It would be wonderful if we – as project managers – had complete control over our project, our team, our customer, our vendors…basically everything that can affect the outcome of the project.  The problem is, it’s never that way…is it?  Often we find ourselves just trying to hold on with two fingers to a project that seems to be careening out of control and we’re wondering how it got this way.

Work motivators that are high on the list of project professionals tend to be intrinsic to the job, such as providing opportunities for advancement and for recognition, while the demotivators, which are lower on the list, tend to be environmental factors, such as working conditions and company policy like sick leave and vacation time.

The good news is that several of key motivators can be directly controlled – or at least somewhat controlled or influenced by the actions and behaviors of the project manager regarding the work itself that the team member will be asked to do.

In this article, we’ll examine seven key motivators:  challenge, recognition, skill variety, task identity, significance, autonomy and feedback .  Let’s look at each of these closer….


Professionals always have responded to challenge. In general, if you tell a professional that something cannot be done, his or her creative juices begin to flow. The result: a solution. Professionals dread nothing more than practicing skills, long since mastered, over and over again. Boredom can lead to daydreaming and lack of attention to detail, which results in errors. Challenging the professional does not mean that every moment of every day should be spent solving previously unsolved problems. Usually, an hour or two on a new and challenging task per day is sufficient to keep a professional motivated throughout the day.


Professionals want to know that they are progressing toward a professional goal. Publicly and personally recognizing their achievements and following them with additional challenges tells the professional that his or her contribution is valued. Recognition, therefore, does not necessarily mean dollars, promotions, or titles.

Skill variety

Jobs that do not offer much task variety or the opportunity to learn and practice new skills become boring for most people. In designing jobs, it is important to consider building in some task variety. The variety, at the least, provides a diversion from what otherwise would be a tedious and boring workday. On the other hand, it also can provide a break during which the person can learn a new skill. With a little bit of forethought, the manager can find opportunities for cross training by introducing some task variety for new skills development.

Warning: The manager will want to consider the risk involved in such actions. The person may not rise to the challenge of the new task or might not have the native ability to master the skills needed to perform the new task.

Task identity

People need to know what they are working on. This idea is especially true for contracted team members. The project manager should help them understand their work in relation to the entire project. Knowing that their task is on the critical path will affect their attitude and the quality of their work.

Task significance

In assessing a task’s significance, workers ask themselves questions such as these: Does it make any difference if I am successful? Will anybody notice? Just how important is my work to the overall success of the project? Am I just doing busy work to pass the day? Team members need to know whether their effort and success make any difference to the success of the project.


Professionals want to know what is expected from them—what are the deliverables? They don’t want to hear every detail of how they will accomplish their work. Systems people are rugged individualists. They want to exercise their creativity. They want freedom, independence, and discretion in scheduling their work and determining the procedures they will follow to carry it out.


Good, bad, or indifferent, professionals want to know how effective they are in their work. Paying attention to a professional is motivating in itself. Having something good to say is even better. When performance is below expectations, tell them. If you can convince them that they own the problem, then ask them for an action plan to correct their marginal performance.

Bottom line…project managers can’t control everything.  Far from it.  And would we really want to?  Well, yes, actually…but that’s a pipe dream.  But we can control or at least have solid influence over the motivators for our skilled project teams if we so choose.  Let me know your thoughts on this topic – we’d like to hear them.