If you work as a project manager in a matrix organization, chances are you’re going to run up against this issue on one of your project eventually – if you haven’t already.  You’ve been given responsibility for a project and you’ve been assigned a team.  You’re the project manager so you have ultimate responsibility for your resources on your team, the work they do, how your team performs for the customer, and – ultimately – the overall success of the project.  Are you with me so far?  Sounds like typical project management, right?

Now comes the hard part.  Each one of your team members has 3-4 other project managers that they are working for on other engagements AND they have a resource manager who is their ultimate authority, who is responsible for their performance reviews and raises, and who also is assigning them work from time to time that has nothing to do with your project.  You have the work you need them to do.  You have the assignments that you’re making.  Beyond that, you have to hope they are understanding the meaning of the project and their role in its success to perform the work you need them to perform and to do it well.  But you truly lack the authority to ‘make’ them do it.

Firmly embedded in project management folklore is this one: the responsibility you’ve been given is not in line with the authority you believe you need to accomplish the mission. The size of the gap between responsibility and authority will partially depend upon the structure of your organization.  If you’re in a purely functional organization - and in many cases, a matrix organization - you should not expect to be granted very much formal authority. The gap between responsibility and authority will be quite wide. To compensate for your perceived lack of formal authority, you’ll have to rely upon expert power (respect you can garner through superior knowledge or capability) or referent power (often accessed by practicing an excellent leadership style).  You’ll also need to rely heavily upon your ability to influence and persuade.

If you sense that you may have problems with any of your team members and lack the authority to do much about it, then you’ll need to act proactively early in the project to help ensure the success of the team and the overall working relationship.  Easier said than done?  Probably, but by taking a couple of early actions you should find yourself more productive and less frustrated.

Clearly define the project goals and team relationships

If you lack full authority, then it’s critical that you gain compliance among your project team members.  In order gain that compliance among your team resources, you need to clearly define the project goals, set project expectations, and ensure that your team resources understand the tasks assigned to them.

Touch base with functional managers for team resources