Select Page


Practical Project Management Authority (#4 in the series Grabbing Project Management Authority)
By Thomas Cutting

Over the last several weeks we have been looking at Authority: how to gain it from scratch and how to get it back when you loose it. Once you get it, though, how do you use it effectively? With the four types of Authority (Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty, Expert) as the basis, lets look at some practical suggestions.

Positional. Having your name on the org chart above mine doesn’t mean you are the boss of me. Actually, positional authority works best when you don’t mention it by name. You just need to act it out. Create a picture in your mind of how someone in your position should act and live up to it. Be a leader. Direct your meetings by preparing agendas and keeping people on them. Ask the right questions. Don’t be domineering, demeaning, stuck up or snobby.

You can also use the positional authority of others. A great example of this is in emails. If you can say, “The CEO would like to know…” you are likely to get a faster response than “Can you tell me….” You are no longer asking for it, He-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed is.

Referent. The idea of Referent Authority is to get people to say, “I want to work with that project manager because he is so !” Different attributes attract different people. Some like to work for a hard nosed, no nonsense individual because she can cut through the red tape. Others prefer the process oriented manager because there are no surprises. People evaluate their managers based on what the manager can do for them. Work on the traits you want to be known for.

Reward/Penalty. Recognition is always welcome. If you have a team member that is putting in long hours, acknowledge it. Tell her you appreciate the extra effort she is giving. Make it tangible, too. Small things like movie tickets or Starbucks cards can go a long way toward boosting the moral of the individual or team.

When you have to take disciplinary actions, make sure it is factual, specific and directed. Meet with whoever you need to and get the facts correct before proceeding. When you take action you don’t want to be arguing about what happened. Be specific in what they did wrong and also in what they need to do going forward. For anything short of termination, the direction of the discipline should always be toward making the individual a committed member of the team again.

Expert. Your expertise should always be given freely, but that doesn’t mean you should give it for nothing. Offer it in exchange for other resources you might need (“If I help you with your schedule, can you…?”). At the very least it can help your Referent Authority so they’ll say, “I want to work with that project manager because he really knows his stuff!”).

In the end authority is about what you do with it, not how much you can get. Use it wisely.

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 (

Recommended PM App

Recommended PM App