Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Project Management

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In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote his theory named “Hierarchy of Needs.” This theory explains that humans have different category of needs and these needs have different importance in the pyramid of needs. Without satisfying the basic needs of the hierarchy, generally, people do not think about their higher needs. The motivation to satisfy the needs are getting stronger as long as time passes without fulfillment. When people gratify one of their needs, another need takes the place of it in our minds. Thus, people move from the bottom to the top of the hierarchy of needs. There are five stages of human needs.[1]

• Physiological Needs

• Safety Needs

• Love/Belonging Needs

• Esteem Needs

• Self-Actualization

Using this theory helps to write the hierarchy of needs for project managers. The project manager is the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.[2] It means project managers are directly in contact with their team as a leader or manager. Therefore, they need to know their team’s needs for managing and motivating them through the project aims. Although Maslow developed his theory for explaining individual human behavior and motivation, in this article project management teams are evaluated as an individual because they consist of individuals and their cooperation.

There are two different purposes for this article. The first aim is showing the linkage between project management and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory and the second is helping project managers to understand their team’s needs and motivate the team. By gratifying the needs of the project team, the project manager can efficiently manage the project. Because in the case of dissatisfaction of basic needs, the project team might not be efficient and creative.

According to the latest studies, Maslow's hierarchy of needs is more applicable to individualistic societies[3] and the needs should be evaluated as nested circles instead of steps[4]. Therefore, project managers should consider these factors and have more flexible motivation strategies for the team regarding their cultural background and their needs. In this paper, there are practical advises that can be deduced from the theory in the “project team needs” chapter.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs.png
Figure 1: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs [5]

Abraham Harold Maslow, (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) who was an American psychologist, wrote the “Hierarchy of Needs” theory. He studied human motivation and successful people’s life such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglas. Maslow argued that humans are motivated with unsatisfied needs and more basic needs should be satisfied before more complex needs. There are five different types of needs in his pyramid, which are physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization needs.[6]

Many behaviors can be explained by our needs, and human life is going through satisfying these needs. To explain this theory better, needs are explained more detailly. Although Maslow's hierarchy of needs seems concrete, human is a complex mechanism. As Maslow accepted that people could feel and satisfy a different kind of needs at the same time. Maslow state that "In actual fact, most members of our society who are normal, are partially satisfied in all their basic needs and partially unsatisfied in all their basic needs at the same time. A more realistic description of the hierarchy would be in terms of decreasing percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy of prepotency. For instance, if I may assign arbitrary figures for the sake of illustration, it is as if the average citizen is satisfied perhaps 85 percent in his physiological needs, 70 percent in his safety needs, 50 percent in his love needs, 40 percent in his self-esteem needs, and 10 percent in his self-actualization needs."[1] Therefore, a more flexible and dynamic hierarchy of needs can be drawn.
Figure 2: Dynamic Hierarchy of Needs[7]
Maslow also stated that many behaviors have more than one motivation. He noted that “any behavior tends to be determined by several or all of the basic needs simultaneously rather than by only one of them.”[8]

Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are survival and universal for the human. In order to be motivated for higher needs, physiological needs must be satisfied primarily. Eating food, drinking water, breathing air, sleeping, etc. can be given as examples. When these needs are not satisfied, people cannot think or be motivated about other topics.[6]

Safety Needs

After physiological needs are gratified, human will start to think about his or her safety. Safety helps people to create stability and consistency in a chaotic world. Needs can be categories here as security, stability, dependency, freedom from fear, order, law.[6] For example, when a person does not have a salary or economic safety, it is not expected that this person will be motivated for a higher purpose than money. Because when someone does not trust that he will take his salary next month, he will not be motivated for his work. Alternatively, in unhappy marriages can be given as an example in this need. When the wife knows that there is an abusive husband who is waiting at home, the wife will not think about other subjects than her safety. More examples can be given related to personal, emotional, financial security and health conditions.

Love/Belonging Needs

Love and belongings are the needs coming after feeling safe in life. Humans are social animals. Therefore, in order to feel good, people need to be part of a group, love and being loved are necessary. The absence of this need can cause loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression. Maslow says “ If both the physiological and the safety needs are fairly well gratified, then there will emerge the love and affection and belongingness needs, and the whole cycle already described will repeat itself with this new center. Now the person will feel keen, as never before, the absence of friends, or a sweetheart, or a wife, or children. He will hunger for affectionate relations with people in general, namely, for a place in his group, and he will strive with great intensity to achieve this goal. He will want to attain such a place more than anything else in the world and may even forget that once when he was hungry, he sneered at love.”[1] Teenagers want to be fan group of a rock band, football fans coming together and sing, lovers show their feelings to each other. All these examples can be thought in this category. In the management perspective, one of the most critical needs is belonging needs for the project teams.

Esteem Needs

Esteem needs include two different categories. First is self-esteem which is coming from competence or mastery of a task. Second is the attention and respect from other people. Maslow said that “All people in our society (with few pathological exceptions) have the need or desire for a stable, firmly based, usually high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. These needs may, therefore, be classified into two subsidiary sets. These are, first, the desire for strength, achievement, adequacy, mastery and competence, confidence in the face of the world, and independence and freedom. Second, we have what we may call the desire for reputation or prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), status, fame, and glory, dominance, recognition, attention, importance, dignity, or appreciation.”[9] In other words, people need to see respect and recognition in life. When a scientist got a prize for his or her scientific study, he or she will see the respect from the scientific community and feel self-esteem. When people see respect from society due to their hobbies and professions, it can meet their needs of esteem. However, it is also essential that people should build their self-esteem internally.


Self-Actualization is the last step of the needs. Maslow stated that “Even if all these needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop unless the individual is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make music; an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”[1] The human can show all their potential when they reach this last point of the pyramid. For instance, Albert Einstein had become one of the most famous scientists with his contribution to physic. This kind of people can seek knowledge, peace, esthetic experiences, self-fulfillment.[6] Maslow claimed that “The desires to know and to understand. -- So far, we have mentioned the cognitive needs only in passing. Acquiring knowledge and systematizing the universe have been considered as, in part, techniques for the achievement of basic safety in the world, or, for the intelligent man, expressions of self-actualization. Also, freedom of inquiry and expression have been discussed as preconditions of satisfaction of the basic needs. True though these formulations may be, they do not constitute definitive answers to the question as to the motivation role of curiosity, learning, philosophizing, experimenting, etc. They are, at best, no more than partial answers.”[1]According to Maslow, curiosity, and need for the knowledge is in the edge of the pyramid.

Project Team Needs

Before starting the chapter, three concepts should be defined. In this chapter, the project management team’s needs are focused on.

  1. Project Management:The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.
  2. Project Management Team:The members of the project team who are directly involved in project management activities.
  3. Project Manager: The person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.[2]

Maslow wrote his theory for individual needs and the teams are consisting of many individuals working cooperatively. In order to motivate the team, project managers should know their needs. Project managers should know that "a satisfied need is not a motivator."[10] It means that when the project manager satisfied one of the team needs, he or she can not motivate the team with the same need. For example, when the team members earn enough salary for their expectancy, an extra salary increase may not reveal extra motivation. In this chapter, the project team is evaluated as an individual. The purpose of the project team in the project management is achieving project on time, on budget with success.

Physiological Needs

Physiological conditions are essential for the project manager. Project managers should think about their teams’ physiological needs. They should ask themselves related questions like “Are the team members sleeping enough, are they coming work after breakfast, is office cleaned and ventilated?” Physiological conditions of the office are critical. There must be available facilities that team members can eat, drink and rest. It is also important that team members should sleep enough before work.

Safety Needs

After physiological needs, safety needs appear for the team. In order to feel secure in the working environment, team members could easily contact and communicate with the project manager. Before project managers establishing their team, it is vital to know team members' psychology. Some people can experience difficulties in their life, and these people might not be efficient. After the team selected with people who are already satisfied with their physiological and safety needs, the project manager must be sure that every team member is paid regularly, being healthy and feeling safe in the work environment. Questionnaires and individual meetings can be done for this purpose. Team members should know that if they make a small mistake, they will not be fired. Otherwise, they can not safe and work efficiently.

Belonging Needs

As social animals, the human needs to be part of a group. For thousands of years, it was crucial to be a member of a group, in order to survive. Otherwise, exclusion from the group could be fatal for our ancestors. Project managers should create awareness of being a team for each team member. In order to create close relationships between team members, social events should be arranged. “Collaboration in the team is smoother and efficient when the team members feel that they belong to the team and place the needs of the team over personal needs. Companies promote team building via company-sponsored picnics, retreats.”[6] The team is motivated to perform well and work towards the project’s goals when they feel that they are the part of more important aim. For example, the projects are part of programs, and the programs are part of portfolios. When the team members understand the big picture, they feel more motivated. Therefore, project managers should also motivate the team by socializing activities together. Justice in management is also essential to create a group feeling. Team members should feel that their project managers behave equally respectful to them. If a person in the team felt injustice, it would be hard for this person feeling a part of this team.

Esteem Needs

Project teams seek to be competent and efficient so they can gain respect and prestige from the other people.[6] From the project managers' perspective, it is essential to show respect and appreciate project members successes. It is also crucial for program and portfolio managers because every individual has these needs. So, program managers should motivate project managers and portfolio managers should motivate program managers by filling their esteem needs. In order to satisfy esteem needs, the manager should approach the team members appreciating and grateful. After esteem needs are gratified in the project team, it can be expected from them to be creative. To make a significant success in the project, the project teams and project managers should be the people who are already satisfying their esteem needs.


Self-actualization is very important for project management. In order to be creative and curious, the team should reach the last need of the pyramid. However, every individual is different and has different aims. Some project managers and their teams might find themselves in their life devoted project. Others make the project just for money. In the second situation, it is not expected a creative, effective success. In the team building process, project managers should learn the team members' expectations and purposes. When the project manager finds the people who have a specific interest in the project and natural curiosity for knowledge, it will increase the chance of success. Same factors are in use for the program or portfolio managers. They could achieve their life goal with a critical program or portfolio. This article is scoped with the project management area.

Perspective of Project Manager

The project manager plays a critical role in the leadership of a project team in order to achieve the project’s objectives. This role is visible throughout the project. Many project managers become involved in a project from its initiation through closing in the project life cycle.[11]

Figure 3: Project Life Cycle[11]

Project Manager

"The project manager is the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives. A simple analogy may help in understanding the roles of a project manager for a large project by comparing them to the roles of a conductor for a large orchestra:

  • Membership A large project and an orchestra each comprise many members, each playing a different role. A large orchestra may have more than 100 musicians who are led by a conductor. These musicians may play 25 different kinds of instruments placed into major sections, such as strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. Similarly, a massive project may have more than 100 project members led by a project manager. Team members may fulfill many different roles, such as design, manufacturing, and facilities management. Like the significant sections of the orchestra, they represent multiple business units or groups within an organization. The musicians and the project members make up each leader’s team.
  • Responsibility for the Team The project manager and conductor are both responsible for what their teams produce—the project outcome or the orchestra concert, respectively. The two leaders need to take a holistic view of their team’s products in order to plan, coordinate, and complete them. The two leaders begin by reviewing the vision, mission, and objectives of their respective organizations to ensure alignment with their products. The two leaders establish their interpretation of the vision, mission, and objectives involved in successfully completing their products. The leaders use their interpretation to communicate and motivate their teams toward the successful completion of their objectives.”[12] Motivation is a critical point for the success of project management. The project team is directly under the influence of the project manager. Maslow’s need of hierarchy can help to project manager in motivation perspective.[13]
    Figure 4: Project Manager's Sphere of Influence[13]
  • Leadership and Dealing with People It is a supreme quality for project management. Without knowing how to lead people, it is impossible to be successful in this duty. That is why project managers should be aware of the five stages of needs. “Leadership skills involve the ability to guide, motivate, and direct a team. These skills may include demonstrating essential capabilities such as negotiation, resilience, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills. Projects are becoming increasingly more complicated with more and more businesses executing their strategy through projects. Project management is more than just working with numbers, templates, charts, graphs, and computing systems. A common denominator in all projects is people. People can be counted, but they are not numbers. A large part of the project manager’s role involves dealing with people. The project manager should study people’s behaviours and motivations. The project manager should strive to be a good leader because leadership is crucial to the success of projects in organizations. A project manager applies leadership skills and qualities when working with all project stakeholders, including the project team, the steering team, and project sponsors.”[14] People’s effect can be shown in the bigger perspective of cause and effect diagram. Without motivation, people may be a reason for product quality not matching the requirements.[15]
    Figure 5: Cause and Effect Diagram[15]

    Role of the Project Manager

    “The project manager is the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team responsible for achieving the project objectives. The project manager’s reporting relationships are based on the organizational structure and project governance. In addition to any specific technical skills and general management proficiencies required for the project, project fic technical skills and general management proficiencies required for the project, project managers should have at least the following attributes:

    • Knowledge about project management, the business environment, technical aspects, and other information needed to manage the project effectively;

    • Skills needed to effectively lead the project team, coordinate the work, collaborate with stakeholders, solve problems, and make decisions;

    • Abilities to develop and manage scope, schedules, budgets, resources, risks, plans, presentations, and reports;

    • Other attributes required to successfully manage the project, such as personality, attitude, ethics, and leadership. Project managers accomplish work through the project team and other stakeholders. Project managers rely on important interpersonal skills, including, but not limited to:

    • Leadership,

    • Team building,

    • Motivating,

    • Communicating,

    • Influencing

    • Decision making,

    • Political and cultural awareness,

    • Negotiating,

    • Facilitating,

    • Managing conflict,

    • Coaching.

    The project manager is successful when the project objectives have been achieved. Another aspect of success is stakeholder satisfaction. The project manager should address stakeholder needs, concerns and expectations to satisfy relevant stakeholders. To be successful, the project manager should tailor the project approach, life cycle, and project management processes to meet the project and product requirements.” [16] Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can help to project managers while, they are building, leading and motivating the team because the theory is explaining how to motivate human by addressing their needs.

    Limitations and Criticisms

    Limitations in Project Manager's Perspective

    In the project management perspective, there are some limitations to the theory. Firstly, project managers, who are assigned to the project, can find the project team that has already been chosen. In this kind of situation, it can be a disadvantage compared with the team which is chosen by the project manager carefully with the principles of the hierarchy of needs. Especially the people, who are trying to fulfil their esteem needs and self-actualization needs, can increase the success rate of the project. On the other hand motivation, team building, and leadership are not the only parts of project management. There are a lot of other aspects of the project. Thus, they have a limited effect on being successful in the project.

    Limitations in Maslow's Perspective

    As Maslow accepted, there are also some phenomena that the theory has limitations. These are:[1]

    1. There are some people in whom, for instance, self-esteem seems to be more important than love. For some people, getting respect from other people is more important than having family or friends.

    2-Some ‘psychopathic personality’ cases can be an example of a permanent loss of love needs. These are people who, according to the best data available, have been starved for love in the earliest months of their lives and have simply lost forever the desire and the ability to give and to receive affection.

    3- Some people, who have never experienced a lack of basic needs like physiological, safety, belonging needs, can under evaluate the importance of them.

    4- Sometimes people can give up everything for the sake of their beliefs such as religions, ideologies, values.


    There are also some criticisms related to ranking of the needs. Dutch social psychologist Gerard Hendrik Hofstede criticized the theory as being ethnocentric. According to Hofstede, there are differences between individualistic societies and collectivist societies regarding the ranking of the needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs belongs to individualistic societies. Because in collectivist societies, being the part of a group and acceptance of society can be more important than individualism and self-actualization.[3]

    Ranking of the sex is also controversial. Some social scientists disagree with Maslow related to ranking of sex. They argue that sexual intimacy is not a basic physiological need but a higher need.[17]

    In 1981, a study was published about age differences in motivation related to Maslow's need hierarchy.[18] The researchers investigated and tested the theory on 111 people that were five different age groups with both sexes(children, adolescents, young adults, middle-aged adults, old adults). The study has shown that:

    1) Children have higher physiological needs than other age groups,

    2) Esteem need is the most important for the adolescent group,

    3) Self-actualization is the most important for young adults,

    4) Safety need has more importance for old ages than the young ages.

    In conclusion, the article suggested that the sequence of the love/belonging need and the esteem need should be changed in the pyramid according to age.

    It is known that Maslow studied 18 different biographies of famous people in order to understand self-actualization. According to some scientists, there are many problems with this approach. This method is subjective because it is based on personal opinions. Therefore Maslow's definition of self-actualization must not be blindly accepted as scientific fact. Moreover, Maslow's sample group of self-actualized individuals prominently limited to highly educated white males (such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, William James, Aldous Huxley, Gandhi, Beethoven).[19]

    "Although Maslow (1970) did study self-actualized females, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa, they comprised a small proportion of his sample. This makes it difficult to generalize his theory to females and individuals from lower social classes or different ethnicity. Thus, questioning the population validity of Maslow's findings. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to empirically test Maslow's concept of self-actualization in a way that causal relationships can be established. Also, many creative people, such as authors and artists (e.g., Rembrandt and Van Gogh) lived in poverty throughout their lifetime, yet it could be argued that they achieved self-actualization."[19]

    Finally, in 2011, researchers tested Maslow’s hierarchy of needs by analyzing the data of 60,865 people from 123 countries, representing regions of the world. The survey continued for five years(2005-2010). Participants answered questions about six needs that closely resemble in Maslow's model. The results of the study agreed to the idea that universal human needs appear to exist regardless of cultural differences. Nevertheless, ordering needs as a hierarchy were not correct. "Although the most basic needs might get the most attention when you do not have them," Diener explains, "you do not need to fulfill them in order to get benefits [from the others]." Even when we are hungry, for instance, we can be happy with our friends. "They are like vitamins," Diener says about how the needs work independently. "We need them all."[4] In conclusion, needs can be evaluated as nested circles instead of steps of hierarchy.

    Annotated Bibliography

    • A Theory of Human Motivation, A. H. Maslow (1943), Originally Published in Psychological Review.

    This book was written by Abraham Maslow. In order to understand his theory from first hand, this book should be read.

    • Maslow, A,H., Motivation and Personality. 3rd edition 1987, HarperCollins Publishers.

    This book explains the last updates of Abraham Maslow's theory about human motivation.

    • Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project Management Institute (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition).

    This book explains basic knowledge about project management and the project team. I could link between Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Project management thanks to this book.

    • A. Sarma, A. Van Der Hoek, “A Need Hierarchy for Teams Introduction Maslow ’ s Need Hierarchy,” Exch. Organ. Behav. Teach. J., pp. 1–5, 2004.

    This article explains how Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory can help to increase the efficiency of software development teams.

    • Hofstede, G. (1984). "The cultural relativity of the quality of life concept", Academy of Management Review, Vol 9 No3, pages 389–398.

    This article explains cultural relativities and includes criticisms of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

    • Kenrick, D. T.; Griskevicius, V.; Neuberg, S. L.; Schaller, M. (2010). "Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations". Perspectives on Psychological Science. 5 (3): 292–314

    This article reevaluates Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and extends it with new concepts.

    • Goebel, B. L., & Brown, D. R. (1981). Age differences in motivation related to Maslow's need hierarchy. Developmental Psychology, 17(6), 809-815.

    This article tested Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and suggested some regulations.

    • Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 354-356. doi:10.1037/a00

    This article tested Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in the wide sample group and found out new data related the needs.


    1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 A Theory of Human Motivation, A. H. Maslow (1943), Originally Published in Psychological Review, 370-396.
    2. 2.0 2.1 Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project management Institute (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition) part 3 page 716
    3. 3.0 3.1 Hofstede, G. (1984). "The cultural relativity of the quality of life concept", Academy of Management Review, Vol 9 No3, pages 389–398.
    4. 4.0 4.1 Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 354-356. doi:10.1037/a00
    5. Maslow hierarchy of needs DTU Wiki Article.
    6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 A. Sarma, A. Van Der Hoek, “A Need Hierarchy for Teams” Exch. Organ. Behav. Teach. J., pp. 1–5, 2004.
    7. Inspired From Dynamic Hierarchy of Needs of Abraham Maslow referring to Krech, D./Crutchfield, R. S./Ballachey, E. L. (1962), Individual in society, Tokyo etc. 1962, S. 77, required sharing permission is given by creator of this picture, Philipp Guttmann
    8. Maslow, A,H., Motivation and Personality. 3rd edition 1987, HarperCollins Publishers, 71.
    9. Maslow, A,H., Motivation and Personality. 3rd edition 1987, HarperCollins Publishers, 293.
    10. Maslow, A,H., Motivation and Personality. 3rd edition 1987, HarperCollins Publishers, 105.
    11. 11.0 11.1 Inspired From Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project management Institute (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition) Project Life Cycle part 1 page 18 and it is created by Osman Furkan Simsek
    12. Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project management Institute (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition) part 1 page 51-52
    13. 13.0 13.1 Inspired From Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project management Institute (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition) part 1 page 53 and it is created by Osman Furkan Simsek
    14. Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project management Institute (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition) part 1 page 60
    15. 15.0 15.1 Inspired From Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project management Institute (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition) part 1 page 293-294 cause and effect diagram. It is created by Jack Frain.
    16. Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project management Institute (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition) part 2 page 552
    17. Kenrick, D. T.; Griskevicius, V.; Neuberg, S. L.; Schaller, M. (2010). "Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations". Perspectives on Psychological Science. 5 (3): 292–314.
    18. Goebel, B. L., & Brown, D. R. (1981). Age differences in motivation related to Maslow's need hierarchy. Developmental Psychology, 17(6), 809-815.
    19. 19.0 19.1 McLeod, S. A. (2017). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from

    Reading Suggestions to Related Wiki Articles

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    • Motivation in Project Management from the Project Manager’s Perspective, [2]
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