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Authoritarian vs. Participatory Project Management: Pros and Cons

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

When working on a team project, it helps to be aware of how different leadership styles can affect the overall group dynamic. Some teams may find authoritarian leadership more helpful, while others may prefer a more collaborative approach. To figure out which style of management is best for your team, read about the key differences in authoritarian leadership and participatory management below.

The Authoritarian Approach

In authoritarian or “autocratic” leadership, a single person is put in charge of the entire group. This leader makes all the decisions for the group and is allowed a greater measure of control over all those who work beneath him or her. The team leader does not seek out advice or counsel from their fellow workers, and those workers in turn must trust their leader to point them in the right direction.

Authoritarian leadership can be a strong and efficient way of getting projects done, especially under a tight deadline. However, this type of leadership can be alienating to employees who feel that their value is going unnoticed. Studies on autocratic leadership have shown drops in team morale over time, as a well as tendencies of absenteeism and general lackluster performance among staff. When the staff in question is largely untrained and inexperienced, more time tends to be wasted by the autocratic method. When the staff is experienced and used to working together in an efficient way, the autocratic method can serve as a way of getting a job done in a brisk and deadline-oriented manner. This method was favored in the workplace up until the ‘70s, when more collaborative leadership styles came into vogue. Today, the authoritarian method can still prove productive in situations where team members are goal-oriented, well-trained and respectful of their chosen team leader.

The Participatory Approach

Participatory management is a more collaborative approach to team projects. For this method, team members have an equal say in what happens, and can each contribute to the work in their own way, without having to answer to one specific leader. This can be extremely helpful when the members of a team respect and encourage each other to be honest, and remain open to trying new leadership styles and problem solving techniques. In participatory management,  a manager is chosen to oversee the group, but this role is less a leadership position than a peer guide, someone who takes each individual suggestion into account and welcomes feedback from each group member.

By focusing on the group rather than the individual, participatory management stresses the idea that in the absence of one clear leader, the group as a whole may serve as system of checks and balances. Early studies of collaborative workplaces dating back to the ‘20s have found that a group performs better when each of its members feels the responsibility of being monitored for progress. This is known as the Hawthorne effect. Because of this self-checking tendency, participatory management is also known as “democratic” management. The participatory method is favored by many modern-day businesses. However, it can prove less helpful when decisions must be made quickly and projects executed without any time to spare.

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Finding which method is right for you can be a tricky thing. Investing in project management software such as Planview AdaptiveWork might help you decide which type of leadership is best for you and your team. Curious about what Planview AdaptiveWork can do for you? For a free trial, visit:

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork