Project Management Leadership
- The Distinction of Power and Authority
- Power Versus Authority for a Project Manager
- The Power of the Project Charter
- The Power of Expertise
- Situational Project Management Leadership
The Distinction of Power and Authority
A project manager often must deal with situations where they have no authority to directly dictate behavior. That got me thinking of another book that I read in college – Presidential Power,” by Richard Neustadt. In his book Neustadt draws a distinction between power and authority. Essentially authority, the rules outlining what the President can and cannot do, are set forth in the Constitution, Federal law and Federal regulations. Neustadt observes that Presidents have very little authority. The President exercises power.
In the case of the President of the United States, power is personal to the individual occupying the Presidency. The President has limited authority to command and derives virtually all his or her power through persuasion and bargaining. Presidential power comes from three sources: The advantages inherent in the office (Presidential prestige); the belief that the President has certain advantages over them (real or perceived); and the public view of those presidential advantages. By leveraging those three sources of power, the President bargains and persuades those around him to accomplish his or her goals.
Power Versus Authority for a Project Manager
For the project manager this power versus authority distinction is real. In many cases a project manager exercises very little actual authority. Most of the project manager’s authority is derived through the project charter and the project sponsor – usually an executive or committee. While that mandate may be powerful, it is often not self-enforcing. To enforce the project manager’s mandate on strict authoritarian lines would require repeated intervention of the sponsors in the absence of cooperation from a project team. This is inefficient, ineffective and will most likely lead to project failure.
In my opinion, a project manager demonstrates effective projecet management leadership through their ability to persuade project team members and stakeholders to get the job done. Obviously, a project manager is not the President of the United States. They can’t use the prestige of the office as leverage over stakeholders. Nor can they use public popularity as a lever to get people to do things. A project manager needs different leverage points.
The Power of the Project Charter
The first leverage point is the document from which the project manager derives their authority the charter. One choice would be to use it as a command tool to bludgeon team members into performing. As Neustadt said, command is exercised from a position of weakness. The better use of the charter is to use it as an expression of a shared mandate for all team members and stakeholders to get the project done.