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Leadership a Pre-requisite for Success Print
The aim of this article is to establish if leadership capabilities of a project manager in any way aids in the successful delivery of a project. An excepted leadership definition would typically include excellent communication skills, good interpersonal skills, the ability to handle stress, problem solving skills and time management skills. Of specific importance is the fact that leadership would be required to maintain a high level of esprit de corps to ensure team cohesion and focus to deliver projects within timeframes and within budget.

Project failures can be mapped to a plethora of different reasons which could range from poor project definition, changes, design faults, unclear specifications with very few academics tracking the 'soft issues' pertaining to project failure.

Every so often the failure of projects can be directly mapped to unmotivated and disillusioned project team members. In this respect the interpersonal skills of the project manager is called upon to ensure that the team not only maintains a high level of motivation but also sufficiently inspired and motivated to reach the ultimate goal being a successful implementation. From this the analogy can be drawn that the successful delivery of a project can be directly attributed to the support and backing of the project manager. Against this background the research problem statement can be defined as, "the high level of project failures directly attributed to the lack of leadership capabilities of the project manager".

Despite the enormous attention project management and analysis have received over the years, the track record of projects is fundamentally poor. Projects are often completed late and or over budget, do not perform in the way expected, involve severe strain on participating institutions or are cancelled prior to their completion after the expenditure of considerable sums of money.


In a summary of project success and failure in respect of large projects, Morris & Hough (1987:273-290) provides the following list, which has been adapted for the purpose of this article:

  • Poor project definition.
  • Need for formal reviews.
  • Project preparation.
  • Control of changes.
  • Changing corporate strategies.
  • Design faults.
  • Unclear objectives.
  • Changes in specifications.
  • External factors.


The most important aspect of the research by The Standish Group, is discovering why projects fail. This was achieved by surveying information technology executives for their opinions about 'why projects succeed'. The three major reasons that a project will succeed are:

  • User involvement.
  • Executive management support.
  • Clear statement of requirement.



The literature search cited in this article and academic readings commonly associated with work of this nature, did not return a single reference where the leadership capabilities of the project manager were singled out or juxtaposed as being the most prevalent contributing factors associated with the failure of management information systems development projects. There were however mention of the requirement for 'soft skills' when managing projects, and in the event that these were ineffectively managed, could consistently result in poor or failed projects (Phillips, Bothwell & Snead, 2002).

A definition of leadership within the context of project management is not an aspect frequently dealt with by academics or writers of project management handbooks. The only definition found within the ambit of this context, was formulated by Dinsmore (1999), and reads as follows:

"Leadership and management: the human factor and cultural environment that determine the ultimate effectiveness of the project management function".

The above is supported by Forsberg, Mooz & Cotterman (2000), who are of the opinion that, 'project management is increasingly influenced by human relations'. The best model for analysing leadership in a project management environment was developed by Hersey & Blanchard, (1979). In this model, four quadrants of leadership maturity are proposed, namely:

  • Quadrant 1: In this quadrant, the leadership style is task orientated behaviour, based on an autocratic approach.
  • Quadrant 2: In this quadrant, high task behaviour is still present, but the project manager tries to develop strong behavioural relationships.
  • Quadrant 3: In this quadrant, referent power becomes important and often regarded as pure relationship behaviour, where the project manager is more interested in gaining the respect of employees, than achieving objectives.
  • Quadrant 4: In this quadrant, employees are experienced in the job, confident about their own abilities, and trusted to handle the work themselves. The project manager demonstrates low task and low relationship behaviour, as employees mature.


Hodgetts (1968) lists the following as being the leadership techniques for project managers:

  • Human relations-orientated leadership techniques.
  • Making team members feel important.
  • Team education.
  • Provide credit to participation.
  • Make team members feel their contributions are important.
  • Make team members feel they play a vital role in the success of the project.
  • Win loyalty of team members.
  • Know team members in a personal capacity.
  • Understanding the needs of participants in the project.
  • Formal authority-orientated leadership techniques.
  • Emphasise cooperation.
  • Placing authority in functional statements.
  • Apply pressure.
  • Threaten to precipitate high-level interventions.
  • Emphasise importance of the organisation.
  • Empower employees with authority.
  • Control expenses.
  • Project manager must have the charter to direct the project.


In a study conducted by Dugan, Thamhain & Wilemon (19770, it was found that personal drive, motivation and leadership provide the strongest driving forces, and were important attributes of the project manager. These forces were listed as:

  • Desire for accomplishment.
  • Interest in project.
  • Work challenge.
  • Group acceptance.
  • Common objectives.
  • Experience in task management.
  • Providing proper direction.
  • Assistance in problem solving.
  • Team builder.
  • Effective communications.


According to Kerzner (2001), an effective management style might be characterised this way:

  • Clear project leadership and direction.
  • Assistance on problem solving.
  • Facilitating new members onto the team.
  • Ability to handle interpersonal conflict
  • Facilitating group decisions.
  • Capability to plan and elicit commitments.
  • Ability to communicate clearly.
  • Presentation of the team to higher management.
  • Ability to balance technical solutions against economic and human factors.


It is perhaps Gido & Clements (2003), who encapsulates the concept of leadership capabilities within the context of project management the best, when they define the concept as:

"…excellent communication skills, good interpersonal skills, the ability to handle stress, problem solving skills, and time management skills"

From this, according to Gido & Clements (2003), the analogy can be drawn that, 'leadership is getting things done through others; the project manager achieves results through the project team. Project leadership involves inspiring the people assigned to the project to work as a team to implement the plan and achieve the project objectives successfully'.


2004 © Samantha Copeland, Post Grad Dip PM (Cranefield). All rights reserved.


About the Author:

Samantha Copeland: 

Systems Integrator – Blue Chip Financial Institution – 10 yrs

Portfolio Manager – Telecommunication Company – 2 years

Program Manager – Global Project Rollouts – Mining Company – 2 yrs

PMO Manager – Petrochemical Company – 2yrs

PMP certified

Prince2 certified - Foundation and Practitioner

MComm – Majoring in Project Management


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