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What Great Leaders Know About Top Down Management – Planview AdaptiveWork

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

Leadership determines productivity and morale. The wrong style can set a company into a tailspin of dissent that could have serious consequences for your staff retention rate. If your leadership style doesn’t match the company culture or situation, chances are you won’t be successful at managing your people.

The majority of management styles in modern business are about a shared environment where all employees have an equal say and decisions are made as a group. This is called the “bottom-up” method and it typically works best with the Millennial workforce. However, there is a leader for a reason and there are times when they may have to step in and lead. It is crucial to grab control when necessary, but what really makes a great leader is knowing when and why.

What is Top Down Approach?

The industrial revolution birthed the leadership style known as the “top down approach” when an authoritative method was used for unskilled workers. It is considered the traditional style of management and the strategy calls for all key decisions to be made by senior organizational leaders.

In the top down approach, the project manager is responsible for the work breakdown structure (WBS) and project plan, which they complete alone. After the plan is approved, tasks are then delegated to team members with the appropriate deadlines.

Although the top-down approach is still a useful and popular method, modern employees are finding it more and more demoralizing when done wrong. A successful leader knows how to facilitate this method while also keeping their team engaged. They also know when to switch to the top-down approach when necessary to do their job efficiently. There are always certain instances where the traditional method will prevail.

When the Top Down Approach Works

The idea is to manage in a way that people appreciate, with clarity, intent and respect. The moment upper management becomes erratic, everything falls apart at the seams. So, what is top down approach in modern management? It’s certainly not about being bossy. There are a few key scenarios in which leaders will always come out on top if they use this approach:

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Unresolved Conflict

If a project manager is continuously coaching and communicating with their team, the chances of conflict are slim. There isn’t time for people to bicker when a leader is thoroughly involved. However, people are only human and from time to time, unresolved conflict may occur. In this case, the top down method works best to solve the problem. When a team continues to argue amongst themselves, a strong leader needs to step in to establish standards.

High Risk

Not everything goes as planned during a project. Sometimes a call needs to be made that involves high risk. This can be anything from a costly expense to bending the rules or trying an unorthodox approach. Great leaders don’t delegate decisions that could throw their team members under the bus or harm the decision-maker. A strong leader will take the top down approach and assume the risk.


If a decision needs to be made immediately, the project manager is the one with the highest level of expertise and thus is better positioned to assess the situation. In this instance, the top down approach works best because taking time to gather input would be counterproductive. If a breaking opportunity or challenge requires immediate decision-making, a strong leader will step in to make it happen. Additionally, if the boss is making the call on an urgent issue, they won’t be shocked or dismayed by unintended consequences.  


Sometimes, people just need someone to lead and give them confidence. The top down approach can work magic when a project manager can step in and rally their team in a positive manner. A strong leader knows when their team is demoralized or needs encouragement from a setback. If people are frightened or tired they look for someone to make an executive decision to empower them.

The top down approach is not about a boss lording over a factory floor, it’s about leadership applied in the proper places. It has been said that leading with an iron fist can be demoralizing to staff, but lack of leadership can cause the entire boat to go wildly off course. As long as you know when to step up and lead, and when to let your team lead you, you’ll reach a successful outcome every time.

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork