For project managers

an inquiry into the delicate art and science of influencing others

MTS Group



project managers have an extraordinary demanding job. Not only do they have to have the technical knowledge that goes into running a successful project, they also have to have an exceptional ability to work effectively with team members, associates, functional managers and senior management, often in a stressful work environment.

One writer [1] discussing what is needed for the ideal project manager constructed a model listing 23 separate functions in project management and 11 personal skills needed to implement the 23 functions. The result was a 253 cell matrix defining what project managers need to master to become effective!

The less complicate position taken here is that there are two major areas where the project manager must be effective. The first and most obvious involves the technical skill it takes to plan, implement and complete a project successfully. This skill includes things like knowing how to establish objectives, develop a work breakdown structure, design a network, and monitor resources.

The second area where the project manager must have skill is in influencing others whose cooperation and help is needed to complete the project successfully. A general manager captured the importance of this attribute when he said that if he were given the opportunity to choose between a person who had the technical skills of project management and lacked interpersonal skills and a person who had interpersonal skills and lacked technical knowledge, he would give precedence to the person who could influence others to achieve project goals.


The birth of project management began when organizations became increasingly faced with tasks which were interdisciplinary in nature, where, for example, the expertise of a computer programmer, a marketer, an accountant and a systems analyst were all needed to get a job done for a valued customer who wanted the product delivered yesterday. Such demands contributed to organizational restructuring where persons across functions rather than within functions were combined into teams to get the job done. These were the early beginnings of what became known as the matrix organization [2 pp. 80-110]. It meant that team members reported both to the project manager as well as their functional bosses. Decisions regarding performance review, promotions and other incentives usually were those of the functional manager; getting the project done within budget, schedule and specifications were the responsibility of the project manager.

Harold Kerzner comments:

The individual placed at the interface position has two bosses: he must take direction from both the project manager and the functional manager... The inter-face members generally give loyalty to the person signing their merit review [functional manager]. This poses a problem [for the project manager] especially if conflicting orders are given by the functional and project managers [2, p. 103].

The situation poses a challenge. How does the project manager maintain a high performance level from team members when it is the functional manager who determines the team member's future in the company?

It seems reasonable to suspect that the answer lies within the delicate art and science of how one influences the behavior of others.


One way to look at influence is to consider it from the perspective of interpersonal power. If a person is perceived as powerful by others, that individual has the potential to influence; if a person is perceived as weak or powerless, influence potential is low.

Several years back there was a TV program called “Candid Camera” where persons were filmed by a hidden camera responding to situations they thought were real when, in fact, they were staged. One sequence took place at the Delaware state line. A long line of cars was stopped before a large sign which declared DELAWARE CLOSED. Confused drivers stepped out of their cars and approached a man standing under the sign dressed in a white coat and hard hat. Scores blurted versions like “Hey! What's going on?”

The official merely pointed to the sign and replied, “Read the sign. ” One particularly concerned driver asked plaintively, “When do you think it'll reopen. My wife and kids are there, and they're expecting me home. ”

The humor of this incident should not detract from its central message, namely that the ability to influence others is often a result of the power ascribed to the person(s) attempting to get others to do something. Thus, it follows that if one wants to increase his/her ability to influence others, a first step is to understand what it is that effective influencers, powerful people, do that distinguishes them from less powerful, less influential persons.


Paul Hersey and Walter Natemeyer have developed a Power Perception Profile instrument [3] to assess why someone responds to another's influence attempts, There are seven power bases which the authors describe.

A. Coercive power is based upon fear. A leader scoring high in coercive power is seen as inducing compliance because failure to comply will lead to punishments such as undesirable work, reprimands or dismissals.

B. Connection power is based upon a leader's “connections” with influential or important persons inside or outside the organization. A leader scoring high in connection power induces compliance because others aim at gaining the favor or avoiding the disfavor of the powerful connection.

C. Expert power is based upon the leader's possession of expertise, skill and knowledge which gain the respect of others. A leader who is perceived as an expert typically has a high level of respect from others which, in turn, increases the leader's ability to influence.

D. Information power is based upon the leader's possession of or access to information which is perceived as valuable to others. This power base influences others because they need this information or want to be “in on things. ”

E. Legitimate power is based upon the position held by the leader. The higher the position, the higher legitimate power tends to be. A leader scoring high in legitimate power induces compliance from others because they feel that this person has the right, by virtue of position in the organization, to expect that suggestions be followed.

F. Referent power is based upon the leader's personal traits. High scores mean the person is generally liked and admired by others, because of personality. This liking for, admiration for, and identification with that person influences others.

G. Reward power is based upon the leader's ability to provide rewards and support for others. Persons believe their compliance will gain them such positive incentives as recognition, praise, better working conditions, promotion and pay,


Hersey and Natemeyer's Personal Perception Profile was administered to 146 project managers and individual contributors, all of whom were involved at various levels with projects and project management and who worked in a matrix or modified-matrix environment. They were asked to fill out the survey describing how they perceived “an outstanding project manager. ” “Outstanding” was defined as the project manager who has a reputation for completing projects on or near schedule, within budget, within specifications and whose team members would actively choose to work with on future projects if they had the opportunity.

The category which ranked highest of the seven power based was expert power. Outstanding project managers are powerful because they have a reputation for being knowledgeable both about the project and about ways to get it done. There was little disagreement about this ranking from respondents,

The second ranking power base, around which there was also a high level of agreement, was reward power. Since relatively few project managers have the ability to grant salary raises, promotions, or affect performance appraisals of team members, this score seems to suggest other aspects of reward such as personal recognition, professional development opportunities, special training and time off.

Ranking third in the survey slightly behind that of reward power was legitimate power, the power that comes from one's position in the company. Respondents indicated that the higher a project manager's position in the organization, the more authority they had to direct their work activities, There was slightly less agreement from respondents for this power category than there was for expert and reward.

The lowest ranking was coercive power, the ability to influence that emanates from threat of negative consequences if performance is not up to project standards. Interestingly, a minority group clearly felt that using coercive power was acceptable, whereas the majority said it was the last thing they wanted from a project manager. Consequently, the sum total and average scores were low, while variation around the mean (standard deviation) was second highest of all power categories.

Referent power, a measure of a leader's “likability”, had a higher standard deviation when compared to other categories. Similar to coercion, there was a wide spread of opinion about referent power as a desired characteristic of an outstanding project manager. The fact that referent ranked fourth on average and coercion ranked seventh indicates persons were generally more positive about referent than coercion.


These data are provocative. Imbedded within them are implications for ways project managers might increase their power and their ability to influence others. Indeed, the practice of going beyond the immediate data is generally frowned upon by the research community. However, if done reasonably and with full disclosure of where data ends and speculation begins, such projections are usually acceptable. It is in that spirit that the following implications are drawn, based upon the data already discussed.

Plan Your Professional Development Carefully

The data says that one's ability to influence is directly related to another's perception of one's expertise. This implies that working toward increasing one's professional proficiency is a viable and significant way to become more powerful. Taking advantage of training opportunities (formal and informal), joining and becoming active in professional groups such as the Project Management Institute, becoming a certified project manager, and staying abreast of professional literature, are ways to become more influential.

TABLE 1. Profile of “Outstanding” Project Manager's Power Bases (n=146)

Power Category Average Score Standard Dev.
Expert 12.78 2.36
Reward 10.17 2.30
Legitimate 10.15 2.63
Referent 8.79 3.02
Information 8.32 2.80
Connection 7.26 2.63
Coercion 5.31 2.90

Legitimate or position power, the third ranking power base, might come about in several ways. Achieving legitimate power is usually a function of one's expertise (as described above), but it is also the result of careful planning of one's own career. It seems reasonable to suggest that careful career planning over time could lead to one's ability to rise to higher positions in the organization.

Suggesting how to increase expert and legitimate power is not very helpful for those who are new to the profession or who do not have the luxury of time to develop their power bases. Fortunately, there are other ways to increase one's power bases which can have a shorter time lead.

Pay Attention to the Good Performance of Others

The data identified reward as the second most desired quality of an outstanding project manager. This suggests that acknowledging the good performance of others could be an effective way to build one's power base.

Obviously, recognition must be given genuinely and sensitively. Sage advice that some have found helpful is, acknowledge the good performance of others as one would have others acknowledge their own good performance.

Recognition is not just saying “well done” to another, as important as that may be. The following list of effective forms of recognition was generated by a group of project managers in less than 30 seconds.

  • A comment to a team member's functional boss,
  • A citation in an employee's personnel file,
  • A public statement during a team meeting,
  • A dinner with spouse,
  • An attendance at an important staff meeting not normally attended by a team member,
  • A new piece of equipment,
  • An arrangement for a visit to another facility, and
  • An opportunity for specialized training.

Interestingly, research [4] and common sense are in agreement that a little well-placed, genuinely-given attention is usually all that is needed to keep performance going for a long time.

Become more Expert as a People Manager

A growing body of research indicates that good people managers do things differently than their less successful colleagues [5, p. 3]. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that adopting an effective managerial strategy has the potential of increasing one's power bases.

  • Have clearly stated, measurable objectives;
  • Have determined with subordinates specific action plans to achieve objectives;
  • Have current and accurate feedback regarding all aspects of work progress;
  • Nurture (strengthen) appropriate performance of others when they progress toward achieving their objectives on or ahead of schedule.

This has been called the O.P.E.N. Model of Management [5, p. 9].

O = Objectives

P = Pinpoint behaviors

E = Evaluate performance

N = Nurture progress

Because this model describes managerial behaviors rather than attitudes, things managers do rather than beliefs hey hold, the O.P.E.N, model can be incorporated into one's style without extensive training.

For project managers, this model suggests one should:

  • Define project objectives and subobjectives in measurable ways so progress can be tracked.
  • Determine with the project team and with each team member a set of action plans to achieve project objectives.
  • Design feedback devices which give the project manager and team members accurate and current information on project plans.
  • Help team members become successful by securing appropriate equipment at the right time, cutting red tape, facilitating approvals, and acknowledging superior performance.

These four factors represented in the O.P.E.N, model do not makeup all aspects of managing project teams. But, data does suggest that if each aspect of O.P.E.N. is represented in the totality of how a manager relates to a team, even if only in modest terms, their effectiveness is greater than if one or several elements of O.P.E.N. is absent [5, p. 12].

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Handle Conflict Creatively

In view of the finding that many of the respondents considered coercive power unacceptable, and since few projects escape interpersonal conflict between members and management, some comment is warranted regarding creative conflict management.

Both experience and research [5, p, 604] indicate that the more successful project managers move in promptly and firmly when conflict arises or when performance slips. Their demeanor, however, is more “What's happening and how can we get things back on track?” than, “If you don't shape up, your butt is going to be in a sling.”

Once the project manager and team member reach agreement on the nature of the problem, an action plan should be developed and monitored carefully. Then, when progress is made, the project manager should be quick to nurture it. In fact, the O.P.E.N. model is as applicable to conflict resolution as it is to team management.

The best solutions to performance problems grow out of a “win-win” philosophy where the team member(s) successfully solves the problem and the project manager gets the project back on schedule.


The position of this article is that since they typically work in a matrix or quasi-matrix work setting, a high priority skill the project manager must have is the ability to influence others to contribute willingly to successful project completion.

146 project managers were asked to describe their perception of the “outstanding” project manager to determine the power bases the respondents preferred when others attempted to influence them. The three most frequently selected were expert, reward, and legitimate in that order. Coercion was the least chosen (though an unexpected minority gave it a high rating), while connection, information and referent fell into the mid-range.

Based upon these data, the implications were considered for project managers to build a stronger power base to increase their ability to influence others.

Carl E. Pitts is a staff associate of MTS Group, Summit, NJ., a consultative group specializing in simulation training. Dr. Pitts received his Ph.D. from Washington University (St. Louis, MO) and has taught behavior psychology at California School ofProfessional Psychology in San Diego, CA., where be currently lives. He served as staff consultant for Mobil Corporation from 1980 to 1984.

He has bad articles and research papers published in professional journals and has authored two college texts in psychology for T. Y. Crowell. He is the author and narrator of Managing People: Key to Productivity. a multi-media module published by Mc-Graw Hill Training Systems.

Dr. Pitts is a frequent contributor to San Diego Business Journal regarding the application of behavioral psychology to business issues.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



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