Of course, modern businesses don’t have monarchs in place. Despite that, Weber’s tripartite classification of authority can be helpful for understanding the different types of authority that may be present within an organization and the ways in which they are exercised.
It is also helpful for project managers and PMO people to understand that whilst there is a lot of power and authority that is derived from organizational hierarchy, this is not the only type of authority in play.
Traditional authority may be present in businesses that have a strong hierarchical structure and a clear chain of command, where certain individuals or groups have the right to make decisions based on their position within the organization.
Legal-rational authority may be present in businesses that operate within a legal framework and are governed by laws and regulations, where certain individuals or groups have the right to make decisions based on their role within the organization and their expertise in specific areas.
Charismatic authority may be present in businesses where leaders are able to inspire and motivate others through their personal qualities and vision, and where employees are willing to follow their lead based on their belief in their ability to bring about positive change.
Other types of power and authority in the workplace
In addition to Weber’s three types of authority, there are further classifications that may resonate with project and PMO people:
- Expert power: This type of power is based on the knowledge, skills, and expertise of an individual, and it allows them to influence others through their expertise in a particular subject matter. PMO Analysts who have expert knowledge of PPM tools and delivery frameworks usually hold large amounts of expert power.
- Reward power: This type of power is based on the ability of an individual to offer rewards or incentives to others in exchange for their compliance or cooperation. While we tend to assume this refers to bonuses and pay raises, this can also refer to offering help or support, for example, setting up project filing or helping project managers navigate stage gates.
- Coercive power: This type of power is based on the ability of an individual to punish or threaten others in order to influence their behavior.
- Referent power: This type of power is based on the attractiveness or likability of an individual, and it allows them to influence others through their personal charisma or their ability to identify with the values and goals of others.
- Legitimate power: This type of power is based on the perceived right or entitlement of an individual to make decisions or exert influence over others, and it may be derived from their position within an organization or their role within a particular social or cultural context.
It is important to note that these types of power are not mutually exclusive and that individuals or groups may exert multiple types of power in different situations. Understanding the different types of power that exist within an organization or social context can help individuals and groups navigate power dynamics and make informed decisions.
Authority Challenges faced by PMO and Project Managers
Project Managers and PMO people face many authority challenges.
Project Managers are usually charged with managing a team outside of the normal organizational hierarchy. This can mean they lack the Traditional Authority and Legitimate Power afforded to individuals in operational and leadership roles within the organization. But understanding Weber’s tripartite classification of authority and types of power can help project managers identify other types of authority they can assert to get things done and achieve results.
PMO Analysts have different challenges. Their roles may be less transient than the roles of project managers, but the Analyst role can be perceived as quite junior in the corporate organization chart. This can be tricky when PMO Analysts are often tasked with pulling together critical business data for senior stakeholders and ensuring governance is applied across the portfolio. Legal-rational Authority can play a key part here, as well as expert power. PMO Directors and sponsors can support PMO Analysts too, but making it clear that they have Legitimate Power to undertake their roles.