Abstract J.G. O'Donnell - A Study of the Relationships among Project Managers’ Leadership Practices, Project Complexity, and Project Success

A Study of the Relationships among Project Managers’ Leadership Practices, Project Complexity, and Project Success

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TITLE: A Study of the Relationships among Project Managers’ Leadership Practices, Project Complexity, and Project Success
 
RESEARCHER: James G. O’Donnell
College of Business
Argosy University (Seattle)
Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation: December 2010

OBJECTIVE
This study investigated the relationships among project managers’ leadership practices, project complexity, and project success metrics at six different U.S. organizations.

METHODOLOGY
A total of 243 survey instruments were distributed via email to project leaders in six different organizations through the assistance of organizational representatives and 105 were returned (43% response rate), along with 301 surveys from their constituents. The typical respondent was male (61%), in IT (21%), in an organization between 5-100 employees (50%), on a project team with 5-15 people (52%), project cost between $10,000 - $100,000 (33%), for between one and six months of duration (42%). Respondents completed the Leadership Practices Inventory. Project complexity was measured following Shenhar (2004) and internal and external components of project success adapted from work of Pinto and Slevin (1988). Internal reliabilities for the LPI were .88 Enable, .89 Challenge, .94 for Model and Encourage, and .95 Inspire.

KEY FINDINGS
Principle component analysis suggested a single factor accounting for 86 percent of the total variance of the five leadership practices. Similar analysis revealed a single factor for the project success scale.

A strong, positive and significant relationship was found between project manager leadership behaviors and project external success. Similarly a moderate, positive and significant relationship was found between project manager leadership behaviors and project internal success. Project complexity was shown to moderate the relationship between project manager leadership behaviors and internal success but not to moderate the relationship between leadership behaviors and external success. No significant mediation by internal success on the relationship between project leadership and external success was found.

The author concludes (p. 87):

Individuals charged with managing, directing, or championing projects or project work must be aware of the importance of providing leadership to achieve successful outcomes. Although the literature has stressed this importance in the past, in practice, the focus has been mostly on project leadership issues in large, more complex project environments. This study confirms that leadership is needed on large projects but also suggests that even in smaller, less complex situations leadership behaviors play a significant role in shaping external stakeholder perceptions of success. This appears to be commonly overlooked in practice today, as the emphasis for leading smaller projects is often on technical and/or work-focused competencies.

The observed strong relationship between leadership and success, across all project complexities, suggests that organizations select, train, and challenge their project leaders to model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge processes, enable others to act, and encourage the hearts of their peers, subordinates, customers, and managers. This may require integrating people and communication skills earlier and more directly into foundational project management training, professional certification criteria, and methodologies.

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