There are as many types of project managers as there are projects, so any attempt to create the ultimate classification of project managers would equal chasing rainbows. However, since a project manager is essentially a manager, I’ll talk about the two main types of project managers classified according to the style of management they are adopting: autocratic and participative.

Autocratic Project Managers

Autocratic management strictly means the manager makes all the decisions, without involving the team members. But such a project manager would obviously be a bad project manager – imagine planning a project without involving the team, estimating the duration of tasks without the team’s input, making all decisions without considering the team. So by autocratic project manager, I mean a project manager with a tendency towards autocracy, not autocratic in the purest sense of the word.

You can think of this kind of project manager as the traditional manager – not the “whip in hand” manager, but one who makes most decisions unilaterally, with minor input from the project team. Such a project manager is able to make quick decisions and, if he or she is technically competent and experienced, those can be good decisions. When you have a newly formed team, unwilling to express their opinions or give their input, an experienced project manager with an autocratic tendency may be what the team needs. Also, in a crisis requiring swift decisions, an autocratic project manager is what it takes. Nevertheless, such project manager imposes authority rather than solves problems through negotiation with the team, and on the long term, the project may suffer from poor team coherence.

Participative Project Managers

Participative project managers fully involve team members in project-related decisions whenever the team’s input is needed. Decisions do take longer, especially if the team is new or inexperienced and the requirements are complex or changing. But this type of management builds trust, and once you build a team you can trust, decisions are easier to make. Participative management encourages team’s involvement, creativity, and problem-solving skills. It builds ownership of the project, which helps team members feel involved in, and committed to, the project. This is a democratic style of management, but this does not mean the project manager resigns all his or her authority or power – a participative project manager retains the power to allow the input from others.

Which type of project manager is better?

Depends on the amount of guidance the team needs. Depends on the experience of the project manager, the commitment of the team, and the type of project. Sometimes you may need to “mix and match”. A crisis may require an urgent unilateral decision, thus an authoritative project manager. Defining a project plan, or solving a problem requiring creativity, requires participation of the whole team, thus a participative project manager.

Which project manager do you tend to be most often? And does it work?

About Cristina Neagu

Cristina Neagu, PhD, is a freelance editor and proofreader, and a Certified Associate in Project Management. She loves creative writing and managed a virtual team of writers for three years. When she's not working, she likes to read, spend time outdoors, and travel. Visit her website, www.languageediting.com, or contact her on LinkedIn.