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Authorized to Manage – In a Matrix Organization (#7 in the series Authorized to Manage)
By Thomas Cutting

This is the seventh in a series looking at authority. Focusing our attention on the matrix organization we’ll look at some practical tips for surviving in this environment.

You have officially lost control….

Matrix Organization.

A matrix environment can be a difficult place to manage. As we have seen, it is that fuzzy area between Functional and Projectized organizations. Project Managers that have successfully managed multimillion dollar efforts find they have lost all control when dropped into a matrix organization. At best they share control and at its worst they are little more than coordinators begging different departments to work pieces of the project. Because the weak matrix is the hardest to handle, we’ll center our focus on it.

Positional authority in this environment is held by the functional manager. She owns the resources and represents their security. When the project ends or fails they have a home back in her group; a safety net. In order to effectively manage you need to work through the functional managers. Since you lack positional authority you need to build up the other types.

Reward/penalty authority is your quickest option. As members of your team put in extra effort or make significant contributions send an email to their managers and copy them on it. Ask permission to give input to the team members’ annual review process. Do this at the beginning of the project and don’t keep it secrete. Announce it as a positive and tell them how you intend to use it to provide their management with an accurate picture of their contribution to the company.

Check with the functional manager up front to understand the best means to address performance issues and discussions. She may want to handle issues herself or at least be part of the process. Establish an escalation path from the beginning to resolve conflicts.

As you interact with the team you can develop referent authority. Through your actions they should begin to see that you are fair, trustworthy and willing to work through difficulties with them.

You can also demonstrate your expert authority by the way you manage. A solid, well communicated scope builds confidence in the project. Creating and tracking to a realistic schedule based on the resource availability shows foresight. Holding time conscience meetings using agendas and producing minutes lends credibility to your management abilities. All of these add up to the team having more confidence in your ability to lead.

To ensure the success of the project you also need to address two issues from outside of the project. First, without the hierarchical positional authority your project may lack a strong sponsor. If your company uses Portfolio Management, each of the projects will be ranked according to their priority. How does it compare to other projects? Can you leverage the project’s importance to obtain more commitment from the various groups?

The second problem is resource availability. Find out from the functional manager the percentage of time each resource is committed to the project. Then ask the individuals what other projects they are currently working and have them rank the importance of each. Rework your project estimates based on the reality of sharing the resources. Work with the other project managers to determine peak resource needs and coordinate the resource usage to fit everyone’s schedules.

As conflicts arise from resource availability or other areas, inform upper management and allow them to prioritize the projects and help resolve the issues.

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge ( and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (

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