Project Authority

Project management structures create a web of relationships that can cause chaos in the delegation of authority and the internal authority structure. Four questions must be considered in describing project authority:

• What is project authority?

• How much project authority should be granted to the project manager?

• Who settles project authority interface problems?

One form of the project manager's authority can be defined as the legal or rightful power to command, act, or direct the activities of others. The breakdown of the project manager's authority is shown in Figure 5-1. Authority can be delegated from one's superiors. Power, on the other hand, is granted to an individual by his subordinates and is a measure of their respect for him. A manager's authority is a combination of his power and influence such that subordinates, peers, and associates willingly accept his judgment.

In the traditional structure, the power spectrum is realized through the hierarchy, whereas in the project structure, power comes from credibility, expertise, or being a sound decision-maker.

Authority is the key to the project management process. The project manager must manage across functional and organizational lines by bringing together activities required to accomplish the objectives of a specific project. Project authority provides the way of thinking required to unify all organizational activities toward accomplishment of the project regardless of where they are located. The project manager who fails to build and maintain his alliances will soon find opposition or indifference to his project requirements.

The amount of authority granted to the project manager varies according to project size, management philosophy, and management interpretation of potential conflicts with functional managers. There do exist, however, certain fundamental

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Figure 5-1. Project authority breakdown. Source. Bill Eglinton, ''Matrix Project Management Myths and Realities," Proceedings of the PMI Seminar/Symposium on Project Management, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, p. IV-G.33.

elements over which the project manager must have authority in order to maintain effective control. According to Steiner and Ryan:4

The project manager should have broad authority over all elements of the project. His authority should be sufficient to permit him to engage all necessary managerial and technical actions required to complete the project successfully. He should have appropriate authority in design and in making technical decisions in development. He should be able to control funds, schedule and quality of product. If subcontractors are used, he should have maximum authority in their selection.

Generally speaking, a project manager should have more authority than his responsibility calls for, the exact amount of authority usually depending on the amount of risk that the project manager must take. The greater the risk, the greater the amount of authority. A good project manager knows where his authority ends and does not hold an employee responsible for duties that he (the project manager) does not have the authority to enforce. Some projects are directed by project managers who have only monitoring authority. These project managers are referred to as influence project managers.

Failure to establish authority relationships can result in:

• Poor communication channels

• Misleading information

• Antagonism, especially from the informal organization

• Poor working relationships with superiors, subordinates, peers, and associates

• Surprises for the customer

The following are the most common sources of power and authority problems in a project environment:

• Poorly documented or no formal authority

• Power and authority perceived incorrectly

• Dual accountability of personnel

• Two bosses (who often disagree)

• The project organization encouraging individualism

• Subordinate relations stronger than peer or superior relationships

• Shifting of personnel loyalties from vertical to horizontal lines

• Group decision making based on the strongest group

• Ability to influence or administer rewards and punishment

• Sharing resources among several projects

4 Reprinted from George A. Steiner and William G. Ryan, Industrial Project Management (1968), p. 24. Copyright © 1968 by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Reprinted with permission of The Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster.

The project management organizational structure is an arena of continuous conflict and negotiation. Although there are many clearly defined authority boundaries between functional and project management responsibilities, the fact that each project can be inherently different from all others almost always creates new areas where authority negotiations are necessary.

The project manager does not have unilateral authority in the project effort. He frequently negotiates with the functional manager. The project manager has the authority to determine the "when" and "what" of the project activities, whereas the functional manager has the authority to determine "how the support will be given." The project manager accomplishes his objectives by working with personnel who are largely professional. For professional personnel, project leadership must include explaining the rationale of the effort as well as the more obvious functions of planning, organizing, directing, and controlling.

Certain ground rules exist for authority control through negotiations:

• Negotiations should take place at the lowest level of interaction.

• Definition of the problem must be the first priority:

• The alternative

• The recommendations

• Higher-level authority should be used if, and only if, agreement cannot be reached.

The critical stage of any project is planning. This includes more than just planning the activities to be accomplished; it also includes the planning and establishment of the authority relationships that must exist for the duration of the project. Because the project management environment is an ever-changing one, each project establishes its own policies and procedures, a situation that can ultimately result in a variety of authority relationships. It is therefore possible for functional personnel to have different responsibilities on different projects, even if the tasks are the same.

During the planning phase the project team develops a responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) that contains such elements as:

• General management responsibility

• Operations management responsibility

• Specialized responsibility

• Who must be consulted

• Who may be consulted

• Who must be notified

• Who must approve

The responsibility matrix is often referred to as a linear responsibility chart (LRC) or responsibility assignment matrix (RAM). Linear responsibility charts identify the participants, and to what degree an activity will be performed or a decision

Figure 5-2. Linear responsibility chart.

will be made. The LRC attempts to clarify the authority relationships that can exist when functional units share common work. As described by Cleland and King:5

The need for a device to clarify the authority relationships is evident from the relative unity of the traditional pyramidal chart, which (1) is merely a simple portrayal of the overall functional and authority models and (2) must be combined with detailed position descriptions and organizational manuals to delineate authority relationships and work performance duties.

Figure 5-2 shows a typical linear responsibility chart. The rows, which indicate the activities, responsibilities, or functions required, can be all of the tasks in

5 From David I. Cleland and William Richard King, Systems Analysis and Project Management (New York: McGraw-Hill), p. 271. Copyright © 1968, 1975 McGraw-Hill Inc. Used with permission of McGraw-Hill Book Company.

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the work breakdown structure. The columns identify either positions, titles, or the people themselves. If the chart will be given to an outside customer, then only the titles should appear, or the customer will call the employees directly without going through the project manager. The symbols indicate the degrees of authority or responsibility existing between the rows and columns.

Another example of an LRC is shown in Figure 5-3. In this case, the LRC is used to describe how internal and external communications should take place. This type of chart can be used to eliminate communications conflicts. Consider a customer who is unhappy about having all of his information filtered through the project manager and requests that his line people be permitted to talk to your line people on a one-on-one basis. You may have no choice but to permit this, but you should make sure that the customer understands that:

• Functional employees cannot make commitments for additional work or resources.

• Functional employees give their own opinion and not that of the company.

• Company policy comes through the project office.

Linear responsibility charts can be used to alleviate some of these problems.

Figure 5-4. Data distribution matrix.

Figures 5-4 and 5-5 are examples of modified LRCs. Figure 5-4 is used to show the distribution of data items, and Figure 5-5 identifies the skills distribution in the project office.

The responsibility matrix attempts to answer such questions as: "Who has signature authority?" "Who must be notified?" "Who can make the decision?" The questions can only be answered by clear definitions of authority, responsibility, and accountability:

• Authority is the right of an individual to make the necessary decisions required to achieve his objectives or responsibilities.

• Responsibility is the assignment for completion of a specific event or activity.

• Accountability is the acceptance of success or failure.

The linear responsibility chart, although a valuable tool for management, does have a weakness in that it does not describe how people interact within the program. The LRC must be considered with the organization for a full understanding of how interactions between individuals and organizations take place. As described by Karger and Murdick, the LRC has merit:6

6 D. W. Karger and R. G. Murdick, Managing Engineering and Research (New York: Industrial Press, 1963), p. 89.

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Figure 5-5. Personal skills matrix.

Figure 5-5. Personal skills matrix.

Obviously the chart has weaknesses, of which one of the larger ones is that it is a mechanical aid. Just because it says that something is a fact does not make it true. It is very difficult to discover, except generally, exactly what occurs in a company—and with whom. The chart tries to express in specific terms relationships that cannot always be delineated so clearly; moreover, the degree to which it can be done depends on the specific situation. This is the difference between the formal and informal organizations mentioned. Despite this, the Linear Responsibility Chart is one of the best devices for organization analysis known to the authors.

Linear responsibility charts can result from customer-imposed requirements above and beyond normal operations. For example, the customer may require as part of its quality control that a specific engineer supervise and approve all testing of a certain item or that another individual approve all data released to the customer over and above program office approval. Customer requirements similar to those identified above necessitate LRCs and can cause disruptions and conflicts within an organization.

Several key factors affect the delegation of authority and responsibility, both from upper-level management to project management and from project management to functional management. These key factors include:

• The maturity of the project management function

• The size, nature, and business base of the company

• The size and nature of the project

• The life cycle of the project

• The capabilities of management at all levels

Once agreement has been reached as to the project manager's authority and responsibility, the results must be documented to clearly delineate his role in regard to:

• His focal position

• Conflict between the project manager and functional managers

• Influence to cut across functional and organizational lines

• Participation in major management and technical decisions

• Collaboration in staffing the project

• Control over allocation and expenditure of funds

• Selection of subcontractors

• Rights in resolving conflicts

• Voice in maintaining integrity of the project team

• Establishment of project plans

• Providing a cost-effective information system for control

• Providing leadership in preparing operational requirements

• Maintaining prime customer liaison and contact

• Promoting technological and managerial improvements

• Establishment of project organization for the duration

• Cutting red tape

Documenting the project manager's authority is necessary because:

• All interfacing must be kept as simple as possible.

• The project manager must have the authority to "force" functional managers to depart from existing standards and possibly incur risk.

• The project manager must gain authority over those elements of a program that are not under his control. This is normally achieved by earning the respect of the individuals concerned.

• The project manager should not attempt to fully describe the exact authority and responsibilities of his project office personnel or team members. Instead, he should encourage problem solving rather than role definition.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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