What Motivates your Project Team?


What you think might just be Wrong!



By David L. Pells

Addison, Texas



It has now been well established that leadership skills can be key to project management success.  Most project management bodies of knowledge, standards, textbooks and training courses now highlight leadership as one of the most important aspects of managing projects or project teams.  In other words, leadership is a critical success factor for project managers.

Leadership involves many things, but clearly understanding motivation is an important aspect of project leadership.  Program and project managers need to understand what will motivate their teams, individually and collectively, to higher performance.  Executives need to understand employee motivation in order to implement policies and actions to stimulate performance and increase program, project and organizational success.  And we all need to understand what motivates ourselves, often the first step in knowing what might motivate others.

Motivation is an important factor for leaders of all types of organizations, but especially project-oriented organizations, and even more so for program and project managers for whom positive performance is so critical.

But what are the leading motivators for project managers and project management professionals (and team members)?  Is it recognition, more rewards (e.g. more money), happy workplace, less stress, or what?  We all have our ideas and opinions, perhaps based on our own experiences, theories or books we have read.  Maybe motivation varies by project type, industry, location, culture or other factors.  In all likelihood, if you are an executive, program manager or project leader, you have made some decisions in order to motivate others and in order to move your program or project forward (or to avoid disruption, problems or for other reasons).

As a student and teacher of project management, the importance of both leadership and motivation has been clear to me for many years.  I was therefore drawn to a fascinating article on this very topic in the January-February edition of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) by Amabile and Kramer.  The conclusions and message were, on the surface, somewhat surprising; but they also carry an important message for project managers.  [1]

The HBR Article on Leadership

According to the authors, “in a recent survey we invited more than 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors commonly considered significant: recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals.  Recognition for good work (either public or private) came out number one.”  [1]

This should not be surprising.  How many times have we seen or heard authors, educators, consultants or experts extol the importance of rewarding our project managers or recognizing project team members as key to motivating them to higher performance?

Well, again according to Amabile and Kramer, the managers in their survey “were dead wrong.”


To read entire article, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally published in the March 2010 edition of PM World Today. It is republished here with the author’s permission.

How to cite this paper: Pells, D. L. (2023, 2010). What Motivates your Project Team? What you think might just be Wrong! originally published in the March 2010 edition of PM World Today; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue III, March. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/pmwj127-Mar2023-Pells-what-motivates-your-team-2nd-edition.pdf

About the Author

David L. Pells

Managing Editor, PMWJ
Managing Director, PMWL


 David L. Pells, PMI Fellow, HonFAPM, ISIPM, PMA, is Managing Editor and publisher of the PM World Journalwww.pmworldjournal.com ) and Managing Director of the PM World Library (  www.pmworldlibrary.net ). David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 40 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, energy, defense, transit, technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from thousands to billions of dollars. He occasionally acts as project management advisor for U.S. national laboratories and international programs, and currently serves as an independent advisor for a major U.S. national security program.

David Pells has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, as founder and president of several PMI chapters, founder of PMI’s first SIG (Project Earth), and member of the PMI board of directors twice.  He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; the Instituto Italiano di Project Management (ISIMP) in Italy; and Project Management Associates (PMA) in India.

Former managing editor of PM World Today, he is the creator, editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (ISSN: 2330-4880).  David has a BA in Business Administration from the University of Washington and an MBA from Idaho State University in the USA.  He has published widely and spoken at conferences and events worldwide.  David lives near Dallas, Texas and can be contacted at editor@pmworldjournal.com.

To see other works by David Pells, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/david-l-pells/