimposed upon the traditional line and functional relationships, and the clarity of these roles is still evolving today as further experience is gained in the functioning of the matrix organization. Delegation is the process by which this new relationship can be clarified in an operational sense but, unlike delegations in the traditional line relationship, they must be flexible and adaptive to the situation over the project life cycle. A viable project/functional manager relationship requires a mutually accepted sharing of authority and, because of the dynamic nature of projects, provisions must be made for change. At the beginning of the project the areas of responsibility and authority for both the project and functional manager should be established through mutual agreement in project documentation such as the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The project manager is primarily responsible for determining the project activities, schedules, and financial plan, while the functional manager is responsible for determining the degree of technical expertise required and available, the skills and individuals who will work on the project, and for establishing a status reporting procedure to the project manager [2, p. 246]. The project and functional managers negotiate the above until there is mutual agreement and acceptance. At this point the responsibility and authority for the respective tasks within the project are specified; each manager shares his authority with the other. In most project management activities there is a high degree of reciprocal interdependence between the project and functional managers, i.e., what each functional manager does affects the management of the project and as the project manager adapts to these changes there will be reciprocal impacts on the functional managers. Delegations should be as explicit as possible, with provisions for change.

This section and its subsections have identified the nature of the environment within which the project manager operates and the complexity of the roles and relationships which influence the delegation process. Authority and its delegation should reflect the nature of the organizational environment. The concepts identified above are discussed in the next section.

Authority And The Delegation Process

Many individuals in contemproary organizations feel that authority is essential to organizational operations and managerial success. Organizations reflect this premise by giving certain individuals areas of authority which it hopes will assure an integrative functioning of the organization. It is assumed that this prescribed structure reflects the legitimate allocation of responsibility and authority among the specialized functions and levels within the organizational hierarchy. Individuals have developed a framework of thinking in these terms, and this has a strong influence upon their behavioral patterns and organizational relationships [7, p. 158].

Authority is a deceivingly simple concept; however, in reality it is very complex and highly controversial as evidenced by its many theories. Everyone seems to understand the nature of authority because it is an inherent aspect of our cultural environment with our first exposure to it being parental authority; authority is pervasive in our lives. A complete discussion of authority is beyond the scope of this paper, but it will be discussed in sufficient detail to enable the reader to grasp the role of authority in organizational operations and its relationship to project management and the delegation process.


It is difficult for two writers to agree on a single all-inclusive definition of authority. The authority of one person over another is a complex phenomenon and ultimately rests on the manner in which one individual perceives another individual in the organization. In essence, authority can be considered a mutually accepted relationship between two or more individuals. However, in a managerial sense, authority can be defined as, “the right to act or to direct the action of others in the attainment of organizational goals” [8, p. 213]. This definition is generally used to explain the right of a superior to direct the activities of others in the organization who are subordinate to him, i.e., line authority. Based upon this definition, project authority is defined as the right of the project manager to act or to direct the action of others in the attainment of the proper objectives. However, in the project environment the project manager is often directing the activities of others who do not report to him in a line or superior-subordinate relationship, but he must nevertheless find a way to give this direction. This is accomplished through the three critical steps of the delegation process discussed in the next subsection.

Cleland and King have stated that, “Authority is a conceptual framework and, at the same time, an enigma in the study of organizations... Early theories of management regarded authority more or less as a gravitational force that flowed from the top down. Recent theories view authority more as a force which is to be accepted voluntarily and which moves both vertically and horizontally” [2, p. 300]. The voluntary acceptance of a project manager's authority by functional managers and their personnel is a vital element in the management of a project. For over a decade the management literature has commented on the ambiguous nature of the project manager's authority, and how he has to rely more on his interpersonal influence with others than on his formally designated authority: his de facto (actual) vs. his de jure (formal) authority [2, p. 319]. The authors propose that the baseline configuration of the project manager's authority should be reflected in the project documentation and implementation policies and procedures; these provide the basis for effective delegation.

Project management itself is an example of delegation from the chief executive officer of an organization to a project manager. Since a project manager's authority is interfunctional in nature, he is in a position similar to that of top management and is often referred to as “an extension” of the chief executive. A chief executive cannot effectively cope with the requirements for the management of multiple projects and, therefore, he appoints a project manager to perform this responsibility [9, p. 295]. The appointment of the project manager represents a delegation of authority to the project manager from the chief executive.

A project organization is basically an objectiveoriented work allocation structure where the primary organizational lines are horizontal and integrative across the functional structure. Project authority is essentially an integrative relationship involving the sharing of authority and influence between the project and functional managers as they interact. The various situations in which the project manager finds himself interacting with functional managers should be considered as the primary points of reference, with project documentation providing basic guidance. The project manager will have varying degrees of authority where the forces of time, function, technical task, and organizational environment become prime determinants of his actual authority. These forces are all in constant interaction with each other during the life of the project. Thus, project authority must be viewed as dynamic, not static, and it evolves over the life of the project.

The Delegation Process

It is through delegation that a manager becomes a manager in reality rather than in title only. In a previous section, management was defined as getting things done through people. A manager is not necessarily a doer but obtains results through the efforts of others and this allows the manager to concentrate on his managerial activities rather than being immersed in technical activities. Therefore, delegation can be defined as “giving people things to do” and, by definition, management and delegation become inextricably interwoven [6, p. 122]. Many management writers and scholars, such as Peter Drucker, have stated that delegation is the essence of good management because if a person cannot delegate he cannot manage.

Almost all managers recognize the necessity of delegation, but it is one of the most difficult tasks to perform. It does not come naturally or occur easily; every manager needs to develop the skill to delegate, and it is often one of the most difficult skills to develop. Most organizational achievers develop a reputation by being doers and are rewarded by being promoted to managerial rank. In this new role there is usually insufficient time, especially in the higher levels of management, to be both a doer and a manager. Many attempt to be both with resulting frustrations and failures.

A more precise definition of delegation includes the recognition that it is authority to make decisions that is delegated from superiors to subordinates in the traditional organizational sense. “Delegation of authority is an organizational process that permits the transfer of authority from superior to subordinate” [8, p. 235]. In the project matrix organization, delegation of authority reflects the transfer of authority to make decisions affecting the project from the project manager to others upon whom the project is dependent for successful completion: the doers of the project. The results of this process become a mutual sharing of authority on project matters, with the project manager being predominately the manager, and the functional managers and their people being primarily the doers. Being managers in their own right, functional managers in turn delegate their authority to people within their departments when they are assigned responsibility for a specified project.

One of the major misconceptions about delegation is that when you delegate you do not have to be concerned about the task or that you are relieved of responsibility. Nothing could be further from the truth; delegation does not relieve one of responsibility; a manager's responsibility cannot be delegated away. Therefore, in any organizational situation involving delegation, provision must be made for evaluation and control.

The process of delegation consists of three distinct although interrelated steps:

1. The assignment of responsibity

2. The delegation of authority

3. The creation of accountability [8, p. 235]

These three distinct steps must be included in all delegations to insure they are effective; they provide the framework for the delegation process.


This refers to the assignment of duties that must be performed, milestones that must be reached, or tasks that must be completed in order to successfully complete the project. These elements should be explicitly stated in the project's documentation like the Work Breakdown Structures (WBS), Network Plans (CPM and PERT), etc. These planning documents require negotiation and mutual acceptance between project and functional managers. They should not be unilateral directives from project to functional managers or vice versa.


Through formally accepted project documentation, the project manager empowers the functional managers and their personnel to act for him on project matters as specified. They have the right to make the required decisions to accomplish the responsibility mentioned above.


This aspect of delegation is often overlooked by the new and inexperienced manager. Steps 1 and 2 above create an obligation to perform the assigned work, and the functional managers become accountable to the project manager for the “proper exercise of authority and performance of assigned responsibilities” contained in the project documentation [8, p. 236]. The project documentation should reflect the above three factors and, as experience is gained during the life cycle of the project, policies can be used to further clarify the reciprocal roles and relationships between the project and functional managers and the responsibilities and authorities related thereto. At the inception of the project, provisions must be made for establishing accountability which is operationalized through project evaluation and control procedures; the timely processing of vital information and its evaluation by the project manager and his team is critical to the successful management of any project. These procedures should be part of the mutual agreements reached between the project and functional managers and contain provisions for modifications as project requirements change.

Benefits from Delegating

The importance and critical nature of delegation to project success has been stressed in the previous sections of this paper. The following are some of the direct and indirect benefits that managers and their organizations can obtain from effective use of the delegation process [6, p. 123].

• Extends results from what a manager can do himself to what he can control (accountability)

• Provides time for the manager to engage in management activities (their primary responsibility) rather than being involved in technical activities

• Provides opportunity for the development of subordinates, increasing their skill, knowledge, and competency

• Provides internal task-oriented motivation for personnel working on the project

• Places responsibility for decisions at the proper level in the organization where the relevant information and competency is located

Barriers to Effective Delegation [6, pp. 133-134]

The following are some of the major causes of ineffective delegation, and these causes lie with the delegator, the delegatee, and/or the situation (organizational environment).

Barriers in the Delegator

• Preference for operating

• Demand that everyone “know all the details”

• “I can do it better myself” fallacy

• Lack of experience on the job or in delegating

• Insecurity

• Fear of being disliked

• Refusal to allow mistakes

• Lack of confidence in subordinates

• Perfectionism, leading to overcontrol

• Lack of organizational skill in balancing workloads

• Failure to delegate authority commensurate with responsibility

• Uncertainty over tasks and inability to explain

• Disinclination to develop subordinates

• Failure to establish effective controls and to follow up

Barriers in the Delegatee

• Lack of experience

• Lack of competence

• Avoidance of responsibility

• Overdependence on the boss

• Disorganization

• Overload of work

• Immersion in trivia

Barriers in the Situation

• One-man-show policy

• No toleration of mistakes

• Critical nature of decisions

• Urgency, leaving no time to explain (crisis management)

• Confusion in responsibilities and authority

• Understaffing

Reverse Delegation

This presents a rather interesting, although not uncommon, situation; it is when the delegatee delegates back to the delegator. The following are several causes which should be understood to better cope with this potential situation

• The subordinate wishes to avoid risk

• The subordinate is afraid of criticism

• The subordinate lacks confidence

• The subordinate lacks the necessary information and resources to accomplish the job successfully

• The boss wants to “be needed”

• The boss is unable to say no to requests for help

As stated previously, delegation does not occur naturally or, for most people, easily. Managers must first recognize the importance of delegation and then develop the necessary interpersonal skills to accomplish it. If an individual desires to be a manager, then he must become an effective delegator because delegation is the essence of good management.


Project authority is the formal (legal) and personal influence of the project manager over his project [2, p. 319]. It flows vertically from the chief executive and horizontally and diagonally to the functional managers and their personnel through the delegation process. Project authority is pervasive throughout the organization and should be shared with all organizational elements which support the project for achievement of its objectives. It should be used to facilitate a congruency of both project and functional objectives in terms of overall organizational objectives.

Organization & Delegation - A Systems Approach

The project manager-functional manager relationship is relatively unique in contemporary organizations and can best be understood in terms of mutually accepted project and functional authority, responsibility, and accountability relationships which are reciprocally interdependent. Above-average skill by the project manager in interpersonal relations is required to achieve and maintain this state of mutual acceptance.3 The project manager must be able to demonstrate to functional managers that achievement of project objectives will also aid them in accomplishing their functional objectives; realization of both project and functional objectives is necessary for the achievement of overall organizational (system) objectives. The authors propose that it is the systems perspective which facilitates the establishment and maintenance of effective authority, responsibility, and accountability relationships which facilitate realization of organizational objectives and, in turn, project and functional objectives.

The Systems Concept4

There are many different meanings to the concept “systems.” It has different meanings in different contexts and different meanings to different individuals in the same context. For the purpose of this discussion the systems concept provides the basic framework for establishing meaningful relationships within the organization. It is a “way of thinking” about authority and the sharing of authority through the delegation process.

The following factors are essential in applying the systems concept to project and functional management and the sharing of authority through the delegation process:

• Determination of the organization's (system's) objectives

• Determination of the strategies or courses of action it will pursue in achieving its objectives

• Allocation and configuration of resources in terms of organizational design to implement its strategies and achieve its objectives — this would include the decision to implement project management with the matrix organization [1, p. 1].

This approach to organizing requires that the organization be analyzed from the perspective of its being a system with subsystems. In its most general sense, a system can be defined as “an organized or complex whole; an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole.” However, the following is a more meaningful definition.

A system is:

• an array of parts or components configured in a certain way,

• which functions according to a plan or set of rules,

• to accomplish a particular objective [5, p. 117].

In organizational analysis, the total organization must be considered first and then, in relation to this perspective, the parts (functional and project) should be considered, i.e, the relationship of each part to the whole and to each other. The basic guides in this analysis are the organizational objectives which reflect the reason for the organization's existence.

Master And Derivative Objectives

Organizations are created to accomplish objectives. Since contemporary organizations have multiple objectives these should be explicitly stated, assigned priorities by top management, and communicated to managers at all levels in the organization. This normative prescription, unfortunately, is not completely followed in practice. The objective is an integral part of the systems definition in the previous section. After objectives are determined, the course or courses of action for the total organization are determined. This is termed strategy, a plan of action, an operating plan, etc., depending upon the relevant time period. It is the way the top management of the organization decides that the organization can best achieve its objectives, considering the opportunities and threats in its environment and its own strengths (capabilities) and weaknesses. The results of this process are referred to as the plan or set of rules in the above system definition.

After the master objectives and plan of action for the organization have been established, derivative or subsystem objectives for parts of the organization should be determined. For the purpose of this article, the authors assume that the decision has been made to adopt project management with the matrix organizational structure. A discussion of the reasons why an organization should adopt project management is beyond the scope of this article and is contained in other articles and papers [10, pp. 105-113].

System and Subsystem Objectives

Figure 1
System and Subsystem Objectives

Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between system and subsystem objectives. With the implementation of the matrix organization, the authors propose that two primary subsystems are created:

• A subsystem for managing its multiple projects, products, product lines on an interfunctional basis; this is the project subsystem;

• A subsystem for its technical functions and activities, such as engineering, manufacturing, marketing, finance, etc.; this is the functional subsystem.

In the current technological environment, organizations must perform very well in both their project/product and their specialized functional activities in order to compete effectively and to survive. Each of the above subsystems should have its own derivative objectives which are supportive of the organizational objectives and not in conflict with each other. The objectives in Figure 1 are stated in general terms for illustration purposes only but, in actual practice, they would be quantified to the maximum extent possible with specific time frames.

Congruency of system and subsystem objectives is the key to organizational, project, and functional success. Without the congruency of all objectives, there is a high probability of conflict within and between the parts of the organization making it difficult, if not impossible, to establish and maintain meaningful authority, responsibility, and accountability relationships between the project and functional subsystems. Congruency of objectives or goals is not easily obtained, but if top management and their subsystem managers approach the process from the system perspective, they have a viable frame of reference which facilitates the realization of goal congruency.

Subsystem Relationships

The matrix organization has two major subsystems, project and functional. As stated above, each subsystem should have explicit objectives that support, on an integrated basis, the achievement of organizational (system) objectives. The interrelationships of the objectives are depicted in Figure 1. The purposes of these subsystems are:

Project/Product Subsystem and Functional Subsystem Relationships

Figure 2
Project/Product Subsystem and Functional Subsystem Relationships5

• To manage the organization's multiple products, product lines, and/or projects on an interfunctional basis—a project management approach for its outputs. This enables the organization to plan, control, and coordinate the diverse organizational activities in terms of each of its products or projects.

• To maintain and develop specialized functional expertise. This enables the organization to obtain maximum use of special technical knowledge and to obtain the most efficient utilization of its facilities, machinery, equipment, etc., because all products/projects will be supported by these resources unless otherwise specified in the organization design decision.

Figure 2 is not an organizational chart, but a model that illustrates the basic interfaces between the project and functional subsystems. It provides a frame of reference for these two major subsystems.

Within the guidelines established for all organizational projects, each project manager must identify and, through mutually accepted project documentation, establish the nature of the interface with each functional activity which supports the project. These points of interface are the authority, responsibility, and accountability relationships required for the successful management of projects and specialized activities. This is where delegation and a sharing of authority occur. This is a primary responsibility of the project manager and should not be avoided or dealt with informally. These interfaces will change over the life of a project, but a baseline reference should be initially established so there will be a reference point for the analysis and acceptance of the inevitable changes.

Summary and Conclusions

One of the greatest challenges to contemporary organizations has been how to establish and maintain meaningful relationships between and among all its resources, especially human resources.

These human relationships are reflected, in a formal sense, by the organization's authority, responsibility, and accountability patterns. Because of the rapidly changing technological environment in which many organizations operate today, the project management concept has been adopted with the matrix organizational structure. This structure has created a new and complex organizational relationship. That relationship is the project-functional manager interface, which requires a sharing of authority for project activities with the project manager being ultimately responsible for the achievement of project objectives, i.e., he is the manager of the project.

The delegation process is the mechanism by which authority is shared with others who must furnish support for the successful completion of the project. Delegation of authority does not come naturally or easily. Its importance must be understood and the causes of ineffective delegation recognized. If a project manager desires to be a manager rather than a project technician, he must develop the skill of delegation. Delegation has been referred to as the “essence of good management,” and it is proposed that it is a vital prerequisite to the effective management of a project. The project manager must delegate his authority to others throughout the organization to achieve project objectives. It must be emphasized that project planning documentation and effective control and evaluation procedures are essential to delegation. Since a project is not static but dynamic, provisions must be made for changes in the authority, responsibility, and accountability relationships between project and functional managers and their people. Consequently, periodic reviews of the understandings between the project and the various functional managers should be conducted to assure that they are current in the light of changing conditions.

The following systems perspectives are presented as a guide for developing and maintaining relationships between the project and functional activities of an organization.

• The organization must be viewed as a system with mutual understanding and acceptance of system objectives by all managers throughout the organization.

• The organizational system has two major subsystems, each of which has objectives supportive of system objectives and compatible with each other. These subsystems are the project/product and the functional subsystems.

• The nature and the reciprocal interdependence of the authority, responsibility, and accountability relationships between each subsystem must be recognized and mutually accepted through effective delegation and sharing of authority.

The dynamics of contemporary organizational life, with its resulting reciprocal interdependencies between organizational activities, project and functional, are so complex that a systems perspective is imperative. This perspective provides a framework for establishing and maintaining viable authority, responsibility, and accountability relationships through effective delegations. These delegations should be supported by organizational and project documentation and evaluation and control processes.


1. Churchman, C.W. The Systems Approach. New York: Delacorte, 1968.

2. Cleland, D.I., & King, W.R. Systems Analysis and Project Management. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975.

3. Davis, S.M., & Lawrence, P.R. Matrix. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. 1977.

4. Hicks, H.C., Gullett, C.R. The Management of Organizations. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1976.

5. Johnson, R.A., Kast, F.E., & Rosensweig, J.E. The Theory and Management of Systems. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973.

6. Mackenzie, R.A. The Time Trap. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972.

7. Seiler, et al. Systems Analysis in Organizational Behavior. Howewood, Illinois: Dorsey Press, 1967.

8. Sisk, H.L. Management and Organization, Cincinnati: Southwestern Publishing Company, 1977.

9. Stewart, J. Making Program Management Work, in Systems, Organizations, Analysis Management: A Book of Readings. Cleland, D.I., & King, W.R. (eds.), New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1969.

10. Stickney, F.A. Organization Design: A Critical Factor in the Management of Resources. Proceedings, Drexel Hill Pa.: Project Management Institute, 1975.

1This article was previously published in the 1978 Proceedings of the Project Management Institute, 10th Annual Seminar/Symposium, Los Angeles, California.

2For a more thorough discussion of the matrix organization and the functional/project manager relationship, the reader is referred to Cleland, D.I. & King, W.R. Systems Analysis and Project Management. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975, pp. 183-202 and 241-265.

3For a comprehensive analysis of the interpersonal skills of project managers, the reader is referred to F.A. Stickney and W.R. Johnston, “Identification and Development of Individuals for Project Management Positions,” 1977Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Seminar Symposium, Drexel Hill, Pa.: Project Management Institute, 1977, pp. 416-424.

4The basic concepts discussed in this section were also included in “Organization Design: A Critical Factor in the Management of Resources,” 1975 Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Seminar/Symposium, Drexel Hill, Pa.: Project Management Institute, 1975, pp. 105-113.

5Adapted from D.I. Cleland and W.R. King, Systems Analysis and Project Management, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1968, p. 177.



Related Content