Navigating Maslow’s Hierarchy from the Perspective of Personal Needs, Career, and Ego

Navigating Maslow’s Hierarchy from the Perspective of Personal Needs, Career, and Ego

Written by : Wan How



As a project management professional, you would have come across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the section on project human resources management. It is a helpful framework to understand what makes your team members tick. You are then better able to align their personal motivations to project goals and leverage that energy to drive successful project delivery.



Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is based on his Theory of Motivation:


  1. We all strive to fulfill our unmet needs;
  2. Our needs are organized in a hierarchy;
  3. Once needs are satisfied at a lower level within the hierarchy, our attention shifts to focus on fulfilling the next level of needs.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has five levels:


  1. At the very foundation, we are living beings and have basic survival needs for food, shelter, and clothing. These are physiological needs.
  2. Once our survival is needs have been met, we want to be secure. We are concerned about protecting our health, property, and personal security. Maslow calls these our safety needs.
  3. Then we move up to desiring family and friends, to feel connected, and be intimate with someone. These satisfies our need for love and belonging. At this level, we want to be part of a group.
  4. Once we are part of a group, we want to be respected by that group. We want to be recognized, have status, and grow our self-esteem. We want to rise above the group to meet our esteem needs.
  5. Then finally, we reach the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when we pursue self-actualization, to be all that we can be.


Since Maslow’s hierarchy is universal, we can use it not only to understand others, but more importantly, to apply to ourselves.


  1. Are you looking for a job just to pay the bills? If you are prepared to take any job, including part-time, temporary, minimum wage jobs, then you are at the survival level. You don’t care about being happy on the job because without it, you could go hungry. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see why it’s commonly called a survival job. There is nothing wrong with taking a survival job. After all, most of us start here at our first job.
  2. As a student, immigrant, or first-time wage earner, we then strive, usually through a combination of more education and work experience, to get a permanent full-time job with benefits. This established job with a good company provides long-term security. However, in today’s volatile, uncertain world, even strong companies can go under when a pandemic or recession hits.
  3. Next, we seek career progression from a junior to an intermediate role. We want to be recognized in our professions so we become members of the Project Management Institute and obtain credentials.
  4. Then we aspire to become a senior project manager, program manager, or portfolio manager. This will boost our self-esteem as we gain respect, status, and recognition with a track record of successfully delivered projects.
  5. Finally, we want self-actualization, to be the leading project manager in the organization. This could mean leading the Project Management Office, becoming a Director, VP or CEO. We want to have direct reports and make decisions. At this pinnacle, you want to be happy in your job, to be all you can be. You also want the personal freedom to be able to leave a less than ideal situation or workplace.


You can use Maslow’s hierarchy as a map to navigate your career


You are typically very excited to start a new job. Notice when you begin to feel dissatisfied in your job. This doesn’t mean you are being selfish or unappreciative of your job, team, boss, and company. It’s simply a signal that it’s time to move up to the next Maslow level or risk stagnating in your career and personal growth.




Surprisingly, moving up Maslow’s hierarchy could also mean taking a lower paying job with more responsibility and a greater contribution to world so long as it aligns with personal goals. I have known a VP who left a higher paying job to be able to make a greater societal impact, another VP who decided to be a software engineer, and a Director who happily took a non-leadership role. This goes to show that it’s a mistake to map Maslow’s hierarchy to the organizational chart.

Finally, Maslow’s hierarchy also does not take into account the personal transformation from an ego-centred identity to a less egoic self. You can find strong egos at all levels. Equally, ego-less persons can be found throughout Maslow’s hierarchy. So it’s best not to use Maslow’s hierarchy to pass value judgments on others, but as a lens to focus on ourselves. If there’s a sense of dissatisfaction, don’t be hard on yourself. It may be the sign of a need for change. At this stage, you may want to seek out a coach to help you navigate career aspirations, personal growth, and egoic transformation.




Meet Wan How, PMP, PMI-ACP


Wan How is a career and project management coach specializing in helping project professionals advance their careers. In his project management career, Wan successfully rescued many troubled projects. These included turning around projects headed for failure within 30 days and compressing project timelines by half to deliver benefits in one year instead of two.

Wan has over twenty years of project management experience in traditional, agile and hybrid approaches. As the leader of a Project Management Office, he led a team of project managers and business analysts to deliver corporate projects tied to the organization's business plan and strategic objectives. He has worked in the information technology, government, higher education, oil and gas, and engineering sectors.

Wan is a graduate of Cambridge University. His areas of expertise include project management, IT management and facilitation. In addition to the PMP, Wan is an Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP). He has also attained the Certified Professional Facilitator with the International Association of Facilitators.



What to learn more about Wan?


Visit his website: