Leadership in Project Management

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Organizations in contemporary times encounter the challenges of resource constraints in the development and marketing of products and services. This aspect has given rise to the need to lead organizations as projects. The need to execute projects within fixed timelines with limited resources has compelled many organizations to hire experienced people in the field of project management to take over leadership positions within organizations. This move has evolved project management over the last five decades as an independent body of knowledge as opposed to being an additional skill required for organizational leadership professionals. The growing emphasis on the importance of skilled management of people to yield organizational success has also made organizations resort to developing their management approaches from the contexts of organizational leadership as opposed to organizational administration. The role of leadership in enhancing organizational performance is highly studied in organizations, thus leading to the emergence of a large scholarly body of knowledge discussing the effectiveness of various leadership styles. This paper draws from both the disciplines of project management and leadership to discuss the leadership topic of the need for leading organizations as projects.

Leadership event or situation

I have been working in a leading telecommunication organization. The organization has been experiencing the need to adopt changes in its production techniques coupled with the continuous development of products to meet technological changes. For instance, the cellphone unit has encountered rapid changes right from developing high performing products to the incorporation of new features. The company invests heavily in research and development to ensure that it remains more competitive in comparison to other organizations designing and supplying cellphones to the global market. Indeed, the company hardly sells one version of a cellphone for more than two years without adding additional features consistently with changes made to competing products in the market. Consequently, there has been a major concern on how to lead product development teams to ensure that the organization remains profitable amid the sporadic product changes from time to time.

In a bid to lower the degree of competition and the rate of development of new products by other corporations, the company has been considering venturing into business partnerships like acquisitions and mergers. However, this aspect faces some challenges since the organization will be forced to lose part of its intellectual property rights. Before taking such a risk, the leadership arm of an organization is exploring alternative strategies for enhancing the company’s success without venturing into business partnerships. This leadership situation can be resolved by leading the company’s cellphone development units as projects.

Leadership in project management

Leadership is important in all areas involving the use of people to achieve certain results through following particular processes. Kedharnath (2011) argues that leadership is important in every aspect of life, including politics, business, religion, and social networks, among other scenarios. A leader is a person who plans, controls direct, and guides other people towards the attainment of common mutual objectives and goals. Leadership occurs through the interaction of three main contexts, which include leaders, followers, and situations, prompting the deployment of leadership skills (Higgs, 2003). In the case of the leadership situations discussed above, a project provides a situation that brings together leaders and followers for the achievement of common mutual goals with the completion of the project within stipulated periods and limited monetary resources. The goal of a leader in such a setting is to facilitate the realization of the project concerns by enhancing the integration of various project facets to ensure that different tasks do not derail from the project execution plan. From the paradigms of the cellphone developments, a single project will involve developing a product and selling it within its life cycle time constraints.

In a bid to ensure effective leading of the cellphone development process as a project succeeds in enhancing the success of the company in the future, leadership must play its roles effectively. Scholarly findings on how various components of projects need to be controlled and planned evidence of the role of leadership in project management as planners and controllers. For instance, in the scope management, clear plans and means of controlling projects are required. Scope management encompasses “all the processes and procedures that are required in ensuring that a project incorporates the required set of tasks to complete successfully within the stipulated time constraints” (Kjorstad, 2010, p. 67). It constitutes scope initiation, scope planning, scope definition, scope verification, and change control of the scope (Tolbert, 2008). Scope planning helps in guiding the process of allocating time and monetary values to the project involving the development of new or new features for a cellphone.

The company must define the scope of individual project facets to ensure that similar events conducted by competitors do not overtake the process of developing new products or additional features. Scope definition refers to the subdivision of all major deliverables of the project into small, manageable sections. All these aspects require the contribution of leadership. Leaders analyze the skills bases of the work team members, designs, and allocates various job fragments based on the identified skills to ensure that people are engaged in tasks, which they are well acquitted with (Mumford, Campion & Morgeson, 2007). This move helps in the minimization of time wastages in learning new skills and work procedures. Consequently, attaining the concerns of a project as enumerated in the project scope definition requires the consideration of people’s skills and abilities. Leaders at the company must have the capacity to provide this information.

Leadership constitutes one of the most studied disciplines within an organization (Pearce & Conger, 2003). Daft (2005) posits, “There have been several attempts to provide description and analysis of the essential facets defining effective leadership” (p. 56). Although themes of leadership are ingrained in the works of Plato and Confucius, in the 20th century, scholarship in the discipline of leadership started with the introduction of the traits theory school of thought. Mumford et al. (2007) note that theoretical constructs in leadership studies initiated by researching certain inheritable attributes so that it becomes possible to differentiate people who can lead and those who cannot. This aspect marked the initiation of the trait theory in leadership approaches deployed by organizations. Trait leadership claims that certain personality defining different people are indicative of one’s leadership abilities.

Over the process of the evolution of the trait leadership theory, various skills and personality characteristics coupled with certain demographic aspects that may describe and predict one’s capability to lead have been defined and developed (Mumford et al., 2007). Such characteristics include extraversion and self-confidence. The trait theory raises the question of the possibility of determination of particular leadership attributes, which can help to resolve common challenges that are encountered in the field of project management. Benator and Thumann (2006) argue that project management encounters the challenges of inadequate resources, poor teamwork members’ commitment, insufficient planning, breakdown in communication, and the need to respond to changing goals and resources in the process of project execution.

The appreciation of the above problems has made project leaders resort to seeking various mechanisms of responding to the challenges coupled with mechanisms of obtaining the skill and knowledge that is required to address them. Struggles with this scholarly question led to the establishment of the PMBOK, viz. project management body of knowledge, which identifies nine major knowledge areas of concern in project management (Haughey, 2012). The knowledge areas include procurement management, scope management, cost management, risk management, integration management, time management, and communication management (Haughey, 2012). Applying the trait leadership theory in the context of leadership situation at my company or any other theory of leadership in project management requires the definition of the appropriate attributes that can enhance the leaders’ capacity to address these nine knowledge areas proactively and effectively.

The trait leadership theory may be deployed in the company that I work for in its leadership approaches to identify a set of characteristics that may enhance the performance of project leadership roles. Ng, Ang, and Chan (2008) identify these traits as “problem-solving skills, self-confidence, energy and initiative, perspective, communication, results in orientations, and negotiating abilities” (p. 735). Arguably, these personality traits are intrinsic, and they respond to the main challenges encountered in the project management should the company consider leading the cellphone development process as a project. The possession of the traits identified by Ng et al. (2008) is also consistent with the main concerns of project management enumerated by the PMBOK. However, problems emerge in the application of the leadership trait theory to describe the contribution of leadership in project leadership in any organization, including the company where I work. The theory suggests that leaders are born, but not made.

Studies by Kouzes (2007) and Lewis (2007) evidence that the capacity to lead a project can be enhanced by experience and sharing of knowledge developed through involvement in active roles in managing different projects in the past. This stand opposes the arguments developed by the trait leadership theory that leaders are born, but not created. According to Ng et al. (2008), the trait leadership theory suffers from reliability and validity since not all people possessing qualities of effective leadership identified by the theory make great leaders. This criticism poses an interrogative on the evidence of the capacity of the trait leadership theory to provide a reliable explanation for leadership roles in project management. According to Ng et al. (2008), many people who possess personality traits described by trait leadership theories as constituting essential requirements for effective leaders do not necessarily depict the essential traits for great leaders.

The challenges of using the trait leadership school of thought to explain organizational leadership led to the emergence of other leadership arguments such as situational and contingency leadership theories. Contingency leadership theories focus on particular factors defining an environment, which help in the determination of an effective leadership style. Gladwin, Kennelly, and Krause (1995) provided examples of contingency theories of leadership, like the theory of effective leadership advanced by Fielder, the strategic contingency theory, and the cognitive resource theory. For example, concerning the Fielder’s contingency theory, leadership style, which yields outstanding results in one environment, does not necessarily work in another. The theory considers various facets, which determine the capacity of a leader to take control of a given situation. Such facets encompass task control, the ability to enhance teamwork members’ relations, and the capacity to possess positioning power. Indeed, at my company, the capacity to control different tasks coupled with leading product development teams within acceptable time constraints for the product life cycle is incredibly important in ensuring that the company remains competitive in the telecommunication industry.

Leading the company as a project-based organization requires task-oriented leadership. The contingency theory holds that leaders can be broadly classified based on whether they are task or relationship-oriented. Task-oriented leaders perform best in work environments that are characterized by well-structured surroundings and good relationships between members and leaders. The leader also works and realizes results in settings where s/he has a strong or even weak power of positioning decisions (Gladwin et al., 1995). A project has the problem of the poor motivation of the team members. The contingency leadership theory can help in influencing the motivational skills of a leader at the company by providing explanations on how leaders can analyze various situations, which results in low motivation and commitment. This aspect helps in speeding up the process of new product development ahead of the competitors.

As opposed to the contingency leadership theory, situational leadership theories argue that leaders determine the most appropriate mechanisms of conducting leadership roles that are subject to the variables comprising the current situation within an organization. This school of thought is particularly important at my company since leadership situations keep on changing depending on emerging technological developments. In fact, in project management, situational leaders can help in the resolution of the challenges of occurrence of incidences of changing goals and processes in the due process of project execution as technical requirements of new cell phones emerge. The contribution of the situational leadership theory in explaining the roles of leadership in project management is also evident by appreciating that particular scenarios requiring the making of decisions require different forms of leadership styles (Dye, 2010). For instance, when leaders have experience and knowledge of the most effective ways of driving organizational success, the authoritarian leadership style is the most preferred (Higgs, 2003). Conversely, where employees or subjects, like in the case of the organization where I work, possess high skill levels in their areas of specializations, the deployment of the democratic form of leadership is the most appropriate in the effort to drive the success of the projects.

Goleman (1995) introduced the concept of emotional intelligence. Schaubroeck, Lam, and Cha (2007) discuss the concept of emotional intelligence as a success factor for effective leadership in an organization. This school of thought describes four main theoretical constructs, which constitute an emotionally intelligent leader, viz. “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management” (Schaubroeck et al., 2007, p. 1015). Researchers such as Kerr (2006) found a positive correlation between these four traits and leaders’ emotional intelligence, coupled with the success of an organization that the studied leaders were in charge of leading. The emotional intelligence school of thought suggests that emotional intelligence skills can be learned, observed, and developed by various leaders who want to resolve various problems emerging in an organization (Cote, Lopes, Salovey & Miners, 2010).

The competency school of thought developed through the competency model of leadership binds various theories of leadership. This way, the competency model provides a detailed and holistic approach to studying organizational leadership. Hoffman, Woehr, Maldagen-Youngjohn, and Lyons (2011) posit, “The competency school reflects the traits, behaviors, visionary, situational, and emotional intelligence facets of the other schools to present a robust description of a leader” (p. 354). Projects are complex. For instance, various components of project management approaches entail managing different project elements. Project procurement constitutes an integral part of the process of project management in which various services or products are brought through a myriad of external sources outside the employees’ base. These products and services are used to complete the stipulated tasks making up the project. In this complex process, at the company where I work, differing leadership skills and styles are required to run the organization effectively as project-based.

Using leadership to deal with problems while leading the organization as a project

Projects are constrained by time resources, financial resources, and the need to lead processes to meet the set goals and objectives. Another major challenge in the project execution processes is the challenge of orienting people to the desired outcomes. Projects involve bringing change. In their natural state, people are normally reluctant to embrace change. Dealing with this problem and many others requires various leadership skills.

Petty (2009) emphasizes that project leaders should utilize their strategic awareness skills to address various challenges encountered when leading project implementation processes. These skills are applied in practice by developing awareness with the strategic project environment. Focusing on strategic awareness to resolve challenges encountered during the project execution process implies that projects are subject to market dynamics. Such dynamics include time compressions, complexities in project execution strategies, and rising need for employing people with high knowledge levels to help in meeting the increasing requirements for projects to deliver high-quality outcomes. This aspect means that successful project leaders are those who execute their roles by setting their strategic priorities.

Effective project implementers execute tasks forming a project when clarity is provided on the mission and objective of the tasks allocated to them in the context of the realization of the objectives of the entire project. Strategic awareness offers a complete toolkit that may lack in projects (Petty, 2009). For instance, a project leader may recognize poor motivation as the main contributor to the failure of the workgroups’ members to meet the deadline for completion of their work. Through strategic awareness skills, the project leader would focus on the strategy of seeking ways of enhancing motivation through the deployment of other skills such as transactional and transformational leadership skills (Eom, 2005). Indeed, an effort to lead the company as a project-based organization encompasses an attempt to foster organizational transformation to address emerging challenges effectively.

Resolving a problem that may derail the capacity to complete a project within the required timelines requires a project leader to deploy skills that aid in the creation of high-performance work teams. This move requires the evaluation of situations in the project to determine the requisite leadership skills. Thus, situational and contingency leadership skills are crucial in the resolution of the problems experienced in projects.

Evidence of the applicability of situational leadership skills in the resolution of problems that ate encountered in projects rests on the platforms of changing leadership styles to suit changing project needs. Addressing the issue of situational dynamics, Pearce and Conger (2003) argue that there exists no single style of leadership, which would fit all situations since leadership is essentially grounded on the relevance of tasks requiring leadership. Hence, successful project leaders adapt their leadership styles and grow them to maturity, depending on the situation under which they execute their functions. Apart from the consideration of the tasks in the formulation of the necessary leadership style, situational leadership skills help project leaders to consider the characteristics of the people being led in the determination of an appropriate leadership style in an attempt to build high performing work teams.


In a bid to ensure that the company that I work for remains competitive in the marketplace, its cell phone unit needs reorganization to function as a project-based unit. Also, it should adopt the appropriate project leadership styles to ensure that it produces new products and additional features faster than other organizations. This move is important since, in the current technologically perceptive organizations, products’ lifecycles are short. Thus, an organization that is quick in the product development process is in a position to make adequate sales to cover its product development and marketing costs well before a given cell phone technology becomes obsolete. This kind of competence is required at my company before the consideration of other alternatives to enhancing competitive advantage, like forming business partnerships.


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