5 Popular Motivation theories – Every Project Manager must know

Motivation theories are part of Human resource management knowledge area and are very important for the PMP exam.

Furthermore, it is even more important for the project manager to know these popular motivation theories to perform the people management activities during the life cycle of the project.

As a project manager you may have lot of project management experience, knowledge and credibility. However if you do not know how to get the work done by the team, your project will run into troubles.

As a project manager you need to understand clearly what really motivates the team.

Below are some of the motivation factors to the team that we see typically in any project management experience generally.

  • Understanding the Big picture – How, the work that you are doing is going to help the organization to achieve its goals and objectives. This tells the team, how important you are to the organization and the work you are doing for the organization. Project manager always has to remind the team members about the link between goals of your project and the vision of the organization.
  • Learning Curve – What will I learn from this project. This includes new technologies, processes, domain expertise and much more…
  • Compensation – This is one of the typical motivation factors that we see. Compensating for the good work team member(s) are doing.
  • Any other personal or professional aspirations – travelling to onsite, challenging work, friendly work environment, good (friendly)reporting manager, recognition, etc. are some other motivation factors that we see.

Eventually as a project manager you should understand what motivates the team and also aware of the popular motivation theories so that you can implement this knowledge during the project management life cycle.

5 Popular Motivation Theories

Motivation Theories

Primarily there are 5 motivation theories. They are

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  2. McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y
  3. Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory
  4. McClelland’s Need Theory
  5. Expectancy Theory

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Motivation Theories - MASLOW s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s motivation theory  simply says that

  • People needs has hierarchy from basic (or lower or fundamental) needs to the higher ones.
  • Until the basic (lower) needs are satisfied, people won’t even start thinking about the higher ones.

Below is the diagram that represents Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


These are the very basic needs of any human being. For example food, water, shelter, sleep, etc. Until these needs are satisfied, one will not think about high level of needs in the above hierarchy.


These are the needs to keep yourself and your family safe and secure. For example personal wellness and job security, etc..

Love or Belonging

Once the physiological and security needs are addressed then people will start thinking about their family, friends, partners to share their feelings, emotions and intimacy. From work perspective, people will feel to have a friendly work environment and friendly colleagues.


This is the stage, people will start thinking about how they are respected, valued and their contributions to the work environment as well as for the society.


After all the above mentioned needs are achieved individuals would put their complete effort and start thinking about how can they work more efficiently to their full potential. Show their ability to contribute and resolve issues around them, etc.

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

McGregor classifies the managers into two types.

  1. Theory X Managers
  2. Theory Y Managers

So, let us look at each of these concepts one after the other.

Motivation Theories - Theory X and Theory Y Managers

Theory X Managers

These are the ones who thinks that everyone in the team are lazy and do not want to contribute and not motivated.  Theory X manager do not trust their team members. Hence always try to micro manage the activities. Theory X mangers blame everything on others, instead of confronting the issues.

Theory Y Managers

In contrast, these are complete opposite to theory X managers. They are honest and trust their team members completely. The feel like, if they trust the team and let them do their activities, they will never let you down. They are always productive and easy to work with.

Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Herzberg’s motivation theory says that there are certain hygiene factors such as pay check, job security, basic infrastructure at work, good work environment etc., which are considered as implicit expectations by the people.

People will first look at these hygiene factors, before even they start thinking about motivation factors such as recognition, career growth, challenging work, etc.

These hygiene factors do not motivate you. However these are the implicit expectations without which people will not think about the actual motivation factors.

McClelland’s Need Theory

Also called as McClelland’s achievement theory.

According to McClelland’s theory people motivate for three primary needs. They are achievement, power and affiliation.

Need for Achievement

These are the people who are eager for tasks that are challenging to perform, can-do attitude. They work hard to achieve or learn something and perform the task. Finally they need recognition for the good work they have done.

Need for power

People who are motivated by power are the ones who wanted to work in the positions filled with power and influence.

For example CEO, CIO, or any position which has high control and power. Being in these position, then want to influence, encourage others.

Need for Affiliation

People who need motivation by affiliation,  value the relationships. Usually they want good and friendly work environment, work with like-minded people. They want everyone to like them and collaborate with them easily.

Expectancy Theory

Expectancy theory says that, people will not motivate to work harder, if they are not recognized or compensated according their expectations.

For example if the company is expected to give a bonus, and for some reason if they did not announce the bonus, they employee may quit the job or do not show much interest to perform the job that is given to him.

Expectancy theory was proposed by Victor Vroom.


To conclude with, you would not be able to see these motivation theories in PMBOK guide.

Eventually interpersonal skills or soft skills are at most important for the project manager to deal with the problems. These motivation theories help to enhance the interpersonal skills of the project manager.

Finally for the PMP Exam, these motivation theories are very important. So ensure that you understand the theory, and remember the name of the theory, and the person who proposed it.

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