Influence methods expected by project team members and choosing a leadership model for project success
Many significant research studies on leadership were conducted over the last 100 years. However, few studies exist on the style of leadership that should prevail in project management. What are the expectations of project team members? What are the leadership models that a project manager should use to ensure the success of a project?
In this world of globalization, organizations require complex structure, and specialized individuals assigned to specific projects. Organizational culture, processes, and strategic direction influence the behavior of individuals.
Our analysis demonstrates links between results of studies regarding the method of influences of project managers, the perception of team members and four modern models of leadership. The objective is to determine if those leadership theories could be successfully applied in a matrix organization using project management. Furthermore, we concluded that the leadership style of project managers has to be adapted to a macrosituational context taking into account the maturity of the organization to manage projects.
By methods of influence, we intend here the means, other than authority, by which project managers can influence their project team members in order to successfully implement a project. To exercise appropriate influence, it is intended for the project manager to show initiative or to provide examples to maneuver directly or indirectly the conduct or the attitudes of others and this, in a suitable manner (i.e., without illegitimate coercion).
When a project manager does not have the hierarchical power or authority over the members of his project team, he or she must exercise his influence through an informal means: leadership. In essence, leadership is a form of influence that team members give or voluntary grant to the project manager. Therefore, as project manager, how do we exert our leadership in order to have the most influence on the project team?
From two studies on influence styles of project managers: Thamhain and Gemmill and Hodgetts, Dean Sotiriou and Dennis Wittmer, the authors of an article on perception of team members and project managers determined the following major factors that influence the behavior of team members: work challenge, leader's professional integrity, the expertise of the project manager and the authority of the project manager. Other less important factors identified in the study were assignment in similar future work, salary, promotion, and friendship. For our analysis we retained only the first four factors.
The results of these studies were then compared with four leadership models: Emergent of Dr. Brown, post-heroic of Bradford and Cohen, the situational of Dr. Hersey and the transformational of B.M. Bass.
The situational model by Hersey and Blanchard rests on three principle directions: the maturity of subordinates, the behavior of the leader with respect to the tasks ahead, and the behavior of the leader with respect to human relations.
Situational Leadership: P. Hersey
The central element in the Hersey theory is the degree of maturity of the subordinates. To explain this theory, Hersey illustrates it in a diagram.
In Quadrant S! the subordinates are in stage C1. They have little knowledge and have little motivation in terms of the tasks at hand. The leader must therefore adopt an attitude based on the task at hand and on human relations to ensure success of the project. In this situation, the project manager must adopt an assertive attitude.
In Quadrant S2, the individuals do not have the knowledge but do possess the motivation to accomplish the tasks at hand (C2). In this situation, the leader, according to Hersey, would be best to adopt a behavior axed on the tasks at hand with little regard to human relations. A behavior of coaching would be beneficial.
As for Quadrant (S3), it presupposes that the subordinates possess a good knowledge of the tasks at hand but lack motivation to accomplish the tasks (C3). In these circumstances, the leader must intervene more closely with the human resource issues to accomplish the tasks at hand. Confronted with the situation, the leader will have to play a much more supporting role of his subordinates.
Finally, in Quadrant S4, the theory presupposes that the individuals are very knowledgeable of the tasks to be accomplished and possess the required motivation to successfully accomplish the tasks (C4). In these circumstances, the leader should delegate the tasks.
We must emphasize that the leader's ability to adapt his or her leadership style in consequence to the team member's maturity presupposes that he or she has the aptitude and competencies to make such a diagnostic. Evidently, this quality is not present with all leaders. The wrong diagnostic would have a detrimental effect on the quality of the project, so it's important for a leader who wants to adapt to this leadership style to take into account the risks involved.
Finally, the model presupposes that the leader is also a “subject matter expert” in order to permit him to direct, coach, support and delegate the tasks.
The related characteristics for each of the influences are shown in Exhibit 1.
Transformational Leadership: Bernard M. Bass
Just as in the Situational Leadership of Hersey & Blanchard, the foundation of Transformational Leadership of BM Bass made their appearance at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, at a time when matrix organizations hardly existed. However, for the same reasons evoked in the Hersey & Blanchard theory, we must take it into account in light of the various studies on influences.
In his theory, Bass shows how leaders will show two styles of leadership: transactional and transformational leadership.
The principle characteristic of Transformational Leadership is the continuum of the process; the theory adjusts itself principally on the personal and professional development of individuals. The leader must develop, adhere to and transmit a vision to his team members. This presupposes that he has an immense capacity to envision the future. To attain this objective, the Transformational Leader calls on the values of his team members in view to allow them to adhere to the proposed vision. The leader encourages the individual team members’ transformation by letting them understand that their individual tasks are instrumental to the success of the project and in attaining the organizational objectives. This approach pushes team members to exceed their fixed performance objectives.
Four important elements were identified with respect to Transformational Leadership by Bass: the charismatic leadership, the inspirational motivation, the intellectual stimulation and the individual considerations.
The Charismatic Leadership: In this element, the leader is perceived by his team members as a model to follow, being very competent and having extraordinary capacities. The leader is persistent and determined to attain the objectives. He or she is not afraid to take risks. Finally, he or she is reputed for in consistency of approach and decision-making.
The Transactional Motivation: The leader motivates his or her team members by proposing a vision, clear objectives and project challenges. Not only does he or she propose a vision and clear objectives but also adheres to them. He or she is enthusiastic and optimistic. He or she has a great capacity to communicate the vision at the mission, all the while specifying the project milestones.
The Intellectual Stimulation: The leader exhibits innovation for himself and his team. He creates an environment that allows creativity. He encourages his team members to think “outside of the box” (i.e., explore new ways of doing things). He demonstrates great respect for his team in avoiding to openly criticize errors. He involves his team in the decision-making processes.
The Individual Considerations: The leader behaves as a coach to allow team members to develop new competencies. He or she encourages a “learning environment” in identifying individual needs. To do this, the leader assigns tasks to allow individuals to push their limits and therefore develop themselves personally and professionally. He or she encourages the exchange of information through varying means of communication.
The related characteristics for each of the influences are shown in Exhibit 2.
The Post-Heroic Leadership: Bradford and Cohen
Bradford and Cohen studied the evolution of the role and purpose of the leader. Faced with a competitive environment that is more and more complex where adaptability and the ability to change are more and more important, the workforce is changing, particularly in the high-tech industry. The workforce is well educated, possesses the required competencies and wants to input into the organization's conduct. Faced with these changes, Bradford and Cohen affirm that older management techniques no longer work well.
In their book “Managing for Excellence,” they start with describing two old-school management types that they've termed “heroic” management, that of the technical director and that of the leader of the band. The authors affirm that these two theories are old-style management because both devolve full power to the director and assume that he knows all. In the current business world, it is no longer possible for one manager to know it all.
In response to this argument, Bradford and Cohen developed a new form of leadership and have designated it as “post-heroic.” Contrary to the “heroic” management style, these require a different range of competencies designed to stimulate the abilities and the collective expertise of the team.
The post-heroic leader shares in three conditions:
• A shared vision by all
• Cohesive team that shares in the responsibility of the performance of the team
• Development of individuals as an imperative.
The post-heroic leader becomes a manager-developer in establishing a team where power and responsibility are, within a certain measure, shared by all. He must encourage the involvement and cooperation, sustain individual proficiency, obtain a convergence within the orientation and with the fixed objective and share in the decision process with those affected by the decisions.
The role of the post-heroic leader:
• Have an impact without exerting complete control
• Support and help without necessarily having all the answers
• Be involved without becoming the focal point
• Be powerful without dominating
• Behave in a responsible manner without moving away from the processes.
The related characteristics for each of the influences are shown in Exhibit 3.
The Emergent Leadership: Dr. Brown
In his work, Brown presents a leadership theory associated with the natural development of working teams. He affirms that “... groups recently established behave differently from those established for some time.” Certainly, through his model of team building, we deduce that the leadership style for one project manager must be specific to accommodate his or her team.
Contrary to other theories based the activities of a designated or official leader, the Brown theory bases itself on the natural emergence of leaders. According to Brown, the leadership roles become an integral part of the collective structure as the group forms.
Brown stipulates that four leadership roles materialize and each is harmonized with leadership functions that he considers indispensable to the success of making the team cohesive, hence to the success of the project. During the building of the team, the need for leadership fluctuates and the emerging leaders each exert their proper roles.
Role of the task leader—also known as the functional leader. The person in this role pieces together the various elements of a task. He often gathers and leads team meetings, which consequently allows him to bask in a certain official power.
Role of the socio-emotional leader—also known as the social animator. This person invests the most personally in the collective output and is generally the most liked person. It's this same person who will focus team member's attention on any problems with the performance of the group.
Role of the diverging leader—also known as the contradictor. This person focuses heavily of the clarifying hypothesis formed and on challenging the limits of team members. They are often persons without empathy or whose communication style or point of view differs greatly from the majority.
Role of the defiant leader—also know as the circumspect (who acts with prudence and reserve) because he has a sharp view of the challenges; he takes to heart the autonomy of individuals. He is extremely sensitive to incoherence and the team's inability to establish realistic objectives.
According to Brown, managers designated as official leaders must understand and accept that there are several stakes and many problems associated with the natural development of any team. The project manager is often the official authority with the client and senior management, however, as a team member, he should not necessitate the role of task leader within the group. According to the evolution of the team throughout the phases of development, the project manager should take his turn as task leader when the need arises.
At the very beginning of the development of the group, the project manager must take the time to clearly outline the “raison d'etre” of the group as well as elements of the project. He must also ensure that the team members form their own links without prematurely obliging them. This will result in conflict resolution. He must be patient, tolerant and he must observe any conflict objectively.
During the differentiation/execution phase, the project manager must emerge when called upon to share the raison d'etre of the team, anticipated problems and problem resolution techniques that have challenged the team. He must be in a position to clearly communicate his expertise on these subjects. And, if the official project leader is not the expert or the real task leader (i.e., his expertise is project management and not the expert matter on the issue at hand), he must recognize it and form the necessary links and collaborate closely with the team member that emerges as the subject matter leader.
In the autonomy phase, the project manager must have the adaptability and the good grace to withdraw as subject matter expert all the while retaining his important role of key person in the remaining phases of the team-building process.
Exhibit 5. Maturity Continuum of the Organization Toward Project Management
The related characteristics for each of the influences are shown in Exhibit 4.
The preceding analysis allowed us to establish the congruencies between the various leadership theories and the principal methods of influences sought by the team members in a matrix organization. These leadership styles allow project managers to position their project activities and decisions through the course of a project. Our study concluded that there could be more than one leadership style adaptable to the expectations of team members in a matrix organization.
However, as we've highlighted previously, the matrix structure is, more or less, a formal structure within the organization. Consequently, this structure relates to the culture and to a management style within the organization that influences the social behavior of individuals within the organization.
To ensure the success of projects, project managers have to understand the organizational context, in which they will implement their project. The maturity of the organization in performing project management and the complexity of tasks are factors that will determine the ability of team members to participate effectively in work groups. The knowledge and the practice of managing initiatives as projects in the organization, the knowledge and practice of project methodologies, the ability to negotiate and influence situations are some of the individual and social factors that have an impact on the success of a project. Using these parameters, the maturity of the organization could then be assessed. A macrosituational model is developed as a reference to establish the most effective leadership model that could be used to ensure the success of the project for a particular organization.
The knowledge and the practice of intervention in an organization in terms of a project, the knowledge and practice of methodologies in project management, the ability to negotiate and influence certain situations are as much important individual and social factors that influence the success of a project. Our study lead us to consider leadership styles in a model we term macrosituational© and this, on an axis of maturity in project management that includes the expertise factors of the project management team members, the maturity in terms of intervention in the project, the maturity of the teams and the maturity of the organization as a social entity.
Exhibit 5 illustrates the macrosituational© model that we are proposing.
On this axis, we can place, according to the congruence factors, the approach and leadership models researched.
The transformational model was excluded from the project management framework because of its philosophy of “continuity” that does not encompass the temporary nature of projects. In effect, the principal characteristic of transformational leadership is the process of continuity; this theory orients itself mostly on the personal and professional development of individuals in the long term.
For its part, the situational model adapts well to a matrix organization where the maturity level of project management is not obvious. The project manager adapts the appropriate behavior as the team matures and evolves over the course of the project. On the other hand, in an organization where the level of maturity of project management is more evolved, this model is too restrictive, patronizing and authoritative in its approach.
In terms of the emergent leadership model, it adapts well in organizations where project management is well defined and accepted. In these situations, the social behavior of individuals is axed toward realization, the group functions more organically, in that it is able to define the vision, orient the tasks and establish timelines. On the other hand, in a situation where this level of maturity is not fully attained, it is important to establish and maintain the vision for the team. In these circumstances, the post-heroic model contains, according to our study, a number of advantages by virtue of the fact that project managers must control the transformation process of inputs and outputs that respect the milestones established by the project.
Leadership is an art, and a particular art in project management. The expectations of team members and the maturity of the organization are the most important factors in determining the leadership approach that should be selected. Project managers should increase their repertoire of leadership styles and be able to adapt to the organizational context in which they will implement their project.
Gemmill, G.R., & Thamhain, H.J. 1974. Influence Styles of Project Managers: Some Project Performance Correlates. Academy of Management Journal, 17 (2), pp. 216–224.
Hodgetts, R.M. 1968, June. Leadership Techniques in the Project Organization. Academy of Management Journal, 11, pp. 15–25.
Sotiriou, D., & Wittmer, D. 2001. Influence Methods of Project Managers: Perception of Team Members and Project Managers. Project management Journal, 32 (3).
Brown, D.T. 1998. The Natural Development of Work Groups: Emergent Leadership. Alexandria, VA: NTL Institute.
Bradford, D.L., & Cohen, A.R. 1984. Managing for Excellence: The Guide for Developing High Performance in Contemporary Organizations. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Hersey, P. 1985. The Situational Leadership. New York: Warner Books Inc.
Bass, B.M. 1998. Transformational Leadership: Industry, Military, and Educational Impact. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA