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Directive Project Management vs. Collaborative Project Leadership

The primary challenge of working in a matrix is the lack of authority that leaders depended on in the past to get things done.


Directive Project Management

In Vertical Management 1.0/Matrix Management 1.0, if a leader has no authority over some or all of the people on the team, he or she uses a directive project management approach to get team members to get their work done. The project leader is the only person who understands the entire project:

  • The project leader collects inputs from the team members and develops a project plan that incorporates some or all of that input.
  • He or she reviews the plan with the team, and delegates assignments to team members who hope they have the time and support to complete them.
  • He or she owns the project plan, the outputs of the team, and any problems that arise.

The directive approach does not create ownership or commitment and this can be a disaster in a matrix. Not only are team members not committed to their piece of the project, but they don’t understand the interdependencies—how their piece fits into the big picture—who they are depending on, and who is depending on them.


The key to leading projects successfully in a two-dimensional matrix—whether your organization is using Matrix Management 1.0 or Matrix Management 2.0™—is to adopt a collaborative project leadership (CPL) approach.

Plan, Collaborate, Deliver

Collaborative Project Leadership

A collaborative approach compels the project leader to make the shift from planning, directing, monitoring and controlling the project to facilitating a collaborative process. The principles of collaborative leadership create understanding and commitment across the board. This requires a new approach and a new set of skills.

When done collaboratively, the resulting project plan is one that team members are committed to and accountable for.

  • The project team owns the planning and the execution of the plan, not just the project leader.
  • The project leader and project team understand the whole project.
  • The project leader facilitates the planning process.
  • Team leader and team member liaisons are assigned to lead external interfaces.
  • The project team owns any problems and participates in solving them.

Directive Project Management vs. Collaborative Project Leadership

PM Activity

Directive PM

Collaborative PL


The project manager typically bases his or her method on a project management tool, such as MS Project, and then gathers data from team members to populate the tool.The project leader facilitates a structured planning process with the project team to define scope, determine risks, define deliverables, assign accountability for deliverables, create a schedule which shows interdependencies, etc.


The project manager may have to complete a standard project plan template, but how he or she gathers the information needed and creates the actual plan is up to him or her.The project leader captures the data generated by the team during the structured planning process, and uses it to generate the standard planning and reporting documentation used by the organization.

Problem Resolution

The project manager uses whatever personal approach to problem solving that he or she is most comfortable with.The project leader employs a standard problem solving process that all team members understand and participate in when a problem needs to be solved.

The Advantages of Collaborative PL Over Directive PM

  • More ideas are contributed to the project since all team members participate in the planning and problem-solving.
  • Ownership, commitment, and understanding by team members is created as a result of their participation in the planning, decision-making and problem-solving processes.
  • A realistic, doable project plan is created since each team member helps to build the plan, based on his or her capacity and constraints.

Effective Collaborative PL Training

How do you get project leaders to act as facilitators instead of directors? The most effective way is through hands-on, experiential training that outlines the steps in a collaborative PM method, and teaches project leaders how to lead their team through them.

Effective training is participative. Project leaders practice each of the key PM tools such as writing a charter, doing a work breakdown structure, assessing risk, and creating a schedule, etc., but instead of learning to own the project plan, he or she learns how to create it in collaboration with their team. Effective project leadership training can be immediately applied to real-life projects that leaders face when they leave the classroom. It’s training that gives project leaders new skills that they will use every day.

Learn more about our Collaborative Project Leadership training