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Project Manager Challenges in a Matrix Organization

Introduction to Project Manager Challenges

Managing projects in functional organizations can be difficult. Managing projects in matrix organizations can be challenging.

Project Managers have different responsibilities than their functional employees, and they typically report to other staff members that are in charge of different tasks and people.

Team members only know how their manager evaluates them which makes it hard to know how they contribute. It’s up to the functional managers to give team members feedback so that they are on task. You’ll need to be prepared for the follow-up.

  • The team’s availability changes without any warning from the functional manager
  • The changes in team members happen frequently. Every now and then new hires are assigned to your project.
  • Team members are left in charge of the project without prior notice to the project manager
  • Project managers are warned not to follow up directly with team members on work status or progress.
  • Everyone that is part of the project has a responsibility to the success of it.

To help overcoming the different challenges of being a Project Manager of a matrix organization, enlist below are some measures you can take:


Challenge 1: Conflicting Goals

Conflict and lack of communication are the most difficult challenges because they can make everything so much more difficult, but it’s important to master the First Habit: “Seek First Things That Are Important”.

  1. Make sure you are on the same page as your peers and colleagues.
  2. When people disagree, talk it out to avoid unnecessary fights.
  3. Help your team to be successful. Make sure they understand their roles, that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. This is not about one person and it’s not about me. It’s all about “we.”

Challenge 2: Shifting Loyalties

If you assign different people to be part of your project, they tend to think it is their own project. So if you try to exert power and control on them, the attention is turned in the wrong direction. The conflict between functional managers and project manager erupts around prioritizing projects and allocating resources.

  • It is possible to gain respect through expert power, knowledge, or referent power. It may be easier to show authority with expert power or referent power.
  • Concentrate on the work that needs to be done and the best way to accomplish it.
  • Be open to seeing how special other people are.
  • Showcase your capabilities in time of crisis. Even if you are not the direct reporting manager, you might be a good team member to provide assistance.
  • Develop personal relationships with team members so they see you as a friend and not an authoritarian.
  • Set up some guidelines for your team to help them work better together.
  • Your ability to influence and persuade can help you be more successful in your business

Challenge 3: Unclear Roles and Responsibilities

When team members work in different teams, they may not be clear about who to contact for information or fail to share important information with those who need it. Someone might be seen as dropping the ball when they never knew the ball was in their court.

  • Set up a communication plan and share it with the entire team.
  • Good communication skills are important for collaboration. If a hiccup arises, it is important to talk about it and figure out what might be the source of the problem.
  • Create a RACI chart. For each aspect of the project, identify what role each person plays: R= responsible for doing the work and involved in decisions (several people). A= accountable for success. C= consult to the project because they have needed information or expertise but do not make decisions or do the work. I=informed, people who are not directly involved but need to be updated on progress.
  • Engage senior managers work with functional managers to enable them to fill any gaps left by assignments to project work.

Companies with a matrix organization can be challenging to work in. To succeed, make sure that you’re clear on your roles and priorities, and negotiate any conflicts or mismatches assertively.

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