In the Human Resources section of your PMP® exam, there are 5 motivation theories that explains human behaviors on projects. Although these 5 motivation theories are not in the PMBOK® guide, you still need to know them for the PMP® exam.

Side note: The PMP® exam is largely based on the PMBOK® guide (90%+), but there will be situational questions and some concepts on the exam that is not in the guide.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs represent the 5 levels of basic human needs. You cannot advance to a higher level of need if your lower level needs are not fulfilled.



Food, water, and shelter make up your basic needs. These basic needs are essential for your survival. Without basic survival mechanisms, a person can not advance to higher level needs.


A person needs to feel physically and emotionally safe in his/her environment before advancing to the next stage.


After physiological and safety needs, a person needs to feel that s/he belongs in a group. S/he needs to people to love and feel loved. S/he needs family, friends, and romantic partner to be emotionally stable.


People need to feel worthwhile, a unique contributor to society. They need to feel confident in their skills and valued by their community.

Self actualization

Self actualization refers to the realization of one’s potential, and achieving one’s purpose. Everyone’s purpose is different. Some strive to be olympic athletes, while others strive to start multinational companies.

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

Douglas McGregor was a management professor at MIT, and he developed Theory X and Theory Y, which refers to the perception managers have towards employees.

Theory X states that employees are lazy, incompetent, and untrustworthy. Managers need to watch them at all times. Employees need to be monitored at all times to ensure that they are not dozing off or doing unproductive work. Theory X managers micromanage employees and blame others for everything.

Theory Y states employees are self-reliant, capable, and trustworthy. Employees can manage their own time and come up with unique solutions to problems on their own. Employees and managers maintain an open line of communications. Overall, there is a positive working environment.

Side note: the way that I remembered Theory X and Theory Y was using the phrase “my eX is incompetent”.

Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Frederick Herzberg proposed the Motivation-Hygiene Theory. It states the degree of an employee’s motivation depends upon the contents of the job. Money is a motivator to an extend, but it is usually not the sole motivator.

Hygiene factors’ are factors such as work conditions, hour, pay, vacation, and fringe benefits. The absence of hygiene factors will demotivate a worker, but an increase in hygiene factors will not increase motivation or productivity.

Motivational factors’ are factors such as career advancement, challenging work, and autonomy. An increase in motivation factors will increase the worker’s motivation and productivity.

McClelland’s Need Theory

David McClelland is an American theorist who proposed that people are primarily motivated by one of three needs: Need for Power, Need for Affiliation, and Need for Achievements.

Need for Power

People who are motivated by power want to work in positions of power (e.g. CEO, managers, entrepreneurs). They want to influence others and be in control. Also, they don’t have trouble cutting relationships to get what they want.

Need for Affiliation

People who are motivated by affiliation like to work with like-minded people in a positive work environment. Their main priority is being well-liked, and they go to great length to establish good working relationships with their peers.

Need for Achievements

People who are motivated by achievements want to take on difficult jobs that they haven’t done before. They are curious and want to learn more, and they will not stop until they’ve mastered a topic. They like to be recognized for their achievements.

Expectancy Theory

The Expectancy Theory states that employees will not be motivated to work harder if they did not get the rewards or compensation that they were expecting.

For example, if they were expecting a $10,000 bonus at the end of the project for their contributions and they got nothing, they may quit or start doing the bare minimum on their job.

For your PMP® exam, make sure you know the name of the theorist as well as their HR theory. Although managing people is the most important part of a project manager’s job, it is very hard to test this soft skill on a standardized test. That’s why PMI includes HR theories on the PMP® exam, even though it is not included in the PMBOK® guide.

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