How authority should be distributed between functional management and project management? If clear definition of it is not exist, what steps should project manager do to have a higher priority among employees than heads of structural units?

To be more detailed: who should assign tasks to employees and (what is more important) who should prioritize tasks? If this is undefined or if this is responsibility of functional management, what should project manager do to make tasks (that related to his project) more prior?

  • Authority over what?
    – Marv Mills
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 16:45
  • I'm not sure I agree with your assumption that the project manager should have higher priority than heads of structural units.
    – MCW
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 13:02
  • 1
    Hi, welcome to PMSE. As your question stands, it's highly likely to be opinion based, so I'd suggest you to reformulate it to be more objective and less environment-dependent. Cheers
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 21:41
  • @TiagoCardoso Marv Mills and Mark C. Wallace I am sorry for vague question. I added more details. I hope it become more clear. Commented May 3, 2015 at 22:53

3 Answers 3


Interesting diversity of opinions here. If the employees are matrixed, then all assignments and priorities will come from the functional lead. People respond to the individuals who write their performance appraisal.

In this situation, the project manager must accept the constraint that she or he does not determine the employee's priorities. Therefore the project manager must work through the project sponsor and stakeholders to affect the functional managers perception of the priority of the project.

The most significant tool the project manager has is the project schedule. The PM has to go to the sponsor (and stakeholders) and say,

"The project was projected to complete on day X based on the assumption that I would have Y hours of work from the staff. Functional managers have given Z hours, where Z is less than Y, and as a consequence, I now project that the project will be done on day X+W.

BEFORE going to the sponsor, the intelligent project manager will go to the functional managers and show them the above paragraph and ask if there is a way to change the priority.

The functional managers are responsible for setting the priorities based on their management's understanding of the priorities. The employees are working as directed, and the direction is based on management's understanding of priorities. If you want to change the time allocation of the employees, you need to change management's understanding of the priorities.


The answer to this question comes down to the "types of power" or "bases of power". You will find lots of references on the internet, e.g. on Wikipedia 1. Here are some base information:

There is formal power, given by the company organisation, including:

  • Coercive
  • Reward
  • Legitimate

To answer your question, personal power is the relevant one:

  • Expert: Expert power is based on what one knows, experience, and special skills or talents. Wikipedia: French and Raven's bases of power
  • Referent: Referent power refers to the ability of a leader to influence a follower because of the follower's loyalty, respect, friendship, admiration, affection, or a desire to gain approval. Wikipedia: Referent power

In summary, the project manager can bind the team effectively only by personal power via loyalty, respect, and so on.

Regarding the second part of the question

who should assign tasks to employees and (what is more important) who should prioritize tasks?

Employees should be assigned to a project in a clear communicated and reliable way based on the project plan and not on a day to day basis. There might be a possibility that a task will not be done due to the fact, that the employees functional manager decides to down-prioritize a task. Than it is the PMs job to:

  • Notice this circumstance as soon as possible by analysing work performance data (e.g. by speaking to the project members)
  • Raise a risk describing risk probability and impact - and communicate the risk
  • Get in contact with the functional member and discuss the priorities and possible solutions. It will help if the function manager is kept in the loop for reporting project progress, e.g. if the employees are on the critical path.
  • Inform the functional manager about next steps, e.g. communicate the raising risk to upper management, search for alternative team members to replace the current member at risk. The goal is not to threaten the functional manager but to find a solution for the common problem: Personnel shortage

Tobias's answer is a good one from the standpoint of a PM trying to establish authority over a matrixed organization, which by its very nature is weak. I do not agree, however, with his summary statement:

In summary, the project manager can bind the team effectively only by personal power via loyalty, respect, and so on.

I disagree with this statement not because it is incorrect but because an organization cannot solely rely on this to make the matrixed organization work. Developing the concept of personal power is extremely variable and an organization will most likely have PMs that are, at best, mediocre from this standpoint.

Instead, an organization needs to define the degree the degree of authority in a very formal way, documented, and agreed upon by the organization itself. In my limited experience, I find organizations do this poorly.

Documented Memorandum of Understanding that both the PM and the functional manager agree to and sign will establish worker expectations, time tables, degrees of utilization, what to do when there is a work crisis, how to resolve conflicts, how the employee is rewarded, how poor performance is handled, etc. It takes time to establish these constructs such that non compliance is easily identified and remedied. Doing this will establish the level of authority for both managers in a much better way and which neither can easily bypass.


Under a matrixed organization, an employee is tasked to both the functional and project managers in a pre-defined (if planned well) amount of time. This is what I meant by "degrees of utilization" with an established MOU. For example, an employee could be defined under the functional manager 75% and under the PM 25%. It could be defined also by the days of the week: M to W under the functional manager; Th and F under the PM.

Therefore, assigning tasks and priorities are not in conflict based on the agreed upon share.

If not defined, then your matrixed organization is broken.


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