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An Improvement in Project Leadership Skills

Info: 5457 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Project ManagementLeadership



Though project managers have placed client needs and demands at a priority, client expectations, and the increase in global competition, as well as the enormous impact projects have on firms, have led to a further increasing demand for the use of more effective leadership skills that can assist project managers in project team leadership (Zimmerer and Yasin, 1998). Project management involves project monitoring and supervision that is global in nature, involving projects with team members from diverse professional backgrounds, cultures, languages, and nations. Again, project management does not just involve the management of people, but also time and material resources (Veal 2004). This calls for vital strategic planning, and the management of resources for effective project management delivery. The complexities in present day projects require not just management abilities, but also an improvement in project leadership skills and competencies (Zimmerer and Yasin, 1998).


Leadership, according to Jago (1982), is the application of non-coercive influence in directing the activities of individual members of an organised group in an effort to achieving the group’s objectives. Leadership in this context is considered in relation to some qualities and characteristics of those who successfully implement such influences. In the context of project management, leadership can be seen as a process undertaken by an organisation in taking responsibility of team members who work with the project manager toward the achievement of project aims (Cleland, 1995). A project manager’s leadership skills and competencies have become necessary in harnessing the activities of the entire project stakeholders; as a result, this has led to conception of his leadership skills as an important aspect of project control (Barber and Warns, 2005). This is particularly important given the fact that though the project manager uses skilled manpower, material resources, as well as other appropriate methods when embarking on projects, some projects do run overtime, over budget, or suffer failure in the achievement of the particular project goal (Barber and Warns, 2005). Using appropriate leadership skills, a project manager is able to forestall such eventualities where and when possible, and redirect the efforts of the team members toward attaining the desired project objectives. His ability to lead human resources associated with the project shows the leadership excellence as regards defining the project scope, time, cost management, quality and communication (Cleland, 1995). For this reason, therefore, a project manager continuously needs to develop appropriate leadership skills; competencies and styles needed down the different stages of the project’s lifecycle. It implies that for a successful project delivery, the project manager needs to demonstrate not just an appropriate technical knowhow, but also a show of effective administrative and leadership skills (Burke, 2007).

The question then arises as to what the skills and competencies are, that are considered essential for present day competent project managers (Ingason and Jonasson, 2009), in the delivery of projects. In the past, technical competence was taken to be the required skill that a project manager should possess in order to lead projects to success (Zimmerer and Yasin, 1998). But in contemporary times, team building, motivation (Jacques et al, 2008), vision, management, and communication (Barber and Warn, 2005), have all been identified as being part of the necessary skills and competencies a project manager needs to cultivate for effective delivery of projects.

While the issue of project leadership has been the subject of so many research endeavours (Cleland, 1995, Washbush and Clements, 1999; Prabhakar, 2005; Jacques et al, 2008) a relatively fewer other researchers have focused on the leadership skills and competencies appropriate for a project manager’s use in leading the project team members, and the impact they have in the management of projects (Turner and Müller, 2005; Geoghegan and Dulewicz, 2008). Majority of research endeavours in this area have considered the idea that a project manager’s application of leadership skills in projects lead to the successful delivery of projects and this has prompted the assessment of the factors that matter in his ability to utilise available human and material resources, and also lead and manage the project team, and other stakeholders. Other research works (Turner and Muller, 2005; Pinto and Trailer, 1998), however, recognise the importance of a project manager’s leadership skills when managing projects, but do not explicitly link these skills and competencies that characterise a project manager, as necessary for successful management of the project. This, therefore, forms the bulk of the debate that academic scholars in this area have preoccupied themselves.

A key area of this debate concerns the fact that some relevant literature materials (Crawford, 2007; Geoghegan and Dulewicz, 2008) that attached great importance to the leadership skills and competencies of a project manager have further identified a project manager as a success factor for projects. The view of these project management pundits is that project success can be a possible result of the application of the attributes of a project manager during project management. This is achieved with the project manager’s communication, technical and motivational skills, and a host of other skills and competencies that allow him successful lead the project team members toward the achievement of the project goal. On an opposite vein, a few other project management scholars did not view a project manager as a success factor for projects (Pinto and Slevin, 1998; Turner and Müller, 2005). This group of project management scholars observe that the use of appropriate tools and techniques is what counts in the realization of project success. This presents an implication which denotes that the leadership skills of a project manager make no additional impact in project performance. A particular literature endeavour that has significantly dealt with the issue of the present study is the work of Turner and Müller (2005). Though their findings suggest that the literature does not view a project manager and his leadership competencies as a success factor for projects, they, however, recommended that for this argument to be resolved, the question of a project manager’s leadership skills and competencies, and the question of possible impact in the achievement of successful project management should be measured. As a result of this recommendation, this research investigates the views expressed in other project management literature, on the impact leadership skills and competencies of a project manager have in the management of projects. To this end, there would be an investigation into what constituted project management success factors in the project management history, especially during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. This effort is realised by conducting some in-depth interviews and exploring some relevant literature at these periods to identify their arguments on what constituted project success factors, and to ascertain the place of a project manager and his or her leadership skills and competencies in project management history.


The purpose of this research is to determine if a project manager’s leadership skills and competencies can act as a catalyst in bringing about successful project performance. In this context, therefore, this research tries to determine whether the application of effective leadership skills and competencies can impact on the management of projects towards the achievement of a quality and successful project performance. This will involve implementing the recommendation of the research of Turner and Muller (2005) by evaluating what constitutes project success factors to ascertain if a project manager is considered as a project management success factor, using the project management literature works and semi-structured interview.

Also, contributing to the existing body of knowledge on the impact of a project manager’s leadership skills and competencies in project management, the objectives, as derived from the aim of this research are:

  • To determine the leadership skills and competencies available for a project manager’s use in the management of projects.
  • To critically examine the impact of the application of a project manager’s leadership skills and competencies in project delivery.
  • To determine if a project manager is a project management success factor.


This research begins with a critical review of some recent debates in the project management literature on arguments relating to leadership styles, skills and competencies appropriate for a project manager in chapter 2. It goes further to review the ideas of project management pundits on the impact these leadership skills and competencies have while managing projects. It also investigates the contribution of leadership to project managers especially as more and more project management scholars lay emphasis on project managers developing leadership skills for a better management of projects.

Chapter 3 presents the research design and the methodology used in the anchorage of this dissertation for the achievement of its aim and objectives encapsulated in a six layer research onion model presented in figure 4. This chapter begins by presenting interpretivism and induction as the philosophy and approach that engulfs this research. This chapter further highlights the use of qualitative research method and how qualitative content analysis is used in the process of data collection and analysis of the data that came mainly from the literature sources towards the development of a grounded theory for this research. To reduce the limitation that could arise from the use of literature sources alone, semi-structured interviews were used in complementing the data collected from the literature works. The time horizon and the ethical consideration in relation to data collection and analysis is equally presented in this chapter.

The analysis of the data gathered is presented in chapter 4, using the methods discussed above towards the development of the grounded theory, in achieving the aim of this research. The findings of this research are presented in chapter 5, and are related to the previous findings found in the project management literature as discussed in the review of the literature in chapter two. Lastly, the limitations of this study and a recommendation for further research are also presented in this chapter. Finally, a summary of the research is presented in chapter six and this research concludes by offering some opportunities further research can anchor on.



This chapter examines some key academic interests in the role of the project manager’s leadership skills and competencies for the achievement of successful project management. Reviewing the relevant body of literature on this topic, will be necessary; as it will offer an insight into relevant concerns of the research and provide the required background in addressing the research questions identified earlier on.

Among the themes academic pundits in this area have shown interest in are identified in figure 1, they are: leadership styles, the project manager and project success, the project manager’s leadership competences and the impact of leadership in project management. This chapter critically examines these areas of interest in a wider context, and their impact in achieving successful project management.


It must be noted that the study of effective leadership skills is necessary for quality project management and efficiency (Strang, 2005). A plethora of literature materials exist on the importance of leadership in the successful management of projects, but for the purpose of this study, this research will concentrate on literature sources that have direct bearing on the subject matter of the research, which are identified in figure 1.

The review of the literature would encompass leadership styles as a core area in project success. It will explore leadership approaches particularly transformational leadership style used by project managers in the process of managing the human aspects of projects, namely, the project team members, and stakeholders. The concept of ‘success’ in project management and the project manager’s contributions toward the achievement of success will also be critically assessed. On the other hand, literature on the project manager and his leadership competencies will be reviewed to ascertain the viability of his leadership competencies toward increasing the chances for successful project delivery. Lastly, the body of literature on the impact of leadership in project management will consider the contribution of leadership in managing projects, by making a comparison of leadership and management in leading the project team.


The question of what makes a good leader has been an age long problem. Among prominent authors that have commented on this issue include, Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Lock (Collinson, 1998). Turner and Müller (2005) identified six main leadership theories that have been singled out as the main leadership schools over seventy years ago. These schools are:

  • The trait school
  • The behaviour or style school
  • The contingency school
  • The emotional intelligent school, and
  • The competency school
  • Transformational leadership school

This research will be focusing mainly on transformational leadership due to the emphasis project management literature places on it in leading project members. This research will examine the impact of transformational leadership in project management.

2.2.1 Transformational leadership in project management: The literature has associated transformational leadership with those leaders that create “a shared vision of the future and a relationship between leaders and followers based on far more than just the simple exchange of rewards for compliance” (Keegan and Hartog, 2004:609). What distinguishes transformational leaders is their ability in articulating some attractive vision of the future (Hartog and Verburg, 1997). Transformational leaders exhibit self-confidence and charisma which can and do attract subordinate to those identified vision or mission (Keegan and Hartlog, 2004). Northouse (1997) indicates that transformational leadership transforms and changes individuals. He added that this sort of leadership is open to the needs of the followers. Transformational leadership has been contrasted with transactional leadership (Leban and Zulauf, 2004) which focuses on the physical and security needs of its followers (Lamsila and Ogunlana, 2008). Most commentators have agreed that transactional leadership is based on the model that there is exchange process between leaders and followers, with leaders providing reward for the subordinates’ compliance (Northouse, 1997; Strang, 2005: Sadler, 2003 and Jogulu and Wood, 2006). While the followers are motivated by the effect the transformational leaders have on them in terms of making them aware of the values and outcome of their goals, transactional leaders on the other hand, utilises reward in motivating their subordinate.

Keegan and Hartog (2004) recently noted that leading commentators have “begun to suggest that transformational leadership may be of particular interest in the project based-context” (p. 610). These commentators continue to emphasis increasing importance of motivational and emotional features of project managers as well as the importance of project managers to instil faith and commitment to their organization as part of their role (Turner and Müller, 2003). Research have shown that project managers are considered to be leading people from different profession and diverse culture, therefore the use of transformational leadership becomes necessary due to its emphasis on vision, inspirational and motivational role of leaders (Cleland and Ireland, 2002; Keegan and Hartog, 2004). While leading such talented professionals therefore, the emphasis has drifted from control and compliance to dedication, identification and loyalty, which are characteristic of transformational leadership (Keegan and Hartog, 2004).

The literature has identified the importance of transformational leadership in project management (Yammarino and Bass, 1990; Leban and Zulauf, 2004; Barber and Warn, 2005). This importance is identified in the continuous need for project managers to be forward thinking, constantly anticipating where things may likely go wrong in project, so that steps can be placed in anticipation towards resolving them where possible and recovery measure put in place should they not be preventable (Lewis, 2001). Similarly, Barber and Warn (2005) have identified idealized influence, inspirational motivation, individualized consideration and intellectual stimulation as components of transformational leadership, which enable them “to explain the big picture, anticipate events and even prevent problems” (p. 1032).

In figure 2, Prabhakar’s (2005) research suggests that transformational leaders who inspire and motivate their followers to face the challenges of their work appeared to achieve project success. This is achieved through the relationship transformational leaders build with their subordinates using an interactive communication that forms a bond between them.

Figure 2: Relationship between leadership variables and project success after Prabhakar (2005).

In line with the finding of Prabhakar (2005) Leban and Zulauf (2004) suggest that “transformational project manager behaviour has a positive impact on actual project performance” (p. 561). Furthermore, they stated that transformational project management is achieved through the use of project managers who are result focused through inspiration and motivation.

However, the finding of Strang (2005) shows that although the application of transformational leadership while leading project team have a tendency of fostering leader-follower relationship strong transformational leadership however, is not always required in producing effective organizational outcomes. Equally, it has been observed that while transformational leadership in project context leads to stakeholders’ satisfaction, the finding of Strang (2005) suggest that it does not on the other hand guarantee organizational performance. From the foregoing, it has been suggested that transformational leadership has an important influence by reshaping the way people think, which is considered an aspect of project leadership skills (Partington, 2003).


Research has it that in the field of project management, among the few topics that are frequently discussed but rarely agreed upon is what constitutes success in project (Pinto and Slevin, 1988a). Given the fact that “the search for factors that lead to better project performance and success spans many years of research” (Dov et al, 2006:36). Table 1, presents the findings of Jugdev and Müller (2005) which identified four periods in the history of project management and the perceptions of the factors that possibly led to achieving successful project management.

Period 1: Project implementation and Handover (1960s-1980s). At this stage, simple metric such as time, cost and specifications were the yardsticks used in measuring project success because they were understood to be easy for organizational use. “Project managers focused on getting a project done, making sure it worked, and getting out the way” (Judgev and Müller, 2005:23).

Studies at this time focused on scheduling as the criteria for project success or failure, while others relied on budget and performance as the success factor (Pinto and Slevin, 1988b) and client satisfaction (Shenhar et al, 1997).The emphasis at this stage was on the effectiveness of the measures and the technical system than the behaviours of the individual members of the project (Judgev and Müller, 2005).

Period 2: CSF Lists (1980s -1990s). According Judgev and Müller (2005) this stage was preoccupied with developing some critical success factors (CSF) lists. Cooke-Davies (2002) saw critical success factors as those “inputs to the management system that lead directly or indirectly to the success of the project or business’ (p.185). At this stage, the literature focused on the satisfaction of the stakeholders as what guarantees project success. At the completion of the project what matters was not job completion rather the satisfaction criterion which was “are we happy” (Judgev and Müller, 2005). End users impacts are felt as the yardstick for success which contradicts with the period 1. Among the CSFs as the literature identified were effective communications, clear objective, scope and the use of project plan as living documents (Clarke, 1999). Judgev and Müller (2005) further identified change management, organizational effectiveness and the alignment between project management and strategic management as all part of CSFs.

Period 3: CSF Frameworks (1990s -2000s). At this period, the literature questioned the concept that project success is based on stakeholders-dependent and linking success with the internal and recipient organization (Kerzner, 1987: Lester, 1998). Morris and Hough (1987) developed new framework dealing on the preconditions of project success in four categories which are:

  1. Project functionality: Does such project meet up with the financial and technical requirement.
  2. Project management: Did such project meet up with the stipulated budget, schedule and specification.
  3. Contractor’s commercial performance: Did the project contractors benefit in a commercial way.
  4. Project termination: Peradventure a project is cancelled, was such cancellation done reasonably and effectively.

Cleland and Ireland (2002) approached the issue of project success from two points of view, first, project success should be measured in view of meeting the performance objectives (cost, time and scope), and secondly it could be measured using the impact of such project on the strategic mission of the firm.

Period 4: strategic project management (21st century). At this period, project success has been linked to many factors than just one common mission like organizational benefit, product success and team development (Atkinson, 1999 and Baccarini, 1999). Equally CSFs at this period incorporated “senior management commitment to provide the vision, strategy and sponsorship” (Judgev and Müller, 2005:28) and such success factor relate to the organization including the external environment. Judgev and Müller (2005) indicates that most recent literature have identified four necessary but not sufficient criteria for success that need to be in place for projects to be successfully managed, which are:

  1. Success criteria need to be agreed on with the project stakeholders before embarking on project.
  2. There should be a collaborative working relationship with the project sponsor and the project manager and they should view the project as partners.
  3. There is need to empower the project manager with some sort of flexibility as to be able to deal with unforeseen circumstances, and the project sponsor should give directives on the best way of achieving project success.
  4. The project sponsor needs to show an interest in the performance of the project.

Subsequent research by Turner and Müller (2005) suggests that during 1980s, the literature grew rapidly; with different authors listing what they thought constituted project success. Surprisingly, though the literature of this time emphasised that the project manager should be competent enough to get things done well, their finding suggests that:

“rarely does the literature on project success factors specifically or overtly mention project manager and his or her leadership style and competence. Perhaps the project manager does not contribute to project success. Perhaps there is something about the nature of projects and the project teams that means that their success is not dependent on the leadership style and competence of the manager” (Turner and Müller, (2005:57).

This very remark suggests that the impact of the project manager’s leadership style possibly do not necessarily lead to project success. Andersen et al (1987) identified some pitfalls that may hinder project success and increase project failure. These pitfalls include the method that is used to plan, organize and control projects. Baker et al (1988) saw project success as achieving the project’s technical specification or mission while earning a high valued satisfaction from the client, the end user and the project team as well. They equally advocated planning as against perceiving leadership as a key factor while maximizing potential project success. Table 2 presents ten project management success factors by Pinto and Slevin (1988b) in determining what constitutes project success factors. Though this table plays down the skills and competencies of a project as a success factor for projects however Pinto and Slevin (1988b) noted that a project will be a failure should some project management characteristics like human skills, project managers’ administration and influencing skills not be present in the project.

In the 2000s, the interest on project success changed. As against the notion that the literature was silent about the impact of the project manager toward project success (Turner and Müller, 2005), researchers like Prabhakar (2005) and Keegan and Hartog (2004) identified effective project manager leadership as an importance success factor on projects. In Table 3, Kendra and Taplin (2004) classified project success into four categories which are micro-social, macro-social, micro-technical and macro-technical categories of which they identified behaviour, leadership and personal attributes of the project manager as a success factor under micro-social.

Other studies (Lim and Mohamed, 1999, and DeCottiis and Dyer, 1979) stressed the importance of customer’s satisfaction and their welfare towards success measurement. In fact, Atkinson (1999) notes that any measurement criteria that assesses projects in terms of time and budget constrain without meeting up with client satisfaction will be misleading and incomplete. Tishler et al (1997) observes that customer satisfaction is supreme in assessing project success.

Given the importance of the aims and objectives of any project, it was surprised that the periods identified in the findings of Jugder and Müller (2005) did not include them as an aspect of project success. This is particularly necessary as a project that runs over budget and over time may still be considered successful if the project achieved its target. In other words, a project may meet the iron triangle success criteria of time, budget and quality, but if the aims and objectives are not achieved, such a project may be considered a failure.


The study of Geoghegan and Dulewicz (2008) examines the impact project manager’s leadership competence have in achieving project success. They considered leadership as a combination of personal characteristics with those areas of competence. With this understanding, leadership can be conceived as the combination of skills and knowledge with personal characteristics that make a leader. Geoghegan and Dulewicz (2008) observe that project leadership is part of a project manager’s competencies. In their mind “there is a recognition that an effective project manager possesses a combination of personal characteristics such as flexibility and competencies such as problem solving” (p. 59). Similarly, Crawford (2007:14) defined competence as “encompassing knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours that contributes to effective performance of a task or job role”. Turner and Müller (2005) added that competence includes personal characteristics, knowledge and skills. A Project manager’s competence therefore can be perceived as the combination of knowledge and skills and core personality characteristics that necessitate superior results (Crawford, 2007). Rees et al (1996) noted that effective project managers appear to be averagely intelligent and possess problem solving skill than non-effective project managers. Dulewics and Higgs (2003) identified four leadership performances which include cognitive, behavioural, emotional and motivational competencies. They went further to suggest that managerial performance is defined by three competencies which are intellectual (IQ) managerial skill (MQ) and Emotional (EQ) competencies. Again, they developed a leadership competence model with fifteen leadership competences in Table 4. These fifteen leadership dimensions were classified under three major leadership competencies of IQ, MQ and EQ.

On their part Müller and Turner (2007) found out that the ability to lead and technical knowledge are important aspects of project manager competence which are necessarily displayed based on the nature of a particular project. Geoghegan and Dulewicz’s, (2008) findings suggests that there is a significant relationship between a project manager’s leadership competence and project success. Their research suggest that project managers who possess high problem solving acumen are better suited for the empowerment and development of their colleagues, while project managers who are high in managing resources will be effective in budgeting. Geoghegan and Dulewicz (2008) also indicated that managerial competence contributes most significantly towards successful projects, by influencing project team. Other research (Crawford, 2001: Crawford, 2007) have equally linked project manager’s leadership competencies to project success and has gone further to identify a project manager as a success factor for projects. Under micro-social dimensions of project success, Kendra and Taplin (2004) identified project managers’ competence and skills as a success factor.

Although as succinctly enunciated in reviewed literature, the project manager possesses some competencies which are a sine qua non for successful project delivery, there does not seem to be a clear cut consensus on what these competencies are, as different researchers have identified different competencies that make project leaders. Furthermore, most researchers could not come to terms with the study of Geoghegan and Dulewicz (2008) that there is any relation between a project manager’s competence and project success. The view of these researchers is that the use of right techniques and tools assures the achievement of successful projects (Crawford, 2007). This implies that project managers with their technical knowledge and emotional intelligent make no contribution towards the success of projects so far as the right tools are deployed in managing projects (Crawford, 2007). This is in line with some believes about project management as presented by Müller and Turner (2007c) which are: the project manager’s competence with his leadership style is not a success factor on projects; secondly, any project manager is capable of managing any project. Similarly, going through the literature, Müller and Turner (2007c:3) further stated that “the project success literature studiously ignores the project manager, and his or her competence or leadership style as a potential success factor on projects”. Furthermore, Anderson et al (1987) saw the importance of personal characteristics of a project manager like his

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