Project Manager Skills Needed to Motivate Reluctant Workers

by Debra Kraft

A team member who is reluctant to take action can stall a project. The easy solution might be to replace him, but the easy solution is not always the best. That worker might have the perfect skills and knowledge to ensure project success. It might just be a matter of tapping into those skills. The project manager who can effectively motivate that worker could see reluctance explode into excellence. Some key motivational skills to bring into play focus on communication, recognition, empowerment and optimism.


It’s hard to be motivated to do something if you don’t know exactly what is expected of you. A project manager, or PM, can build a good motivating foundation by communicating clear goals that everyone on the team understands. Sending messages isn’t enough. The PM needs to listen, too. Active listening is a communication skill that helps the PM recognize where his own messages might not have been as clear as he thought. Let team members ask questions to clarify their understanding. Make sure they know what needs to be done, what resources they have to work with, and what actions to take to remove obstacles.


A little recognition can be highly motivating, just as public ridicule can be highly demotivating. The reluctant worker might have been subjected to public reprimands in the past, causing him to fear doing something wrong -- and consequently fear doing anything at all. Give public acknowledgement of project successes and let team members know when they’ve done particularly well. If someone makes a mistake or is not working to expected levels, discuss the issue in private and apply active listening skills to understand what might be holding him back. Help him to help himself by working together on an improvement plan that is kept in confidence.


Listen to team members. The reluctant worker might have been shot down when he tried to speak up during a past project. Show him that won’t happen on the current project team. Give the team opportunities to provide open feedback without fear of reprisal. Let them know they can speak up when problems occur. Also listen when they have ideas that could benefit the team or the project or both. Having a voice in the project’s success empowers team members, and a sense of empowerment is an excellent motivator.

Optimism and Professionalism

As a team leader, a PM should recognize the importance of a positive, optimistic attitude. Optimism is a strong motivator. Don’t let the team see foul moods and negativity. Optimism is especially critical when complex projects become stressful. Show the team that they can get through the rough patches by working together and staying positive. Also, remember that followers tend to model the behavior of their leaders. Exhibit the same kind of behaviors expected of team members. Don’t do anything they shouldn’t do. Always act professionally to be a good role model.

About the Author

A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.

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