McClelland and Me

Authority without Power

I spent many happy years as a project manager.  And like most project managers, I could often be heard complaining about the whole “authority without power” thing.

My friend and colleague, Ron Rosenhead, and I spoke this morning – we’d both heard it very recently from audiences and trainees.  In fact, I heard it yesterday, and Ron was discussing it with a client just last week.  It set me thinking …

Why do we do it?

Why do project managers thrive, when we often do not have the organisational horsepower to command, despite our love of control?

I don’t mean “How do we thrive?” which was a large part of yesterday’s course.  That’s about the techniques we use and I’ll be writing more about that in the future, I am sure.  In the meantime, check out this earlier blog if you’ve not seen it: “No Authority.”

I mean “Why do we thrive?”

McClelland2 I think the answer lies in the work of David McClelland.

McClelland suggested we all have three needs, and their relative strengths determines a large element of our motivation.  Consequently, they help to explain why some of us are successful in our work roles and others are not.

We need to look, briefly, at these three needs:

The Need for Power
Our drive to take charge, be in command and acquire prestige.

The Need for Affiliation
Our deep desire to live sociable, friendly and harmonious lives.

The Need for Achievement
Our drive to succeed, excel and overcome problems

For more detail, check out The Management Models Pocketbook.

Spotted it?

My theory is that, for most project managers, our need for achievement outweighs our need for power.  We are motivated by challenges and problems so, whilst we may complain about authority without power – or even no authority at all, really and truly, we see it as a challenge.

Is my theory correct?  You’ll tell me if it chimes with you (I hope – contribute below, please).  All I can say is: “ask my wife.”

The “so what?”

Read more about McClelland – and any theories about motivation; one of your jobs as a change manager, project manager, leader, whatever, is to motivate; answer my poll; learn more about influence.


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