Igniting the Passion—What Motivates Project Managers?

For many organizations today, there is a clear trend to adopt project work as a means of enhancing organizational performance and competitiveness. Yet 65 per cent of projects do not reach their objectives, according to a 2007 study by K. Hass.One of the reasons for such failures, according to several studies, is a lack of motivation among project managers, leading them to perform poorly despite having excellent technical and project‐management skills.

Researchers Stefan Seiler and Melanie Pinazza of the Swiss Military Academy; Bogdan Lent, University of Applied Sciences Bern; and Malgorzata Pinkowska of Kasetsart University in Thailand set out to discover how to improve project managers’ motivation. They developed a model for identifying the key motivational factors influencing project managers, revealing new information that senior management can use to maintain motivation among project managers.

Their model, the ‘Motivational Factor Inventory’ (MFI), groups 47 potential factors into six motivational dimensions:

  1. interpersonal interaction
  2. task
  3. general working conditions
  4. empowerment
  5. personal development
  6. compensation

“Since our goal was to identify motivational factors that can be influenced by senior management, we focused on organizational and work‐related motivators, and not on personal variables related to motivation” says Seiler. Some of these personal variables are personality, age and satisfaction and experience.

To evaluate the model’s efficacy, the researchers developed and distributed an online questionnaire to more than 1,200 project managers working at organizations throughout Switzerland. They received 282 responses, a 24 per cent response rate. The questionnaire’s results, says Lent, showed that the MFI is a valid model for identifying relevant factors that can motivate project managers.

“A clearly defined, interesting task, working with a supportive and goal‐oriented team, getting the necessary information and financial and personnel resources, and having the opportunity to influence important decisions were all identified as the most important motivators for these project managers,” he says.

They found the top 10 motivators to be:

  1. Having a clearly defined task
  2. Working in a trustful environment
  3. Working with individuals who have a will to achieve results
  4. Having clear project goals
  5. Producing identifiable pieces of work
  6. Having access to all required information
  7. Contributing to decisions
  8. Using own skills and abilities
  9. Seeing progress in current project
  10. Being part of a cohesive, supportive team


“These results show that content‐related motivators (being motivated through fulfilled needs) as well as process‐related motivators (being motivated by a positive cognitive evaluation of the situation) are important for project managers,” says Pinkowska.

Still, the researchers did find significant differences in relevancy/weighting among the motivators. Task, team and resource‐related aspects were the most important motivational factors, followed by factors related to empowerment. Surprisingly, the researchers found that while compensation is an important factor, it is a relatively ineffective motivator when project managers are already satisfied with their compensation. And for older workers, factors such as career promotion and development, and work‐life balance are no longer motivational.

They found the 10 least‐motivating factors to be:

  1. Receiving materialistic awards above expectations
  2. Receiving non‐materialistic awards
  3. A state‐of‐the art working environment
  4. A performance‐based total compensation
  5. Job security
  6. Career and promotion opportunities within the organization
  7. Stable, long‐term employment
  8. Adequate administrative processes
  9. An adequate work space
  10. Contributing to society at large


Overall, the researchers say senior managers can positively influence their project managers’ motivation by formulating clear project goals, expectations and responsibilities; involving project managers in important decisions related to staffing, budgeting or project goal changes; and giving them access to important information. It’s most effective, they say, to allow project managers a high degree of autonomy in running the project, to create a sense of trust and to support them in creating a cohesive and results‐oriented team.

“Project managers should be seen as strategic partners,” says Pinazza, “who are integrated in decision-making and supported in their needs to create a high performing team and achieve their project goals.”

Source: Seiler, S., Lent, B., Pinkowska, M. and Pinazza, M. “An integrated model of factors influencing project managers’ motivation —Findings from a Swiss Survey”, International Journal of Project Management, Volume 30:8, Nov 2012, pp. 60‐72.

1. Hass, K. “The Blending of Traditional and Agile Project Management”, PM World Today, vol. IX, (V) May 2007.

PMPerspectives.org is a website which connects project managers and sponsors with project management researchers. Our mission is to understand and improve project management practices. The research team comprises Dr. Blaize Horner Reich and Dr. Andrew Gemino from Simon Fraser University, Canada and Dr. Chris Sauer from Oxford University, UK.

© Reich, Gemino, Sauer (2012)  

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