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Review On Delivering Project Leadership Management Essay

As Turner and Muller (2005, p.49) surprisingly noted, most literature on the factors of project success have failed to acknowledge the useful role as played by any project leader in the implementation of projects. Instead, these literatures have stressed that results are all that matters in project implementation (Juli 2010, p.70). Though the authors of these literatures might be having a valid argument, it should be noted that what these works have failed to point out is that project leaders are individuals responsible or accountable to these project results. However, on a positive note, it should be acknowledged that in recent days, conclusive and descriptive research approaches have come to appreciate the leadership factors as key important aspects of project-based organizing (Keegan and Hartog 2004, p.609). This is because as Cleland and Ireland (2004) pointed out, “project leaders are charged with delivering the benefits of their projects to the stakeholders and more specifically to their customers” (p. 234).

In trying to improve on this important project success factor, this paper sought to establish the critical roles carried out by project leaders in the implementation of various projects.


The paper reviewed a number of concepts related the leadership style concept. This included distinguishing between project leaders and project managers. In addition, components that make up the leadership style (purpose, motivation, direction and coaching) are identified and evaluated in this study. The author then identified various principles and essential characteristics that were associated good project leaders.

Having analyzed the above, the author reflected on the experience he had while participating in an IT project that was undertaken by Zuhair Fayze Partnership to the Royal Saudi Air Forces in 2001. In reflecting on this experience, the author wanted to establish and critique how the project leadership style had been implemented in this project based on the concepts reviewed in this literature.

1.2 Structure

In handling this topic, the paper was divided into various stages:

First, a comprehensive literature review on the topic initiated the study. The first concept involved the distinction between project manager and the project leader. This was succeeded by a discussion of the components that formed the leadership aspect.

A detailed discussion of the essential characteristics concluded the literature review. It should be noted that in reviewing the literature, the author concentrated on relevant and up-to-date secondary sources

Following the literature review was a description of the leadership style as observed at the case study. In this description, the author identified the findings of the study.

This was then succeeded by a detailed critique of the case study findings.

Towards the end, the author proposed one recommendation on the case study and highlighted the need for further research.

4.0 Literature review

The author considered the following themes as being relevant and therefore deserving to be clearly reviewed to aid users in understanding this important aspect of project management.

4.1 Project leader vs. project manager

The whole idea of success in project implementation can be achieved if the project members clearly distinguish these two categories of project stakeholders.

In trying to differentiate the two terms, Brain (2007) noted that despite project managers failing to control project resources, as their title denoted, they were automatically qualified to be in forms of leadership positions by the virtue of them controlling most project activities. On the other hand, project leaders inspired and motivated their team members to either develop some of their resources, to understand how their tasks fitted into the bigger pictures, to make effective contributions towards the project and to participate in adopting by re-adjusting and implementing right project decisions.

Ideally, on their part, Bennis and But (1985, pp. 20-39) mapped out the following as the key differences between project managers and project leaders:

Project managers

Project leader

Managers were tasked with solving routine problems.

Leaders were tasked with identifying the problems that were to be solved.

Managers were persons who could perform the right things.

Leaders were persons who went ahead to implement the right things.

Managers directed and controlled (pushed) their team members.

Leaders inspired and persuaded (pulled) their team members.

Managers were involved in controlling project activities.

Leaders empowered team members to translate project vision into a reality.

Operated on organizational knowledge and physical resources.

Operated on the ‘spiritual’ resources of an organization.

Table 1 depicting the differences that exist between project managers and project leaders

4.2 Components of leadership

It has been proposed that the leadership component is made of the following four sub-components: purpose, direction, motivation and coaching (Cleland & Ireland 2004, p.228). Based on these components, project leadership can be defined as “the art of influencing others to perform project work by providing purpose, direction, motivation, and coaching to individuals and the project team” (Cleland & Ireland 2004, p.228).

Leadership= purpose + direction + motivation + coaching

4.3 Principles of project leaders

Many principles have been suggested for best project leaders. Cleland and Ireland (2004) in their research summarised the following as some of the key principles associated with leadership for project leaders (pp.230-231):

Project leaders ought to have known themselves and in the process sought self-improvement.

Project leaders ought to be technically competent.

They ought to seek and quickly take responsibility for their actions.

They should set the example.

Likewise, they should clearly understand their team members and look out for their well-being by ensuring that they are kept informed on project issues, develop a sense of responsibility for them and build the teams capabilities.

Moreover, they should ensure that tasks are only within their team’s capabilities, are well understood and are well supervised. This will ensure project objectives are properly accomplished.

Ideally, in his recent study, Juli (2010) grouped the principles of project leadership into 5 main categories (p.71-75). These were:

Principle 1: Project leaders build visions based on project objectives.

Principle 2: They also nurture collaboration;

Principle 3: They promote performance through acting as role models, empowering their team, solving or handling project risks or problems, inviting productive or healthy competition and celebrating performance;

Principle 4: Project leaders cultivate learning by enforcing changes to correct any established mistakes;

Principle 5: Project leaders enforce achievement of results.

In assessing some of the best principles associated with leadership, Snowden and Boone (2007) stressed that when properly assessed, project leaders needed to apply sense on various situations, categorize the situations at hand and respond by basing their responses towards them (p.70). Drawing from this argument, the two held the perspective that project leaders needed to investigate several excellent options available to them to solve any critical scenarios affecting their projects. To the two scholars, they proposed the adoption of ‘good practices’ as opposed to ‘best practices’ for solving such critical scenarios.

4.4 Essential characteristics/qualities of good project leaders

Various traits have been articulated on who good project leaders were.

Cooke and Tate (2005) in their 36-hour project management course highlighted that project leaders were influential in getting the project work done as opposed to using delegated power (p.63). Moreover, the two scholars went ahead to assert that trust was also a fundamental, based on confidence, as were honesty and integrity (Cooke and Tate 2005, p.64).

From another perspective, Taylor (2006) identified and discussed the following as the best qualities of project leaders (pp. 65-78);

Project leaders should be honest

Project leaders should not hide project mistakes or problems from their customers. They should always be honest in revealing any project or system weaknesses to the customer for them to create their own credibility.

Project leaders should be competent

Rather than being experts in all project fields, project leaders should control the operations of the project, successfully negotiate for allocation of project resources and successfully work with customers in accomplishing the goals of the project (Taylor 2008, p.66).

The competency trait requires that project leaders to equip themselves with knowledge on project aim, goals, specifications, scope and any other contractual requirements.

Project leaders should be forward-looking

This trait requires project leaders to envision the end results.

Project leaders should challenge the project process

Though this trait is difficult to be achieved by most project leaders as a result of them operating under their strict company policies, it is noted that it won’t be unusual if a project leader circumvented a process if it is required to accomplish the goals of a particular project (Taylor 2006, p.69).

Project leaders can challenge their processes by searching for ‘hidden’ opportunities and taking risks or experimenting.

Project leaders should inspire a shared vision

It should be noted that all projects are created based on established visions. To successfully accomplish this vision, it is the role of the project leader to inspire team members into ‘owning, sharing’ and supporting these project visions to become a reality (Avolio et al. 2004, p.810-811).

To inspire a shared vision, project leaders should have clearly envisioned or seen the project end results before the initiation of the particular project. This will help in ensuring that the end results of their projects fulfil customer and corporate objectives.

Furthermore, though having a project vision is considered a worthy achievement, it will be of no use if the project leader failed to enlist other stakeholders to share the project vision with. As such, a project leader should conscientiously approach every project stakeholder at his/her own interest and skilfully communicate the vision in a manner that the stakeholders will have no alternative but to buy into the project vision. In achieving this, the project leader will have to embrace skill in communicating the vision, be knowledge on all project scope and show patience when ‘selling’ the project (Taylor 2006, p.70).

Project leaders should empower others to act

The project leader should constantly build collaborative team spirits by forging relationships amongst team members and encouraging and fostering their collaboration (Goleman 2000, p.79). This virtue restricts on intimidation and bullying but supports strongly the strengthening of team members to provide power for the project leader- an unstoppable combination for achieving project aim and goals (Taylor 2006, p.72).

Project leaders should model the way

As Taylor (2006, p.72) put it, “the great dichotomy of leadership is that it cannot be taught, but it can be learned”. This means that project leaders can read and study a lot on the topic, but they should clearly know that they can only establish themselves as good leaders if they can become examples. This can be achieved by understanding themselves and demonstrating their leadership qualities.

Besides setting example, project leaders are required to evaluate their results at various project stages and organize for small wins especially for projects that are too complex. As Goleman (2000, p.84) established from his research, individuals or project employees are bound to react positively if it is alluded that their efforts have produced positive results. From this perspective, project leaders are required to adopt various concepts (for instance the sliding planning window concept) to break the larger project into small manageable segments whose results will be regularly reviewed and early wins declared to motivate the team members into achieving the project goals.

Below is a depiction of the sliding planning window concept; which can be used to break the project into manageable phases whose results can be easily determined for declaring of early wins.



Task 3

Task 2

Task 1

Phase 1

Phase 5

Phase 4

Phase 3

Phase 2

Tasks taken down and split into 3 packages; which are later on measured to determine their early-wins

Phase 3 taken down and split into 3 tasks

Phase taken down and split into 3 tasks

Task 2


Work package 2

Work package 3

Work package 1

Figure 1 showing the planning sliding window concept

5.0 Project Case Study

In the IT project attended by the author, the presence of a leadership style was noticeable from the initial stages. Having signed the engagement contract in the second month after being awarded this ‘lucrative’ tender, the management teams of both companies (ZFP and RSAF) had organized for a project status meeting where it was decided that a project ‘steering’ committee was to be established within the next three days.

This ‘steering’ committee was to be composed by heads of departments from the two companies. This meant that RSAF had to contribute five members to this committee while ZFP had to contribute 7 members.

When the appointed twelve members (of the ‘steering’ committee) met for the first time in their next session, they unanimously endorsed the decision to appoint the Chief Systems Engineer (name withheld for privacy reasons) from ZFP as the project leader. He was therefore to act in two roles; as ‘steering’ committee member and as the project leader. The decision to unanimously endorse him arose from the fact that he had successfully steered six projects of such magnitude in his 12 year-period at the company. Other than his experience, members had felt that his assertiveness and team-work spirit were a plus in achieving the project vision.

The project leader, being on schedule, begun his work by appointing his deputy from the project team members. The two leaders were therefore tasked with directing, motivating and coaching team members to develop the FIS system.

The two leaders, having previously amassed great experience in system development, decided to adopt a ‘participative’ leadership style. This meant that they were to undertake software development roles in addition to their coordination and directing roles.

As a measure of asserting their authority, the two leaders created the following table to help them coordinate project activities.

Names of team members

Task Assigned

Estimated timeline

Progress/Status Report

By frequently updating the above table and setting examples for their subordinates to follow, the project leaders motivated their team members into developing a high-tech Facilities Information System that answered to all client needs.

6.0 A further discussion of my experience

6.1 The influence of project leader

As previously highlighted, the overall project leader had been chosen best on his skills and experience. And as such, he did not disappoint the trust that had been bestowed on him by his employers as he skilfully handled all the challenges that arose in the course of implementing this project. For example, he had successfully negotiated for additional funding from both managements; thus ensuring that team member activities were not interrupted or delayed in any way. Also, in one of his noticeable achievements, this leader had set the example for his subordinates by developing a unique component of the FIS module. He had assigned himself the task of developing (through coding) a communication module for the larger Facilities Information System. His final module had captured all RSAF’s requirements and had been praised at its testing stage for its ease of interaction. This action motivated other team members into working ‘smart’ to achieve best results. One year into the project, an advanced Facilities Information System that answered to RSAF’s specifications had been developed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders involved in the project.

6.2 Team members understanding of project leader’s expectations

The benefits associated with building of teams to implement project assignments can be best illustrated with reference to ZFP project. This is because team members had shown high levels of cooperation and commitment in all project stages. For instance, when they were requested by the project leader to extend their days of work by one day in order to cover the project workload, members had responded in the affirmative. In adhering to this directive, team members unanimously agreed to report to duty from Monday to Saturday, as opposed to Monday to Friday.

Likewise, team members had frequently updated their leader on the progress of their assignments. As such, the project leader was in a position to give detailed project status reports to all the stakeholders of this project.

6.3 Project leaders response to team members’ expectations

In rewarding team members for their cooperation and loyalty, the project leader had established a proactive defence for team member’s rights. This was evident when he took it upon himself to skilfully negotiate for their reward for having volunteered to work on Saturdays. Due to his bargaining power, team members were to be rewarded with a payment of $20 for each hour worked on Saturday. Other than the improved reward scheme, the project leader had successfully negotiated for a suitable working environment. His negotiation role had seen the project engineers given a luxurious floor in one of RSAF’s modern complexes to undertake their tasks from.

6.4 Commitment of team members

Tellingly, team members had evidenced their commitment in all project phases. For instance, by deciding to sacrifice their ‘resting’ time on Saturdays and reporting to duty, members had shown that they fully owned and supported this project. Moreover, members had developed and delivered high quality software units- that were later on merged to form the larger FIS. These, amongst others, were enough to evidence their commitment to this project.

6.6 Assessment of my observations

In the course of my study, I had comprehensively analyzed the themes that were associated with this important topic of project management. Amongst the themes which I had successfully covered in class and on my own review included the types of leadership and the characteristics of a good leader. In this project, I can confidently assert that the form of leadership style implemented was similar to transactional leadership. This is because, as Keegan and Hartog (2004) found out in their research, this form of leadership was based on the project leaders having a series of mutual exchanges with his subordinates (p.610). This was the case at ZFP project.

In addition, I learnt that a participative approach to any leadership style was a key aspect of achieving leadership roles. This was so because the project leader in undertaking software development roles had set a good example for his subordinates to adopt.

6.7 Enhancing project effectiveness

In this IT case study, I propose the following to be incorporated in future ZFP projects to enhance their effectiveness:

The management should regularly liaise with the project leader before making any decisions that are bound to affect the project. This need arose from the fact that the ‘steering’ committee had single-handedly set 10 months as the project timeframe. This decision had been arrived at despite the fact that they did not understand the workload that was to be involved in this project. Five months into the project, the project leader had come to discover that the project was to last for an estimated 15 months. This meant that its pre-determined budget had to be adjusted by a high of $ 20,000. This scenario had forced the project leader into persuading his team members to work an extra day (Saturday) of each week to reduce on the backlog. Despite the team members’ efforts, it should be reported that the project took 12 months for its conclusion.

7.0 Conclusion

In this case study, the author has carried out detailed review of the leadership style concepts. A review of the distinction between the project manager and the project leader led to the conclusion that the project leader acted at an advanced level as compared to the project manager. For instance, other than solving routine problems as was the norm with most project managers, project leaders went further to identify the problems to be solved.

Moreover, in this case study, the author has identified the following as some of the essential characteristics of good managers: honesty, competency, forward-looking and shared visions. In addition, the author identified motivating, directing and coaching as some of the sub-components that summed up the leadership component. Likewise, enforcement of the results to be achieved and the cultivation of a learning culture were some of the principles discussed in this case study.

Having discussed the above themes, the author summarises with a notion that project leaders have very important roles in the achievement of any project results and as such possession of the most, if not all, of the above discussed themes was the key to their success.

However, in this case study the author acknowledges that there is need for future research since this case study concentrated mainly on the complexity of the project task. Future research is therefore needed to examine the nature and the uncertainty associated with the project task.

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