What are the main types of power?

In projects, a very important function required of a project manager is influencing the organization—in other words, ''making things work.'' That involves having a good knowledge of both the formal and informal systems of the home organization of the project, as well as the client, subcontractors, and other stakeholders. The ability to influence the organization requires understanding the mechanisms of power and politics.

By power we normally mean the potential ability to influence behavior, change a situation in order to overcome resistance, and make people do things they would have not done otherwise. In general, it involves influencing opinions, decisions, and methods.

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There are a number of types of power that can be present in an organization. The list includes:

Legitimate—Formal title or position

Reward—Ability to provide positive consequences

Coercive—Ability to provide negative consequences

Purse String—Budget control

Bureaucratic—Knowledge of the system

Referent—Association with someone else's power



It is quite clear that in different situations we are dealing with a different balance of the types of power, In projects, we normally talk about a combination of formal (legitimate) power, power types that have to do with owning resources (rewarding, purse string), and informal powers (charismatic, referent, etc). It is easy to see that the type of power the project manager has in any concrete project depends largely on the type of organization and on internal company policies. For instance, a good matrix organization has a reward budget for the project team as a part of the project budget and thus allows a project manager to use a reward type of power. He or she is not normally responsible for salary payments for team members. Similarly, if a company has a policy of employing project managers with high technical backgrounds in the field, the project manager is able to use the power of the technical expertise with the team members. Unfortunately, this type of power does not really work well in projects because the project team normally brings together people of quite different technical backgrounds. It could well be that a project manager is just not able to be an expert in all those technical areas.

In general, we can combine the presented types of power into two major groups. Position-based powers, or authorities, include formal, legitimate, purse-string, reward, coercive. Person-based powers, or influence, include technical, charismatic, referent. A good project manager in a reasonable project-oriented organizational structure uses both types of power with more accent on influence. In reality, direct formal powers very often do not work with all the project stakeholders. This is especially true with the external project environment of clients and governmental bodies. The third type of power a project manager can use is accountability—power obtained through agreement—in other words, the responsibility of the people on a project team and the other project stakeholders to follow both formal and informal agreements with the project manager. According to good project management practices, the team members are supposed to formulate their accountability in terms of both results and performance indicators. This type of power can be described more or less as the ability of a project manager to make project team members fulfill the work according to their own promises.

What does the staff acquisition process include?

The content of the staff acquisition process in projects is different from the general staff recruiting procedures for the organization. In The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, it is considered to be one of the facilitating processes in the planning process group. In projects, the project manager does not actually recruit personnel for the project from outside of the organization. A clear exception to this is when the project requires some skills and knowledge that are not available inside the company. In this case if the project manager does not make the decision to buy these services from the outside, certain skilled people are recruited for this project only, and this becomes another responsibility of the project manager.

In most cases, however, the staff acquisition process involves a number of activities to select the right types of people and sign them up to certain project tasks.

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The major result of the staff acquisition process, according to The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, is to set up the project team with all the needed skills and knowledge important for successful project realization. In order to achieve the stated result, the project manager often has to perform functions not necessarily associated with the normal process of personnel recruitment. For instance, one of the important parts of the responsibilities of the project manager involves good communication skills. These skills allow the project manager to reach a productive understanding with the functional managers and other project managers interested in getting the same types of resources. Needless to say, this process becomes extremely complicated in weak matrix organizations where the project manager does not have enough authority to take people away from the functional departments, and the functional managers are not rewarded for the amount of project work their people are doing.

In many cases the project manager is not clear about which people are best for working on certain tasks in the project at the stage of planning where the decisions are made. It is surely important for a manager to preassign as many people as possible to the specific tasks, especially if a task involves some special skills. The fact that the project manager does not have a clear idea about exactly who would be able to work on the project also negatively affects the estimating process. This is important especially in cases where the company holds the salaries of its employees a total secret from everybody else in the company except the accounting department. In this case, the project managers tend to plan using the average cost for this skill group for their estimates and, what is worse, report performance based on the average figures as well. This creates a strong demand for experienced and expensive employees, leaving the young, inexperienced ones unclaimed.

Generally, all those considerations make it important for the project manager to be able to preplan for certain people to be assigned to certain project tasks at the stage of staff acquisition.

What are the tools and rules for human resource coordination in projects?

As mentioned before, the normal project-oriented environment is often extremely complicated from the viewpoint of the organizational structure. In order to decrease the degree of confusion and argument, the project managers have to undertake every effort possible in order to apply some structure to human resource distribution and coordination between different projects and operational activities of the functional departments.

There are a number of simple but useful instruments used by project managers and a number of rules project managers have to follow in a project-oriented organization in order to make the overall project organization more transparent and satisfactory to various project stakeholders.

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Staffing plans are used by functional managers in order to be able to track different employees from project to project. As shown in Figure 64, a staffing plan is a simple matrix showing the projects each person is working on at certain periods of time. Functional managers can use the staffing plan in order to see the people available to fulfill certain functional or new project jobs; it also gives the person himself some vision of his coming assignments.

Staffing plan

Figure 6-4: Staffing plan

Responsibility-accountability matrix

Figure 6-5: Responsibility-accountability matrix

The responsibility-accountability matrix in Figure 6-5 is a tool used in some format in projects almost everywhere. Normally it is a matrix table representing a group of people and showing their role and/or responsibility related to certain tasks or groups of tasks. Any types of symbols and signs can be used in order to make the scheme clearest.

In any project, regardless of its size and complexity, it is absolutely essential that an organizational chart be developed for the project showing the names, positions, and responsibilities of the project team members and often other important project stakeholders. The organizational chart can easily correspond to the project WBS where the subproject managers are assigned to certain work groups or subprojects in the structure of the WBS. The organizational chart for the project gives the project stakeholders, as well as the people outside of the project, the opportunity to find the person they need in the overall project structure.

In strong matrix organizations, many people spend months at a time without ever seeing their functional departments, moving from one project to another. In this case, especially considering the fact that it is normally outside of the scope of the project manager's responsibilities to take care of salary levels, career advancements, training needs, etc., of certain team members, it becomes critically important that the communications between the project manager and the functional manager are efficient and reliable. The project manager in this case becomes responsible for relaying information about team members' performance on the project to the functional managers, who are then able to use this information and the information from other projects to make yearly decisions on the employees' career development, salary changes, etc.

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