Leadership in project management
Instructions: Critically discuss the role of leadership style and team building in project management utilizing appropriate theoretical models to identify how project staff can be led and motivated depending on project and its life-cycle. Include in your answer a discussion of the role of leadership and communication in this process.
Leadership in project management
Even with significant advances in project management profession, studies show that there are a great number of projects that fail, underlining the important role played by the project manager. Further studies have also indicated that project performance is mostly determined by the human/relational aspect of project management, as opposed to technical abilities. Specifically, the leadership role of the project manager in motivating project teams, creating a conducive and effective working environment and establishing clear communication channels to enable team members to reach their potential is an important aspect of leadership in project management. This paper explores existing literature on the role of leadership in project management. It seeks to establish types of leadership’s styles and their impact on project performance. The leadership role in establishing a conducive working environment is also discussed in depth.
The theory of leadership has been a subject of debate since time immemorial, with some notable authors such as Plato, Locke, and Confucius making a significant contribution towards this subject. Confucius for instance listed love, piety, proper conduct and the doctrine of the mean, as some of the traits of an effective leader. According to Turner & Muller (2005), the 20th century saw the development of six main leadership theories; the behavioral theory, trait theory, contingency theory, visionary/charismatic school of thought, competence theory and the emotional intelligence school of thought. These are explained below:
The behavioral theory
This school of thought gained prominence in the mid-20th century. Its main assumption was that all effective leaders possess certain behaviors which are inborn. Thus leaders are born and not made. These crosscutting behavioral traits include; flexibility, team involvement in decision making, use of authority, decision taking, concern for relationships or people, and productivity.Turner & Muller (2005), noted that the degree of exercise of these behavioral traits depended on the manager’s style of leadership, whether leissez-faire, democratic, autocratic and bureaucratic.
|Flexibility vs application of rules||High||High||High||Low|
Source: Turner & Muller (2005)
The table above shows the models of leadership based on three parameters. It indicates that team involvement in decision making, decision- taking and flexibility depends on the project manager’s leadership style, with a high involvement in leissez-faire style and democratic style and low involvement in both autocratic and bureaucratic leadership styles.
The Contingency School
Rather than proposing a universal leadership theory that would apply in all situations, the contingency school of thought opines that effective leadership is dependent on the situation. Turner & Muller (2005) explains that the contingency theory analyses the leaders’ characteristics, evaluates the situation concerning key contingency variables, and matches the leadership with the situation. Among the most effective contingency theories is the path-goal theory. According to House (1971), an effective leader helps the team in finding a path towards achieving their goals.The theory identifies four behaviors that are exhibited by leaders; directive, participative, achievement-oriented and supportive. These behaviors must then be matched to environmental and contingency factors. Environmental factors are Task structure – Formal authority system – Workgroup, while subordinate factors include – Locus of control – Experience – Perceived ability.Fiedler (1967) notes that the contingency theory recommends different styles of leadership depending on the situation at hand and identifies the leader, the structure of the task and the position power as some of the variables that influence favorability, role, and influence of a leader.
The charismatic school of thought
This theory arose from studies on successful business people that lead change in their organizations. According to Bass (1990), there are two types of leadership; transformational and transactional. He notes that transformational leadership exhibits charisma, provides intellectual stimulation, considers, pays personal attention and respects the subordinates, is visionary and provides inspiration. Transactional leadership, on the other hand, punishes, manages by exception and emphasizes contingent rewards by rewarding subjects when they meet their performance objectives and targets. Notably, these two types of leadership are not entirely mutually exclusive, with a combination of both depending on the situation being ideal in different circumstances.
According to Keegan and den Hartog (2004) a manager’s style of leadership in project management is more effective if it is transformational and not transactional. They identified an important relationship between the style of leadership by the project manager, and the level of team motivation and commitment as well as the level of stress exhibited by line managers. They, however, found little correlation between the above factors and the project managers.
The Emotional Intelligence School
This school of thought holds that a leader’s emotional intelligence plays a more critical role in the success of a leader and the team performance than does their intelligence capacity. Several aspects of the leaders emotional intelligence were identified.These include; self-awareness (emotional self-awareness and self-confidence), self-management (emotional self-control, initiative, achievement, optimism), social awareness (service, organizational awareness and empathy), relationship management (change catalyst, conflict management, teamwork and collaboration, influence and inspiration, etc.). From these dimensions of emotional intelligence, six leadership styles were developed. These are democratic, commanding, affiliative, coaching, and visionary and pacesetting. Turner & Muller (2005), agree that there exists a strong correlation between a leaders emotional intelligence, style of leadership, and the performance of both the manager, team and organization as a whole.
note that there is a clear relationship between emotional relationship, leadership style and the performance of individual managers and their organizations.
The Competency School
This theory appreciates the fact that not all leaders are born as indicated by the trait theory. It explains that leadership is a learnt phenomenon. Further, this theory opines that various levels of competencies often leads to differences in styles of leadership and therefore affects their appropriateness in different circumstances, resulting in either transactional or transformational leaders depending on the situational complexities. Additionally Turner & Muller (2005) opines that competencies could either be intellectual or technical in nature highlight the domains of emotional intelligence as observed above.
Theoretical framework on behavior of team members
Projects are completed by teams; led by a team leader, therefore the role of team members in project management cannot be understated. There exists a substantial literature on team behavior. According to Dulewicz and Higgs (2003), even though there is little relationship between leadership competence and the behavior and roles of team members, these are used in psychometric testing in order to determine personalities and behaviors of team members and how they are likely to perform in teams and also as part of the selection process for top managers, project managers and executives. Below is a brief discussion of these theories
The most common of these theories is the fundamental interpersonal relations orientation behavior. It seeks to establish people’s behavior towards others and explores work behavior that is exhibited by team members such as social skills, leadership control and affection- the deep need to give and receive affection. The theory also identifies the expression of anger and the interpersonal relations score as tools that could be used by behavioral scientists to predict personal behavior in the workplace as well as their perception by other team members.
According to Belbin (1986), there are several types of team roles with their associated characteristics. These are the team worker, plant, implementer, shaper, completer-finisher, specialist, comic, resource investigator, and coordinator. A project manager, therefore, has a duty to identify who amongst his/her team members are appropriate for each given role for a successful project implementation.
There are 16 personality factors according to Cattell, Eber, and Tatsuoka (1970), which affect person’s performance and behavior in a team. These factors were grouped as extroverts’vs. Introverts, emotional stability, and others. Researchers have correlated the Belbin team roles with the 16 personality factors, finding that person that adopts certain roles in a team exhibit given personality factors.
The competence school of leadership
More recent studies on leadership are now hinged on the competence of the leaders and the competencies exhibited. While the competence school appears to ape the trait theory, it’s found to encompass all earlier discussed schools. By definition, competence is the skills, knowledge and personal characteristics that deliver superior results in an organization or project (Crawford, 2003).This, therefore, means that competence covers personality characteristics, skills and knowledge- including intelligence and problems solving skills, and management skills.The theory goes on to show that different competencies are appropriate in various circumstances. It charisma, vision and also notes that it’s possible to build different competency profiles resulting in both transformational and transactional leadership.
The role of leadership in Project management
Projects are often unique, complex and ridden with uncertainty, making project managers work to be more demanding than that of an ordinary manager. Besides organizational and functional management skills, a project manager is challenged with providing project leadership, without necessarily having documented processes and authority as well as unity of command. This means that project management involves the leadership of a diverse team of members over whom the project manager has little control. Project management is affected by the working environment that is complicated by two reasons; first is the uniqueness of each project and secondly, the selection and motivation of team members is often ignored.
Smith (2001) explains that most of the challenges that face project managers concerning team members are that a typical structure of an organization often presents challenges in the selection of team members, most of whom the project manager may have very little choice to make in terms of their selection. It becomes even more complicated in cases where some of the team members are already part of a team that is working on a different project. He noted that the main causes of project cost and time overruns are poor productivity, little or no motivation among team members, poor interpersonal relationships and lack of clear communication channels as well as team members who are not committed to the goals of the projectThe observations above point to a critical role played by people relationships in project management, highlighting the crucial role played by the team leader’s ability to guide, inspire and motivate team members to put in their best effort towards the achievement of project goals. To fully explore the place of leadership in project management, it’s important that we first distinguish between leadership and management. According to Turner & Muller (2005), management focuses on traditional functions of planning, directing, controlling and staffing, making decisions concerning processes, and functions aimed at improving organizational effectiveness. Leadership on the hand is clearly concerned about the leader’s ability to create paradigm shifts, to influence thoughts, processes and people to attain their full potential and organizational efficiency. Leadership inspires, motivates and guides followers towards the attainment of certain goals and objectives.
Turner & Muller (2005) identify two factors that underscore the relevance of leadership and management roles in project management. First, projects comprise of members from different disciplines and secondly, projects are complex, risky, ridden with unknowns and uncertainties. The functions of management such as organizing, controlling, directing and planning are important in resource utilization in project management. Project leadership assumes a more significant due to the challenges associated with creating a harmonious working relationship in project execution.
Other scholars such as Hartman and Ashrafi (2002) suggest that project management is the implementation of change programs, and consequently, leadership plays an integral part in determining the success of the project by providing vision and change management. They note, however, that there is no definite leadership style or skill that would be appropriate in the handling of the different and multidisciplinary project, as project leadership orientation has got no relationship with the structure of the project.
All projects have certain similarities and processes, which means that management and leadership roles and management responsibilities are to some extent common to projects. Scholars feel that for projects to succeed there is the need for to management support, and a clear definition of the mission of the project. Amongst the early studies in this area, clear definition of goals, support of top management, consultations with stakeholders and detailed plan and implementation process, problem solving abilities of the project team leaders, monitoring, evaluation and feedback are some of the critical success factors that a leader needs to consider for a successful project management process. Additionally, according to Turner & Muller (2005), a study involving over 500 development projects indicated that the support of top management, clear definition of project mission and team cohesion were some of the predictors of project success.
In another study Hartman and Ashrafi (2002) identified four factors-management support, communication, detailed plan and clearly defined mission as critical factors in project success. These findings imply that the managers of projects have the responsibility to garner top management support, provide clarity in project mission and communicate the project processes to the stakeholders for smooth project implementation.
In concluding his study, Turner & Muller (2005) noted that most of the factors that drive project performance are human relational in nature. Among these factors, conflict management, problem-solving abilities were prominent determinants of project performance. Good interpersonal skills were necessary for fostering a climate of participation and reduced conflicts which implied clarity, trust, and clarity in communication. Definition of the roles and responsibilities of the members of the project team was found to be an important aspect that reduces conflicts and encourages team spirit.
For effective project team management, Turner & Muller (2005), identified understanding the roles and responsibilities of the project team members, defining such roles and individual responsibilities and accountability levels, creating an enabling environment, trust and assisting in problem solving, providing motivation, open and effective communication channels as the criteria for effective team management for project success. In technology enabled project environment, satisfying both professional and personal needs of the team members has the strongest impact on project performance. In underlining the importance of communication in project management, Turner & Muller (2005), suggests that leadership can either facilitate of frustrate the free flow of ideas and information.
Summarizing his comprehensive review of the literature on the role of leadership in project management; Turner & Muller (2005), developed a list of factors that are critical to the success of the project, and project managers must consider in the design, planning, and execution of projects. These factors are;
Clarity in communication- project managers must define the project goals and the likely outcomes of the project early in the planning process so as to avoid unnecessary adjustments in later stages which would lead to time and cost overruns.
Definition of roles and responsibilities- a leader must clearly define the project roles and responsibilities for each member of the team so as to avoid ambiguity, conflict and improve performance. This not only creates team cohesion but also ensures proper utilization of project team resources.
Communication of expectations- establishing what is to be expected as the outcome of the project to all stakeholders is key to ensuring harmonious relationship and smooth project execution. It also avoids instances where some stakeholders feel that some results have not been delivered concerning project outcomes.
The consistency of processes- consistent and predictable project processes not only enhance team members roles but also lead to improved operational efficiency, reduce ambiguity and risks.
Cultivation of an environment of trust- an environment of trust leads to openness and transparency in communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing which is helpful in ensuring a harmonious working environment.
Top management support- The support of the top management often translates to the support of everyone in the organization, which offers goodwill to the project implementers. It’s often a challenge to obtain managerial support especially in traditional organizations where there are functional managers controlling resources.
Management of project outcomes- When there are clearly defined missions and objectives in a project; it becomes easy to carry out formal monitoring and evaluation of project outcomes to determine the success of the project. It also promotes motivation, productivity and synergy in project teams.
The above discussion shows that defining the team roles and project processes is the most important step to successfully managing and leading projects. This lays a strong foundation for the creation of clear goals, communication of project expectations and the subsequent employment of consistent processes. The ultimate goal for a project manager must be to establish the trust in the management of outcomes, and therefore project leadership becomes critical; in establishing that trust. Project leadership also plays a critical role in establishing open communication and trust, which is a key ingredient in promoting team motivation, development, efficiency, knowledge- sharing and innovation, which are critical success factors in project management.
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