Motivation in Project Management from the Project Manager’s Perspective

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Developed by Niels Christian Kirk

A project manager has to be able to plan the project, handle the stakeholders, create a risk analysis plan, handle the top management and the project team. But a topic that is often overlooked is the team motivation. The difference between a team that is highly motivated to solve a projects goal and a de-motivated team, could make the difference between a successful project, and a project that might never finish or is filled with complications. There is a growing awareness that people is one of the most important parts in a project. Since the beginning of 2000, the focus has been shifted from technical aspects (planning, budget optimizing, etc.) to more people-oriented aspects of project management - such as motivation. This applies for both practices and academic studies. [1] Motivated employees can increase productivity and efficiency. If the project manager makes an effort in motivating his employees, he could increase the team's efficiency, because motivated employees have less sick- and absence days, and the team members could make an extra effort to be on time. The quality of the employee's work will also be better when he is motivated.[2]

There are several sources of motivation, which the project manager can focus on in the team. This article will describe how a project manager can change leadership styles in order to motivate his team. Furthermore, some of the wellknown theories regarding motivation in project management will be introduced as well as some of the limitations to motivation which a project manager will encounter.


Leading and motivating

Figure 1: The 6 different leadership styles[3]

Leadership in a group does not have single formular that is the right solution. Every team is different, and their needs and desires are different. There are different leadership strategies one could possess in order to gain different goals. There are 6 different leadership strategies a project manager can use, according to Daniel Goleman.[4] There is not one leadership strategy which is better than another, when it comes to motivating the team, but in a particular situation there could be a strategy which works better. When applying a certain strategy to a specific team, it is important to be aware of the strategy's weaknesses. The project manager should not necessarily take on strategy, and keep it through the whole project. Being able to do good swaps between the different leadership styles is one of the best indicators of a good leader.

'The commanding manager' would be good in cases where there is a lot of uncertainty or the project is diffuse, in which case the team needs a person who they feel has control. The problems that can occur with this style is that the personal development is easily overlooked, which creates a frustrated team. It also requires a highly skilled leader, because if that is not the case, it would slow down the project very much.

'The visionary manager' would be a good strategy to take on, when a project does not go as planned, and the team is forced to to do things differently. This could be the case if major changes had to be made to the original plan for the project. As the visionary manager, the team needs a strong leader who takes the responsibility and comes up with solutions as the project progresses. This demands the group to believe in the leader. It does not focus much on helping the team members who can not keep up with sudden changes.

'The affiliative manager' is putting people's needs first. It can be used to make amends between the team members, and create a good atmosphere. The weakness of this style is that it is not very work efficient. The work is not in focus and does not emphasize performance. If the project encounters a big problem, this work style will have difficulties working through those.

'The democratic manager' is leading with the group. In situations where the environment often changes for the group, and there are few constant in the project, this could be a good leadership style. It often makes sure that experienced team members are heard, and the best ideas come forward. The downside to this leadership style is that every decision takes time, which therefore slows down the project.

'The pacesetting manager' could work in groups consisting of very experienced team members. The manager leads by example, and focuses on getting the job done. He sets high goals for his team members, and does not accept poor performance. If the manager has succes with the style, he can achieve goals fast. The downside of this style is that the work environment is not good. People are work tools, and if they are having a hard time, they get replaced. Therefore, the work moral could become very low, which could slow down the project if used wrong.

'The coaching manager' focusing on learning experience within the team. It can be good in long projects, where the team members lacks skills, or they want personal development. However, this style could slow down the project, and if the leader is inexperienced in this style, the leadership style would not have any positive effects on the project or the team members.

Sources of motivation

A team member's motivation does not necessarily have to come from the project manager; the motivation can be both extrinsic or intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation means that the motivational energy comes from within the person. The person has a desire, a wish, to help achieve the goal, because it aligns with the person's own belief. An example of this could be if the team member finds the task he is assigned specially interesting, which motivates him to fulfill the task efficiently. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is where the motivational energy is coming from an external source - and not from the team member himself. The team manager is a key component in extrinsic motivation. For example, the manager can either reward or punish his team members, in order to push them to do a certain task. There are several ways of giving extrinsic motivation to the team members. It is widely believed that intrinsic motivation is the best kind of motivation, but the project manager can help the team members achieve this.

Maslows hierarchy of needs

Abraham Maslow came up with the theory that there is a hierarchy of needs, and that one need has to be fulfilled before next one can be achieved.

Figure 2: Maslow's hierarchy of needs [5]

Every member of a team has a need, something he/she wants. The promise of fulfillment of the needs is what drives us. Maslow's theory about the hierarchy of needs is a five-stage model that shows which needs drives us, and in which order these occur, starting from basic needs and working its way up to fulfilling the human potential (self-actualization). The order of these needs is important, as you have to achieve the steps one by one, to achieve satisfaction.

1. The first, the most basic need is the physiological need. Lunch program at work could fulfill this need, or having fruits available during the day.

2. The second need is the safety need. After being feed, this issue arises; the team members has to feel safe. This could be fulfilled with clear communication, so the employees never feels unsure whether they are doing their job right, and making sure the team members can depend on each other within team, and so on.

3. The third step is belongingness, and love needs. At this step the group activities is an example of fulfillment of this need. Teambuilding exercises or social events are some of the activities that can fulfill this need.

4. The fourth step is esteem needs. When a group member excels in a project, or a job gets done, it is important to acknowledge the work he has done. This could be done by giving the employees a higher position, giving a bonus, but also a small things like verbally expressing satisfaction with the employee's job, e.g. by saying ‘good job’, can satisfy this need.

5. With the four other needs fulfilled, the team member can now reach the highest need, self-actualization, where feelings of joy and euphoria will arise. This is a step he has to reach himself, and is therefore intrinsic motivation.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs has been widely discussed. Among other things, the discussion points out that the human brain is much more complex than Maslow describes. In Maslow's theory, the need for social connection and collaboration has not been given enough importance - they are more essential than what he has described them to be in the third stage. A article in Psychology Today by Pamela Rutledge[6]], explains how the foundation of the hierarchy of needs should be social connection and collaboration, because none of the needs are possible without it. She argues that needs are a dynamic system, but anchored in the ability to connect with each other. From this view the project manager has an even larger impact on the motivation of the team members.


Feedback is a powerfull management tool, which can either boost the employee's motivation, or be dangerous if used wrong. There is a general understanding that giving constructive positive feedback can be a good motivator for the employee. On the other hand, giving negative feedback can undermine the earlier extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, which will leave the person demotivated. When giving feedback, there are various factors that needs to be taken into consideration, to make sure the feedback has a positive effect on the motivation.

1. The employees who are contributing the most in a project often are those who needs the feedback the most.

2. It is important to create a safe space, or a comfort zone, in which the person can receive his/hers feedback.

3. Positive feedback is a part of making the team member feel safe. There is an unwritten rule which says that the feedback given should be 50% constructive feedback and 50% positive feedback. The positive feedback does not tell the person anything new, but stimulates the reward center in the brain and makes the person more susceptible to the following critique.

4. When giving feedback, avoid being ambivalent. Instead, be clear and specific in your motivation.

5. For the feedback to be relevant, it is important that the feedback is given frequently. It is not productive nor motivational, if the feedback is given several months after the episode you want him to change on.[7]


If a team has accomplished four milestones in a project but has not had a single 'thank you', and their efforts have not been acknowledged, every member of the team will feel their work is not appreciated, and their motivation and efficiency will decrease drastically. This is not a situation any project manager would like to find himself in. In order to avoid this, it is important to acknowledge peoples work, e.g. with rewards. However, one needs to carefully consider rewarding, as it can have a negative effect on the intrinsic motivation. Why reward somebody for something he loves to do? However, if the reward the employee receives (perks at the job, for instance) is not specifically attached to a task he is assigned, the intrinsic motivation should not be affected. [8]

Freedom with responsibility

Autonomy is an important factor when talking motivation in projects. Most employees have a need and a desire to affect a given project, and if the employees are not given the opportunity to make decisions which will affect the project, they will not feel appreciated and/or valued. Not feeling appreciated => low motivation => low efficiency. This is one of the areas where intrinsic motivation can arise. This can be done by only setting a goal for the team members and not decide how they should achieve the goal; by letting the team members take more responsibility, use their imagination, and have a saying in how they want to reach the goal, they will feel much more motivated, and, in the end, more proud of themselves for what they have accomplished.

Herzbergs two-factor theory

Figure 3:Maslows hierarchy of needs- Herzbergs two factor theory[3]

One of the other famous behavioral scientists, Frederick Herzberg, proposed another model in 1959 regarding motivation on the job. He said there is a fine line between motivation and simple hygiene factors. Hygiene factors are needed for motivation to exist. It is the extrinsic factors such as payment, job security, physical working conditions etc. that creates the foundation for the team manager to motivate the team. The hygiene factors as you can see in figure 3 are aligned with Maslows hierarchy of needs. The difference is that Herzberg believed that hygiene factors could not create satisfaction, only avoid dissatisfaction. For the motivator to create satisfaction, there can not be dissatisfaction. Motivators, on the other hand, are intrinsic rewarding. It refers to the higher levels of Maslows hierarchy of needs, such as personal development and meaningful work. Herzberg's model is based on a research study carried out on 203 accountants and engineers, who were asked to recall when and why they had experienced positive and negative feelings at work. The problem with this theory is that it is biased. The workers are likely to blame the negative feelings at the work place, and give the credit for the positive motivating factors to themself. Also, it does not take into account that people have different personalities; what one might see as a motivator, somebody else could see as a hygiene factor. [9]

Limitations to project motivation and discussion

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation will help the project, and both will achieve a the employee to have a higher efficiency. While intrinsic motivation is the preferred motivation to aim for, as it will create a need or desire to complete the project, extrinsic motivation could also have a positive effect. When discussing motivation in project management, it is also important to discuss the impact of the organizational motivation. The temporary manager, a temporary team and a fixed timeline, are some of the characteristics of project management. It is not only the project manager, who has the opportunity to motivate his/hers team; the organization itself also have the opportunity to create motivation in the team. The organization can provide some of the core elements in motivation: the basic needs can for instance be met by having a lunch arrangement in the company, and the company can always provide safe surroundings for the employee, making him feel safe and be proud of his work. When the basic needs have been met, the project manager has the opportunity to give the employee some of the higher levels of motivation in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. However, in cases where the organization fail to provide the core elements for the employees, a good project manager, can still motivate his team. The good project manager that is able to change between the different leadership styles in order to motivate his team and guide them through the obstacles. He is able to see their needs, give the feedback and acknowledgment they desire for the employee to achieve self-actualization. [8]

Annotated biography

For further reading I suggest:

Schmid, Bernhard and Adams, Jonathan. (2008). Motivation in Project Management: The Project Manager’s Perspective: This paper reviews the current literature on project- and organizational motivation. It goes in depth with self-determination theory, SDT, and conducts a survey about project managers' ability to motivate their team. It creates a nice overview of the current literature available, but is to some extend superficial.

Psychology Today. (2011). [online]. Available at: [Accessed 26 Sep. 2016]: This is a blot that discuss Maslow's theory of needs. It does explain Maslow's theory, but it also discuss its applicability in a modern society. Regarding motivation it gives the input that social connections is one of the more important factors to consider.


  1. Eight to Late (2008). Motivation in project management. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Sep. 2016]. The author behind this blog is co-founder and principal of Sensanalytics. He has written two books about management practices, and his work on the blog is mainly based on research papers .
  2. Callofthewild. (2016). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – How to Motivate Your Staff. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Sep. 2016]. Call of the Wild is an independently-owned, limited company that teach management techniques to companies. They have won several awards for their work.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Edcucational Business-Articles. (2006). [online]. at: [Accessed 16 Sep. 2016].
  4. Goleman, Daniel. (2000). Leadership That Gets Results. "This publication is about 6 different leadership styles.
  5. Simplypsychology. (2016). [online]. at: [Accessed 15 Sep. 2016].
  6. Psychology Today. (2011). [online]. Available at: [Accessed 26 Sep. 2016].
  7. Halford, Scott. (2016). Five Steps for Giving Productive Feedback "This is a blog in The Entrepreneur discussing 5 tips for using feedback as motivation"
  8. 8.0 8.1 Schmid,Bernhard and Adams,Jonathan. (2008). Motivation in Project Management: The Project Manager’s Perspective "This paper focus on self-determination theory (STD) as motivation factor. "
  9. Managementstudyguide (2016). Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Sep. 2016]. The author behind this blog is co-founder and principal of Sensanalytics. He has written two books about management practices, and his work on the blog is mainly based on research papers .
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