Project Management Institute

The program manager's leadership competence and program success

a qualitative study

Dr. Ralf Müller, Umeå School of Business and Norwegian School of Management BI;

Professor J. Rodney Turner, Univ Lille Nord de France, F-59000 Lille; LSMRC ; SKEMA Business School


Growth in the use of programs to achieve organizational strategy has led to the need to understand the leadership competences of effective program managers. To investigate the relationship between a program manager's leadership competences and program success, a sequential mixed method approach under a realism paradigm is used. This paper presents the first-stage qualitative study, using an inductive interview-based approach with 12 program managers from seven industries in China, Sweden, and The Netherlands. The results from the qualitative study are used to validate the research model developed on the basis of previous research and develop the constructs for the concepts “program context” and “program success” in the research model for the next stage, a quantitative study. Furthermore, this study finds that program managers’ leadership styles are contingent on program context to achieve program success, and program success focuses more on program business results, stakeholder satisfaction, and long-term results.

Key words: leadership competence, program success, program context


Program, as an effective project governance mechanism, provides a bridge between projects and organizational strategy. It is now widely used by a large number of organizations. Maylor, Brady, Cooke-Davis, & Hodgson (2006) termed this emergent tendency as “programmification.” With program becoming popular, the challenge of managing this complex endeavor is put forward for program managers. Is program just a collection of projects? Is program management just an advanced form of project management? Is a program manager just an expert project manager? Partington, Pellegrinelli, & Young (2005) and Pellegrinelli (2002, 2008) answer these questions by saying NO because they think program managers require “a subtle blend of interpersonal skills and personal credibility, a deep understanding of the political dynamics of the formal and informal networks that form the organizational context, and a great knowledge of the broader strategic context” (Partington Pellegrinelli, & Young, 2005, pp.87), whereas project managers tend to focus on delivering tactical deliverables in an efficient way (Thiry, 2004).

So, which skills should program managers have to fulfill these requirements? Partington, Pellegrinelli, & Young (2005) and Pellegrinelli (2008) developed a program management competence framework for the role of program manager. However, competence is a broad concept that consists of knowledge, skills, personal traits, and demonstrable performance (Boyatzis, 1982, Crawford, 2005). Turner and Müller (2006) investigated the impact of project managers’ leadership styles on project success and found that project managers’ leadership styles reflect their leadership competences and have a positive relationship with project success in different types of projects. This paper takes these research studies to the level of program management. To assess the validity of Turner and Müller's (2006) findings at a program manager level, we pose the following research question:

Do the program manager's competences, especially his or her leadership style have a positive effect on program success and is this effect influenced by program context?

The unit of analysis is program managers’ leadership competences.

This paper summarizes the work and results of an inductive qualitative study, which will be followed by a quantitative study using a web-based questionnaire. The results from the qualitative study will contribute to the questionnaire design for the subsequent quantitative study.

The next section of this paper recalls the previous research on program management competences and leadership competences; then we describe our research methodology in the qualitative study. We also describe our qualitative study results and discuss the implications; finally, we consider the next step for the overall research project.

Research Into Program Managers’ Leadership Competences

This section reviews the literature on program management competences, leadership competences, and project manager's leadership competences.

The importance of adopting program management to achieve planned benefits and strategic goals has come to a consensus in both academic and practitioner circles (Partington, 2000, Murray-Webster & Thiry, 2000, Lycett, Rassau, & Danson, 2004, PMI®, 2006, OGC, 2007). The argument focuses on whether the position of program managers can be fulfilled by experienced project managers. The previous research results showed that it is not appropriate (Partington, Pellegrinelli, & Young, 2005, Pellegrinelli, 2002, 2008, Blomquist & Müller, 2006, Thiry, 2002, 2004), because project managers and program managers have different competence profiles. Project managers usually focus on the short-term tactical deliverables and are concerned with project performance indicators, like time, cost, and functionality. Program managers focus on long-term business results and are concerned with benefits realization, strategy achievement, and value creation. These differences lead to different competence requirements.

Partington, Pellegrinelli, & Young (2005) and Pellegrinelli (2008) developed a comprehensive program management competence framework, which consists of 17 attributes of program management work being categorized into three groups of relationships, and each attribute is conceived at four levels in a hierarchy of competence. This framework builds on the results of embedded multiple case studies and in-depth interviews using the ethnography research method. As a result, this competence framework is greatly acknowledged by both program management practitioners and academics in this area. Moreover, it is accepted by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and embodied in Managing Successful Programmes (OGC, 2007).

Competence is a broad concept. It constitutes people's knowledge, skills, core personality characteristics, and demonstrable performance (Boyatzis, 1982, Crawford, 2005). In Partington, Pellegrinelli, & Young's program management framework (2005), the authors classified program management work into 17 attributes. In addition, they classified levels of competences for accomplishing each of these program management attributes at 4 levels; however, they did not identify particular competence groups, such as leadership competence.

Turner and Müller (2005) summarized six schools of leadership chronologically: trait school, behavior school, contingency school, visionary and charismatic school, emotional intelligence school, and competence school. Trait school focuses on the leadership traits people are born with, such as their physical appearance, capabilities, and personalities. Behavior school emphasizes the styles adopted by leaders for their particular leadership tasks and in which the leadership styles and behaviors can be learned. Contingency school is concerned with the appropriateness of different leadership styles in different leadership situations. Visionary and charismatic school focuses on organizational change. Emotional intelligence school focuses on self management and interaction management. Competence school encompasses all the earlier schools. Competence means a specific combination of knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics. The representatives of competence school are Dulewicz and Higgs (2003, 2005).

Dulewicz and Higgs (2003, 2005) did a series of research studies on individual leadership competences. They designed the leadership dimensions questionnaire (LDQ) to capture the leadership competence profiles of effective leaders. In the LDQ, leadership competence is constructed by 15 dimensions grouped into intellectual competences (IQ, including 3 dimensions), managerial competences (MQ, including 5 dimensions), and emotional competences (EQ, including 7 dimensions) (see Table 5). Furthermore, the survey using the LDQ with a sample size of more than 1000 respondents helped them to identify three leadership styles for organizational change projects: engaging, involving, and goal-oriented. In addition, they found that these three types of leadership styles are associated with different organizational contexts. Engaging leadership style fits for the transformational context with radical changes in the organization; involving leadership style is appropriate for the transactional organizational context with significant but not radical changes; and goal-oriented leadership style is suitable for relatively stable context that delivers clearly understood results.

LDQ was developed from research with general managers and senior officers. Although the LDQ was tested and has proved its validity in particular industries and public sectors, like in the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom (Young & Dulewicz, 2006), it was not specifically developed or used for project management–related roles, and researchers thought that the leadership competence profiles of general line managers were different from those of project managers (Keegan & den Hartog, 2004, Turner, Müller, & Dulewicz, 2009). Turner and Müller (2006) were among the first to use LDQ to assess project managers’ leadership competences.

Turner and Müller (2005) and Jugdev and Müller (2005) reviewed literature on project success and they found that project managers play an important role in achieving project success and are key success factors in project management. Then, Turner & Müller (2006) and Müller & Turner (2007, 2009) researched how project managers, through their leadership competences, lead their project team to achieve project success. Their research results showed that a project manager's leadership style is contingent on project context; if they mesh with each other, it will greatly increase the chance of achieving project success.

As indicated before, program is not just a collection of projects. The competence requirement for program managers is significantly different from that for project managers. So, how do program managers’ leadership competences contribute to program success? Is there any condition or organizational contextual factors for this effect to happen? These are still pending questions. Research on program management competence framework (Partington, Pellegrinelli, & Young, 2005) does not specify the leadership competence. LDQ (Dulewicz & Higgs, 2003) is not especially developed for the assessment of leadership competences in project management. Project manager's leadership style research (Turner & Müller, 2006) explored project manager's leadership competences; however, the results of this might not be transferable to program managers. From these results, a knowledge gap arises and this is shown in Figure 1, as the “program manager's leadership competences” being the bridge among the “program management competence,” “leadership competence,” and “project manager's leadership competences.” Shao, Turner, & Müller (2009) hypothesized on their preliminary research model on the relationship between the program manager's leadership competences and program success, and suggested that there is a moderation effect by program context (see Figure 2). Their model provides a way to fill the knowledge gap in program management leadership competences, but this model has not been tested empirically. So, in this paper, the authors conduct a first inductive qualitative study to test the model and build constructs for the concepts within the model.

Knowledge gap

Figure 1: Knowledge gap.

Research model on program management leadership competences and program success

Figure 2: Research model on program management leadership competences and program success.

Research Methodology

This section describes the research methods. We adopted a realism perspective, using a sequential multi-method approach, starting with an inductive interview-based qualitative study, which is presented in this paper. The aim of the qualitative study is to:

  1. Test the validity of the research model qualitatively, that is, examining whether there is a positive relationship between the program manager's leadership competences and program success and whether program context plays a role in this relationship.
  2. Explore the nature of program management and find constructs and measurement scales for the concepts of program success and program context in the research model (see Figure 2).

Development of Data Collection Instrument

We need to operationalize the constructs of the variables in the research model, which are the program manager's leadership competences, program context, and program success. For “program manager's leadership competences,” LDQ (Dulewicz & Higgs, 2003) has 189 questions to assess an individual's leadership competence and this instrument was validated for project management by Turner & Müller (2006). So, we can use LDQ to assess the program manager's leadership competences. However, for the variables of “program context” and “program success,” there are no proven instruments to assess them, so we need to develop their constructs through this qualitative study. We used a semistructured interview method to collect data for developing constructs for these two variables. Five groups of subjects were included in the interview outline:

  1. The natures of the companies and the natures of the programs the interviewees last managed
  2. Program success criteria
  3. Program success factors and program managers’ competences, especially their leadership competences
  4. Program context, mainly including its definition and impacts on program management practice
  5. Other comments from program managers related to program success, program context, and program managers’ competences.

The first group of subjects aims to collect information on programs and their parent organizations so we can get the whole picture about programs, such as their types, scales, life-cycle stages, industrial areas, and so forth. The second group of questions relates to program managers’ judgments on program success. Are program success criteria the same as those for project success criteria in real life? If no, what is the difference? Through this group of questions, the researchers tried to build the constructs for program success together with the results from the previous success research studies. The third group of questions investigates whether program managers’ leadership competences are one of the success factors in programs. If the answers are positive, the research model can be validated. The fourth group of questions explores the definition and elements of the concept of program context and their impact on program management work. The last group of questions gives the interviewees the opportunity to add anything else they consider relevant to the research subject.


The sampling method used for the interviews is theoretical sampling This means the interviewees should be the people who have the best knowledge of the research subject and the number of interviews determined by theoretical saturation, which means when the answers from interviewees no longer contribute to generate new concepts or categories, the sampling process can be stopped (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, cited in Bryman & Bell, 2007).

To collect a variety of data and get integral information, the targeted interviewees were program managers from various industries and selected from our networks of contacts.

Data Collection

Like many researchers conducting multi-organization studies, involving interviews with high-level managers, our ideal research plan had to be compromised with practical information or individual availability, and some adjustments were made during the research execution. The main change to our original plan occurred in three companies. Three interviewees we accessed were not pure program managers: one was a mega-project manager, one was an assistant to a program manager, and the last one was the director of the project management office (PMO) in the company. Although they were not program managers, we still retained them as our interviewees because they were involved in their companies’ program management work to a large extent and were familiar with the program managers in their organizations.

With the approval of the interviewees, all the interviews were tape recorded during the process. Transcriptions were made immediately after the interviews and sent back to the interviewees for validation.

In the end, we conducted 12 semi-structured interviews in 7 companies in China, Sweden, and The Netherlands in the fields of engineering, manufacturing, consulting, IT, retail, finance, and defense. The interviews are summarized in Appendix 1.

Data Analysis Method

One of the aims of the interviews is to generate constructs and measurement scales for the concepts of program context and program success in the research model. In the beginning, we had very little preconceptions about program context and program success. For program context, Pellegrinelli (2002) and Pellegrinelli, Partington, Hemingway, Mohdzain, & Shah (2007) thought that the so-called program context was a dynamic cultural, political, and business environment in which the program operates. It is a general definition for this concept and cannot be used to measure the concept. This is also the case with the concept “program success.” The literature on success in project management focuses mainly on project success, like Shenhar, Dvir, & Levy (1997), Shenhar & Wideman (2000), and Turner & Müller (2006). Given the distinctiveness between program and project, we think there may be some differences in the judgment of program success, so we need to reflect on the practical lives of program managers to build constructs for the concepts, program context, and program success.

We used inductive data display and analysis techniques to analyze the interview data. This was done using the process of data reduction, data display, and conclusion drawing and verification (Miles & Huberman, 1994).

For this iterative process, we immediately coded our raw data when we finished our first interview. We disaggregated the raw data into conceptual units and provided them with labels. For example, when we asked the first interviewee to define the key success factors for her program, she gave us the following statement:

“…understand strategy, because one of the main things the program has to do is to define the candidate projects in the program, link the projects to the strategy. I think it is the number one, understand the strategy and choose the appropriate projects, and link things together, balance the strategy, find the combination between the strategy and operations.”

By analyzing her words, we interpreted them to mean that the program should align with the organizational strategy in order to achieve success. So, we assigned a label for this paragraph, “strategy alignment” and we did similar coding for the rest of the data she provided in order to generate other codes.

For the second interview, we used the same method to generate codes from the interviewee's words, and then we compared the codes from these two interviews to identify whether there were some codes with similar connotations that could be placed into broader, related groups or categories or whether new codes emerged. For example, on the subject of key success factors, the second interviewee said:

“…keep in line with the approach and strategy in our company, that's why we try not to make the process too long, if it is long, it is easily to deviate from the strategy.”

The sentence from the second interviewee also stresses the importance of aligning program process with organizational strategy, so we used the code “strategy alignment,” generated from the first interview, to cover the meaning of this sentence. Consequently, we thought a category could be built to include the codes related to strategy, so we decided to continue using the name “strategy alignment” for this category.

In addition, new aspects came up in the second interview; for example, the interviewee talked about the program process that should not be ignored, and he said:

“… make the process short and very clearly defined, create very good milestones, program tasks should be defined very detailed when program set up.”

Program process was not mentioned by the first interviewee, so it is a new code generated from the second interviewee; hence, we labeled it as “process.” We labeled the code “process,” because the first interviewee was the program manager of a business change program, whereas the second interviewee was the program manager of an engineering program. The different natures of these programs determined the different concerns about the programs.

The same analytical procedure was used for all the following interviews. When we were doing the analysis of our twelfth interview, we found that all the codes in the twelfth interview could be traced back to the codes or categories generated in the previous interviews. This is when we decided to stop our interviews.

We reviewed our codes and categories to check whether they correctly explained the concepts of program context and program success in our research model and whether we could build constructs and measurement scales for the two concepts based on these codes and categories for the future quantitative study. When these questions could not be answered, we went back to our raw data, recoded them, and repeated the process until we got a satisfactory answer.

The results from the data analysis are presented in the next section.

Analysis and Results

This section presents the results from the data analysis of the qualitative study and is broken down into five parts: program context, program success criteria, program success factors, program manager's leadership competences, and program manager's leadership style.

Program Context

Based mainly on our interview data analysis, together with the research results listed in Table 1, we summarized three aspects in program context. In each aspect, there are several sub-aspects and some sub-aspects have their constitutional components. These sub-aspects and their components form the basis to further develop constructs for the concept “program context” in the research model (see Figure 2).

Table 1: Program context constructs.

Concept Aspects Sub-aspects Components Source
Program context Program type Application area Engineering Turner & Müller, 2006
Organizational change
Configuration Portfolio Pellegrinelli, 1997
Change-driven Vision-led OGC, 2007
Size Small Interview
Timeline Temporary PMI®, 2006
Life cycle stage Pre-program setup PMI®, 2006
Program setup
Establishing a program management and technical infrastructure
Delivering the incremental benefits
Closing the program
Scope of Parent organization Interview
program context Outside parent organization
Nature of program context Stability Interview
Adaptability (interaction)

Below we will explain the sub-aspects and their components (see Table 1), which were generated from the interviews. First is the “program size” sub-aspect under “program type” aspect; second is the “scope of the program context” aspect; and, third is the “nature of the program context” aspect.

Program Size

In “program size,” sub-aspect programs are categorized as “small,” “medium,” and “large.” When we were conducting our interviews, we asked our interviewees how they judged program size and they gave us their criteria and magnitudes. For example, if they stated that budget is a criterion to judging program size, they were also asked about the threshold in terms of money spent for each category, which means that how much money assigned to each program's budget determines whether the program is considered small, medium, or large. In the beginning, the intention of data collection was to collect a rich variety of information and opinions from the practitioners so as not to miss or leave out information, so the interviewees came from various industries. We found that the criteria sometimes were the same in different industries, but the thresholds changed dramatically, depending on the nature of industries. For example, there was an interviewee from a tobacco manufacturing company and in his company, budget was used to judge program size. If the budget was lower than $1 million, it was considered a small program; if it was higher than $3 million, it was considered a large program; and, if it was between $1 million and $3 million, it was considered a medium one. On the other hand, an interviewee from an oil and gas company that also used budget as the criterion for judging program size, had extremely different thresholds. When the budget was lower than $500 million, the program was considered small; when it was higher than $2 billion, it was considered a large program; and a medium-sized program had a budget between these two amounts. Thus, we cannot compare the criteria thresholds among our interview data. What we did do was rely on our interviewees’ opinions to determine their program sizes. If the interviewee claimed his or her program was a large program in the company, then we categorized that program as a large program. Table 2 shows the criteria used by our interviewees to judge program size.

Table 2: Criteria used by interviewees to rate the program size.

Criteria Budget Time No. of People Involved Complexity Impact

Scope of the Program Context

The second sub-aspect is the aspect of “scope of the program context.” We had no predefinition about program context, so we asked the interviewees how they defined program context and what constituted program context in their practical lives. We pre-classified program context into two groups; the parent organization of the program and the environment outside the parent organization. Interviewees supported our grouping for program context and provided examples for it (e.g., “the program context within the parent organization” contains top management or the steering committee of the company, the other programs and projects in the company, the functional departments in the company, and so forth; “the environment outside the parent organization” contains stakeholders of the program, outside networks, the public, and so forth.) These results helped us to understand the constitution of the program context.

Nature of the Program Context

The third sub-aspect is the aspect of “nature of the program context.” We asked our interviewees how program context influences their programs. We used inductive coding to disaggregate data, as described in the data analysis method section and we identified the following four categories:

  • Stability of the program context
  • Support from the program context
  • Harmony of the program context
  • Program adaptability to the program context; that is, the interaction between the program and program context

We analyzed these four categories and thought that they illuminated the nature of program context. The stability of the program context contains the stability of the organizational structure, policy, process, and the stability of the outside political and economic environments and the relationship with program stakeholders. The support from the program context contains top management support, resource availability for the program, and organizational learning in the parent organizations. The harmony of the program context requires a good relationship with top management, functional departments, and stakeholders.

These results provided us with the direction to develop the constructs and measurement scales for the concept of program context. For example, we can measure how supportive the program context is and this will greatly contribute to the subsequent questionnaire design in the quantitative study in the next phase.

Program Success Criteria

We used the coding method described in the data analysis method section and developed the codes on program success criteria from our raw data. For example, the codes we developed from the first interviewee were: customer satisfaction, time, budget, and milestone completeness. We analyzed these codes, based on Shenhar, Dvir, & Levy (1997), Shenhar & Wideman (2000) and Turner and Müller's (2006) project success criteria model, and considering the distinctiveness of the programs, we grouped these codes into six categories:

  • Business success
  • Stakeholder satisfaction
  • Preparation for the future
  • Program efficiency
  • Social effects
  • Impact on program team

Table 3 shows these categories, their included codes, and counted how many times these codes (within each category) were mentioned by interviewees. Sometimes several codes mentioned by an interviewee belonged to one category, so the times the codes were mentioned by the interviewees can be more than the number of interviewees and this is the reason why, in Table 3, “Times mentioned by interviewees” can be 14, greater than the number of interviewees, which was 12.

Table 3: Program success criteria.

Category Code Times Mentioned by Interviewees
Business success Increase sales, value creation, benefits realization, follow-up mission, reputation, brand, strategy achievement 14
Stakeholder satisfaction Customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, customer resource, stakeholder satisfaction, sponsor satisfaction 10
Preparation for the future Change the way of doing business, build standard, new technology, talents, influence in the specific industry 8
Program efficiency Time, cost, functionality 6
Social effects Public, citizens, environment, science-technology development, socioeconomic benefits 5
Program team Team building, good interaction within program 4

The interview data showed that program success focused more on business results, stakeholder satisfaction, and the long-term results, whereas project success was more concerned about short-term tactical deliverables with the performance efficiency indicators, like time, cost, and quality.

In addition, sometimes programs not only related to their companies’ benefits but also to a person's livelihood or scientific development. For example, one of our interviewees comes from an urban development program that is building large infrastructures for the public. He stated that the socioeconomic benefit was one of the most important success criteria in the program. Another interviewee, the program manager of a spaceship research and development program in the defense department of the government, states that promoting the development of science and technology in the aerospace industry is one of the most important success criteria in the program. Thus, the social effect was concerned with the success criterion for the program, which differed from the project success criteria.

Program Success Factors

We asked our interviewees to describe the key success factors in their programs. We used similar coding for success factors as we used for success criteria, then we categorized these codes. For example, for the first interviewee, we grouped the codes into four categories: program manager, strategy alignment, process, and plan. In the end, we formed 11 categories (Table 4), and then calculated how many interviewees mentioned each category.

Table 4: Number of times each category was mentioned by interviewees.

Program Success Categories Number of Interviewees Who Mentioned this Category
Program manager 9
Stakeholder involvement 6
Networks/collaboration 3
Strategy alignment 5
Process 4
Plan 3
Team 3
Resources 2
Culture 1
Policy 1
Goal 1

The data showed that program manager was the most important success factor in program management, which supported our research model. Furthermore, based on our “program context” results, we thought that the categories “stakeholder involvement” and “networks/collaboration” belonged with the concept “program context” category. The program context as a success factor was mentioned by 9 interviewees and was also one of the most important success factors. This result also supported our research model (see Figure 2).

Program Manager's Leadership Competences

Now that we knew that the program manager was a key success factor in program management, we needed to learn which leadership competences were important for program managers. In our interviews, we used 15 leadership competence dimensions (LDQ, Dulewicz & Higgs, 2003) to ask the program managers to rate the importance of each leadership competence from low to high by giving a score from 1 to 3, as used by Turner and Müller (2006) (see Table 5). The first column in Table 5 is the 15 leadership competences, categorized into 3 groups: intellectual competences (IQ), managerial competences (MQ), and emotional competences (EQ). In the first column in Table 5, the number 1-12 represents 12 interviewees. Corresponding to each interviewee and each leadership competence is the score the interviewee rated as the most important for each competence. The first 4 interviewees didn't give scores for the 15 leadership competences, because in the early phase of our interviews, we didn't include the 15 leadership competences for our interviewees to do the ratings. Our research underwent a continuous revision and improvement process.

Table 5: Ratings of leadership competences.


As shown in Table 5, the competences “strategic perspective,” “engaging communication,” and “intuitiveness” received the highest average score. So, in our sample, program managers rated these three leadership competences as the most important competences needed for the role of program manager.

Turner and Müller (2006) also used LDQ when they did their research on project managers’ leadership competences. They asked managers of project managers to rate project managers’ leadership competences. In Table 6 we compared project managers’ leadership competences in terms of IQ, MQ, and EQ, as identified by Turner and Müller (2006), and the program managers’ leadership competences generated from our interview results.

Table 6: Comparison of leadership competences between program manager and project manager.

Leadership competences Project Manager Program Manager
Intellectual competences (IQ) 2.1 2.8
Managerial competences (MQ) 2.4 2.6
Emotional competences (EQ) 2.4 2.5

We found that for each group of leadership competences, the program managers’ rating was higher than the project managers', especially for IQ. We interpreted this result to mean that program managers usually manage more complex endeavors than project managers so they need to have higher levels of leadership competences than project managers, in any aspect, especially in IQ.

Program Manager's Leadership Style

During our interviews, we asked the interviewees to give us some keywords about their leadership styles. The most frequently used keywords were: involving, supportive, work together, give people responsibility, and give authority. They told us that, basically, they were democratic leaders, but when their programs were: a) approaching a critical point in time and a quick decision needed to be made, or b) when coming to the end of a stage and they needed to review the previous stage and authorize the next stage, they became more authoritative. The program managers’ leadership styles seemed to be contingent on the program situation, or in other words, the program context. The results supported the research model that program context plays a role in program managers’ leadership competences.

However, three interviewees insisted that their leadership styles were relatively stable, and used the “authoritative” style because that was their personality, which is not easy to change no matter what the program context is. So, the research model about program context's role as a moderating effect needs to be tested by the upcoming quantitative study.

These are the results from the qualitative study.


In this qualitative study, we interviewed 12 program managers from seven industries in China, Sweden, and The Netherlands to explore the relationship between program manager's leadership competences and program success, and how program context plays a role in this relationship. We used an inductive approach to analyze our interview data and can now answer our research questions:

  • The research model is partly validated, that is, there are indications for a positive relationship between the program manager's leadership competences and program success, and program context appears to play a role in this relationship.
  • Constructs for the concepts of program context and program success in the research model are built.

Furthermore, we got the following results:

  • Program success is more associated with business results, stakeholder satisfaction, and the long-term results; in addition to these three aspects, programs may also address the social benefits.
  • Program managers and program context are key success factors in program management.
  • Program managers’ leadership styles are contingent on program context.

Practical Implications

The practical implications of the results are:

  • Program managers should focus on business results, stakeholder satisfaction, and the long-term results of their programs. Some programs should also take social effects into consideration.
  • Program managers should understand the particular context of their programs and match their leadership styles to the program contexts.
  • Top management should take into consideration an individual's leadership competence profile and program contextual factors when assigning program managers to the programs in their organizations.

Theoretical Implications

Leadership contingency school emphasizes that leaders should match their leadership style to their particular situations. Different contexts require different leadership styles.

The results of the qualitative study verify the leadership contingency theory. In our interviews, program managers stated that they adopted different leadership styles when their program context changed.

Strength, Weakness, and Suggestions for Future Study

This study's strength is collecting data from various industries and countries and to cover rich information to develop the constructs for the un-predefined concepts, “program context” and “program success.” Based on these constructs, the subsequent quantitative study can be designed and conducted.

However, this study is based on interviews with a small sample size and the results cannot be generalized. A future worldwide study, using a large sample size, is needed to test these results.

Authors contact details

Jingting Shao
Univ Lille Nord de France, F-59000 Lille; LSMRC ;
SKEMA Business School
Avenue Willy Brandt
59777 Euralille
Tel:          +33642665667
E-mail:       [email protected]
Professor J. Rodney Turner
Univ Lille Nord de France, F-59000 Lille; LSMRC ;
SKEMA Business School
Avenue Willy Brandt
59777 Euralille
Tel:           +33-3-20 21 59 72
Fax: +33-3-20 21 59 74
E-mail: [email protected]
Dr Ralf Müller
Umeå School of Business
Norwegian School of Management BI
Sjöbogatan 10
212 28 Malmö
Tel:            +46-(0)40-68-91-312
E-mail:       [email protected]

Corresponding author

Jingting Shao
Univ Lille Nord de France, F-59000 Lille; LSMRC ;
SKEMA Business School
Avenue Willy Brandt
59777 Euralille
Tel:           +33642665667
E-mail:       [email protected]


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Appendix 1: Interview Data Overview

No. Title of interviewee Nature of Company Country Nature of Work in the Company Nature of Program Work No. of Projects in the Program No. of People Involved in the Program Duration of the Program Size of the Program
1 Program manager Retail company Sweden Create and sell household items; e.g., furniture, decorations IT infrastructure, business change 17 Approximately 250 3 years Medium
2 Program manager Manufacturer of integrated packing and distribution The Netherlands Produce, package, and distribute cigarettes Business improvement 3 3-10 people for each project 6 months- 3 years Large
3 Mega-project manager Design, construction, and consultancy to the oil and gas industry The Netherlands Provide design, consultancy, and construction for oil and gas production projects Construction 4 Nearly 2000 4-5 years Large
4 Program manager Business and management consultancy to construction projects The Netherlands Provide business and management consultancy to infrastructure projects, urban development projects, and environmental housing projects Research program 2 20 partners, 18 supervisors on the board of each organization 2 years Large
5 Program manager Construction Many Many 10 years Large
6 Program manager Research program 7-8 20-25 3 years Medium
7 Program manager Research & development and production base for spacecraft China R&D in spacecraft system and subsystem, production, environmental testing, ground equipment, and related service and support Spacecraft R&D and production 3 years Large
8 Deputy program manager Spacecraft R&D and production 3 years Large
9 Assistant to program Spacecraft R&D and production 3 years Large
10 Program manager Satellite R&D and production Medium
11 Program manager Trading company China Financial service and mineral industry Financial service design 5 200 7 years Large
12 Manager of project management office IT company China IT system integration and R&D in software IT system integration 3 70-80 9 months Large
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