Behavioural Models for Project Managers

There are several models of behaviour that the project manager can draw upon in his or her work. These include Maslow’s need hierarchy theory, Herzberg’s Hygiene theory and McGregor’s theory X and theory Y as applied to project management. All these behavioural models point to the ability of the project manager to motivate the people in the team towards the common goal of ensuring the success of the project.

Maslow’s need hierarchy theory postulates that people do not work for money or security alone. According to this theory, once a person fulfils the basic needs of money and security, he or she tends to seek actualization of their potential and engage in what he called “self-actualization”.

Thus, this theory holds that once an individual reaches a certain stage in life or a position, the pay and other benefits matter less to him or her than the quality of the work that they are doing.

When we apply this theory to the real world issues of management, we find that the Project Manager has to ensure that he or she does not concentrate on raising the perks alone to achieve optimal performance from his team members but also keeps giving challenging work to the team members to fulfil their potential. According to our experience and from talking to seasoned project managers, we have found that most team members take great pride in their work and hence challenging assignments are one way of motivating them.

Of course, there has been much criticism of this theory in recent years and experts have pointed to several inconsistencies in this theory and application. The most notable example is that of the skyrocketing executive compensation that belies the hypothesis of Maslow’s theory. This is one clear instance of the fact that pay matters more than other variables and job satisfaction alone does not motivate people. In my opinion, it is a fact that people tend to get motivated by perks as well as promise of rewards, monetary and otherwise. So, it is up to the Project Manager to use the notion of reward judiciously without compromising quality or alienating other team members.

If we take a look at Herzberg’s theory of hygiene, the factors that contribute to the success of the individual can be divided into presence and absence of hygiene factors. The definition is that the presence of good working conditions and salary are things that do not motivate people by themselves. The absence of such factors de-motivates the individual. Thus, the idea here is that hygiene factors are those that do not contribute by their presence but contribute negatively by their absence.

Thus, the project manager cannot be complacent with the fact that he or she has provided optimal working conditions for the team members and expect them to perform at their full potential. The manager also needs to understand that it is his responsibility to take the lead in motivating the team members by holding regular one-one meetings and ensuring that their grievances are heard and accepted.

The Theory X and Theory Y holds that people need to be supervised and told what to do (X) and people would work with little supervision and thus do not need to be told what to do (Y). These are the opposing views of the theory of motivation and behaviour. Thus these conflicting and competing views reflect human nature and model the behaviour accordingly.

As we discussed, the underlying theory behind the motivation models is the approach that the project manager must take to ensure that the team members and the team as a whole is motivated enough to take action and contribute meaningfully to the project. There is nothing more troublesome than a team that is de-motivated and unable to function cohesively and as a team. Thus, the primary responsibility before the project manager is to ensure a professional approach towards people management.


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