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Sources of Power for Project Managers

Project Managers are the leader of projects and people. Project Managers flex power skills in relationship management and leadership to bring teams together to align on vision, strategy, execution, and outcomes.

What can make this difficult is when project managers need more understanding of how to use power to their benefit. Most of the time, the team members do not directly report to a project manager, yet the project manager is responsible for influencing people on the team to complete their work.

Project Managers can establish themselves in several areas of "power" that can influence how team members and colleagues view them, which can positively (or negatively) affect the outcome of their projects and career.

Power Source 1 - Expert Power

A project manager who embodies expert power possesses a high level of expertise in project management. They consistently display the skills and knowledge through their daily work that earns the respect of their colleagues. People within and outside their organization seek their advice. Outside work, they may write blog posts (like this one!), create training materials, or be guest speakers at a conference or podcast. They could have advanced degrees in project management or certifications. They can inspire the work of others on the team as they want to connect with someone who is an expert in their field. The projects led by someone with a level of expert power are more likely to be successful.

Power Source 2 - Connection Power

People should pay attention to the power of connections. A leader understands how to connect the dots, and who within their organization can be used to move a project forward. Establishing relationships within a company will allow a project manager to use connection power to get a project unstuck or stand out amongst the crowd for future career growth opportunities. A leader with a high connection power influences compliance from others because they understand the level of connection that the project manager has within the organization and wants to gain favor or avoid the disfavor of a powerful bond.

Power Source 3 - Information Power

Information power describes the project manager's possession or access to information perceived as valuable to others as information within a company (who to reach when you have questions or what might be happening on other projects). It could also be information that is not widely known and should only be shared out of discretion. One important takeaway is to avoid being considered a gatekeeper of information and intentionally withholding essential details.

Power Source 4 - Likeability Power

People like to work with people who have strong likeability characteristics. Likeability comes in handy when projects don't go well, which more than often happens. A project manager who is authentically and consistently likable, without being a pushover, will instill loyalty in their team. A project team who enjoys working for their project manager will want to pitch in to help the project turnaround by offering new suggestions and working a little harder to meet a deadline. The project manager can indirectly influence the team's culture where others on the team will display the same positive character traits.

Power Source 5 - Legitimate Power

The last three power traits align more with managers or higher up within the organization who can flex legitimate, reward, and coercive powers. Titles and ranks within a company can be considered legitimate power. The higher a leader within a company, the higher the level of compliance and influence to others based on their role. The level of compliance may increase as the titles move up on the project management ladder, such as: senior project/program manager -> Manager - > Director -> VP, etc. People will generally follow this person because of their role within the organization and they expect the requests to be followed.

Power Source 6 - Reward Power

Leaders who can provide rewards to others, such as pay, promotions, and recognition, can influence the behaviors of those teams. People will want to show up as their best to those who directly manage their pay increases, bonuses, and promotions. Project managers who do not have direct reports should still use recognition as a power to influence their teams. This article provides 5 Ideas For Team Building and Appreciation.

Power Source 7 - Coercive Power

Coercive power should is not a positive power and is based on fear. A leader who exhibits this power forces people to comply with requests. A failure to comply can lead to isolation, reprimands, loss of pay or key assignments, or ultimately termination. Sometimes, team members may underperform, and this power has to be utilized.


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