Week 10: Project Leadership


In this week of the course we are looking at project leadership skills, understanding the difference between leadership and management, hearing from a wide selection of experts on this topic. The reading for students of the course this week is by Verma and Wideman, “Project Manager to Project Leader? and the Rocky Road Between”, which is obtainable at Wideman’s website.

The article argues that project managers need to have leadership as well as management skills and to be conscious of the difference between these. The following video discusses the distinction:

Colin Powell was US Secretary of State from 2001 – 2005 and a four star general in the US military. He is widely regarded as an excellent leader and gives his thoughts on leadership in the following video:

So what is leadership? The focus on leadership as distinct from management appeared in the latter part of the 20th century. Earlier managers were administrators. Change was slow and organisations were relatively stable. There was a clear chain of command and organisational practices were based on how things had been done before.

As the pace of competition increased, so too did the pace of change for organisations. Managers moved away from being administrators and now had to intervene more actively in their organisations to deal with issues that arose. The environment was becoming more turbulent and impacted by the market and managers had to respond to that.

By the 1990’s the pace of change was continuing to increase and the concept of leadership grew. The rapidly changing corporate world was argued to require a leader who could communicate a vision and inspire employees to proactively respond to the needs of the customer. Workplaces became more team based. The next video continues the discussion on how leadership differs from management:

Project leadership applies the principles of leadership to projects. The article argues that project leadership involves empowering employees, good listenimg and questioning skills and communicating a vision. Good project leaders will need to be able to influence people and be effective general communicators. Finally, they will need to be able to strategise, to see the “big picture” and to team build, to make the project team work effectively together. Leaders need to have excellent people skills and the next video discusses some studies on the motivation of employees:

So, project leadership is about the ability to get things done well through others. To do this leaders need to be able to create a vision of what the project is going to do and to motivate project team members to want to achieve it. Leaders also need to be realistic about the time and resources needed to achieve the vision and to be able to attract a good project team. This video explores the concept of leaders as someone that people are willing to follow:

The following chart from the reading illustrates the difference in focus between management and leadership:

The chart highlights that managers focus more on directing and controlling activity, ensuring adherence to procedures. They tend to be risk averse and autocratic. Leaders are more democratic in their style, inspiring trust in project team members and seeing risks as opportunities. They are more focused on the positive motivation of people. The skills needed to lead people effectively include social intelligence:

The article argues that managerial skills and leadership skills are needed at various points in the project life cycle. Projects typically will plan the project activity and then implement it. Planning is argued to involve “doing the right things” while implementation requires “doing things right”. Planning requires creativity and imagination, empowerment and democracy in order to enable the input of the project team. Implementation requires adherence to the project plan and discipline. This is likely to require the project manager to adopt a more managerial approach. Of course, planning can take place throughout the project and leadership skills will continue to be needed throughout the project. In addition to the planning and implementation activities, the project team will need to be developed which will typically need leadership skills. In the next video experts outline the skills they think leaders will need in the future:

The following chart, from the article,  illustrates the leadership styles that are argued to be needed as the project proceeds:

So, for example, in the Conceptual project phase the leader will need analytical skills, to be a good listener, manager of change and to be able to encourage convergence of ideas amongst project team members. At the end of the project or project phases they will need to be an effective administrator, capable of handing over the product to the client.

The article also includes a graphic which presents the author’s interpretation of the stages of project leadership development and the stages of followership development:

The graphic shows project leadership initially requiring a highly directive approach and then, as the project team develops, a growth in the self direction of the team. The stages of followership or team development are shown at the bottom of the graphic, moving from a polite, guarded and business-like approach to a team that is caring, trusting and flexible.

Finally, the article considers the decision making style that is appropriate in a project environment. It contrasts consensus and consent approaches. Consensus is argued to be better for a business enterprise, it requires widespread agreement and tends to be slow. A consent approach is argued to be better for projects, allows decisions to be made more quickly and a speedier response to a crisis. The following video provides an example of consensus decision making in the Occupy Philadelphia group (this would be quite cumbersome in a project):

Successful project management requires the successful management of project processes and the successful leadership of people. This week the course has focused on project leadership, outlining the skills and capabilities that project leadership requires.

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