Situational leadership in a project/matrix environment

a questionable consensus approach

Nicholas DiMarco

Senior Consultant and Director of Program Development
Human Resource Management Corporation

Jane R. Goodson

Department of Management
Auburn University at Montgomery

Henry F. Houser

Department of Management
Auburn University at Montgomery

BACKGROUND

The set of complex circumstances facing project managers creates a unique managerial role. Even under the simplest of organizational structures, the project manager must possess skills in communication, integration, negotiation, and team-building (2)(7). These skills are essential for successful project management, despite the fact that most project managers have advanced from the technical ranks and, as a result, have received little management training (5). Under the more complex structure in which project managers typically operate - the matrix organization – an even wider range of leadership skills is needed to bring about project success. This paper provides an approach for identifying leader behaviors and skills that are important to effectiveness in a matrix/project environment.

The matrix structure is a mechanism by which to maximize the benefits of the functional and project forms of organization, while minimizing their disadvantages (4). The ability to choose the disciplinary “mix” of skills needed for a particular project allows for maximum flexibility and effectiveness. However, the dual lines of supervision created by such a structure also translates into a complex managerial situation.

A major issue arising out of the dual supervision of matrix structures is whether or not the project manager will have the influence necessary to bring about the successful completion of the project. According to Katz and Allen (4), individuals in a project team will respond to the manager (project or functional) whom they perceive to have the greatest control over technical decisions, salary and promotion decisions, and/or staffing assignments. As a result, skills in procuring valued resources for individual team members would become crucial to effective project leadership. This would not only require that project managers be aware of their own team members’ needs and expectations, but also skillful in building influence networks outside the project team.

The dual lines of responsibility arising from matrix structures also may create uncertainty or ambiguity regarding the roles of project managers (3). This, in combination with the joint decision making, competition for scarce resources, and different values and objectives that characterize the matrix organization, makes skills in conflict management essential for the project leader. Project managers, however, may not understand the risks and consequences of conflict or how to deal with it (6). More participative modes of conflict resolution, such as confrontation and problem solving, may be needed to encourage individuals to work together for project success (3).

It is clear that the leadership skills required of project managers are diverse. However, there is less understanding of the specific kinds of leadership roles that both project and functional managers should assume in order to most effectively support matrix relationships. Dilworth et al (1) suggested that the roles of project and functional managers should vary according to the particular project and/or environmental situation. This situational approach is consistent with the current thinking in the area of leadership/management development. Specifically, the situational approach to leadership/management asserts that the best way to manage or supervise depends on the environment in which a manager functions.

Thus, an assessment of the management situation is first undertaken, and in response, various managerial behaviors are prescribed.

PURPOSE

This paper describes the application of a situational management training program for project managers and functional managers of a large project-oriented engineering department of a national production company. The engineering department oversees the design and construction of large capital products for the company. The steps included a situational assessment of management needs from the perspectives of project managers, project team members, functional managers, and functional staff members; an assessment of the present skill levels of project and functional managers from the perspectives of all four groups; and an identification of the areas to be targeted for management development.

PMBOK References:

F.5 Team Members

F.6 The Project Team

METHOD

Situational Assessment

A model developed by Yukl (8) provided the framework by which to determine the management needs of the project managers and functional managers. This model builds on and takes into account the shortcomings of earlier leadership models and provides a more comprehensive approach to situational management development. Specifically, the model identifies a variety of leader behaviors and specifies conditions under which the use of each of these behaviors would maximize leader effectiveness. In this model, factors such as the following are important in determining the needs of a particular situation: the nature of the people managed (e.g., project members’ understanding of job duties and responsibilities); the nature of projects performed (e.g., variety in projects); the nature of the influence structure (e.g., authority and discretion of the individual project and functional managers); and the nature of the organizational climate (e.g., project manager-project member relations, functional manager-project member relations, intra- and inter-staff relations). A detailed analysis of these factors resulted in the identification of 19 “needs” that the project manager and/or functional manager may be required to manage. These needs are described in Figure 1.

The Situational Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) was used to determine the magnitude of each need. The SAQ was administered to both project managers and their subordinate team members and functional managers and their subordinates. Each manager-subordinate team was coded. The average for all the staff members reporting to a given manager was used in the analysis. The items that comprised one need dimension, the Performance Emphasis Need Dimension, are presented in Figure 2. The more the conditions described in Figure 2 were present in the environment in which managers and subordinates operated (the higher the scores), the stronger the need for Performance Emphasis. The remaining 18 need dimensions were similarly assessed.

Situational Needs Dimensions

Figure 1. Situational Needs Dimensions.

Items Used To Assess The Performance Emphasis Need

Figure 2. Items Used To Assess The Performance Emphasis Need

Assessment of Present Skill Level

The second step in the Situational Management Development model was to evaluate how well the project and functional managers were presently performing on the 19 dimensions identified in the Situational Assessment. This was determined by having the project managers and their team members and the functional managers and their subordinates complete the Manager/Supervisor Behavioral Description Questionnaire (BDQ). There are two forms for the BDQ - one completed by the project and functional managers and one by their respective subordinates. There is a third form that can be completed by the superiors of the project and functional managers; however, it was not used in this study.

Figure 3 presents the items comprising the Performance Emphasis dimension. The Performance Emphasis scale represents those management behaviors necessary to ensure the high productivity, efficiency, and quality required by the situation. The remaining 18 dimensions were similarly assessed.

Areas Targeted for Management Development

Areas in greatest need of change and/or development were identified by combining the results of the Situational Needs and Managerial Behavior/ Skill Level assessments. The matching of needs and behaviors resulted in three outcomes for each dimension:

1. Behavior/skill level needed to be increased because it was lower than the need level.

2. Behavior/skill level needed to be decreased because it was higher than the need level.

3. Behavior/skill level should remain the same because it matched the need level.

RESULTS

As part of the training effort, both project and functional managers were encouraged to provide feedback to their subordinates on the results of the study. Each manager presented the results to his or her own employees.

Table 1 presents the means and standard deviations of the need scores from the perspectives of functional managers (n = 34), subordinates of functional managers (n=122), project managers (n = 22), and subordinates of project managers (n = 88). The overall F-value provided in Table 1 indicated whether or not statistically significant differences between the means of two or more of the four groups existed. However, this test cannot identify which groups have significantly different mean values. Duncan's Multiple Range test compared all possible pairs of the means of the four groups to identify the specific groups that had significantly different mean values.

Manager Behavior Description Questionnaire Items Assessing Performance Emphasis

Figure 3. Manager Behavior Description Questionnaire Items Assessing Performance Emphasis

TABLE 1
MEANS AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS FOR SITUATIONAL NEED DIMENSION SCORES FOR FUNCTIONAL AND PROJECT MANAGERS AND THEIR SUBORDINATES AND F-VALUES FOR THE COMPARISONS BETWEEN GROUPS

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Table 1 indicates that there were 12 need dimensions with significant F-values. The Duncan Multiple Range Test compared all the mean scores for all four groups. For the purpose of this study, significant differences between functional managers and their staff members (groups 1 and 2), project managers and their team members (groups 3 and 4), functional managers and project managers (groups 1 and 3), and functional staff members and project team members (groups 2 and 4) were examined.

A comparison of functional managers and their staff members (groups 1 and 2) showed that staff members’ scores were significantly higher on the Consideration and Representation dimensions. Project team members had significantly higher scores than project managers on the Decision-Participation, Autonomy Delegation, and Representation dimensions.

A comparison of functional and project managers (groups 1 and 3, respectively) indicated that project managers’ scores were significantly higher on the Consideration, Structuring Reward Contingencies, Information Dissemination, and Representation dimensions.

Lastly, a comparison of functional staff members and project team members (groups 2 and 4, respectively) showed that functional staff members had significantly higher scores on the Training-Coaching and Work Facilitation dimensions, while project team members had significantly higher scores on the Structuring Reward Contingencies, Information Dissemination, Representation, and Interaction Facilitation dimensions.

Table 2 presents the means, standard deviations, and F-values of the managerial behavior scores for all four groups. The table indicates that on 17 of the 19 dimensions there were significant differences between the various groups. An examination of the results in Table 2 will show that they parallel the presentation for Table 1.

A comparison of functional managers and their staff members, (groups 1 and 2) and project managers and their team members (groups 3 and 4) indicated that both groups of managers had significantly higher scores than their respective staff members on the Consideration, Praise-Recognition, Decision Participation, Autonomy-Delegation, Information Dissemination, Coordination, Representation, and Interaction Facilitation dimensions. In addition, the functional managers (group 1) had significantly higher scores than their staff members (group 2) on the Inspiration, Goal Setting, Problem Solving, Planning, and Conflict Management dimensions. Project managers (group 3) had significantly higher scores than their team members (group 4) on the Structuring Reward Contingencies dimension.

TABLE 2
MEANS AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS FOR BEHAVIORAL DIMENSION SCORES FOR FUNCTIONAL AND PROJECT MANAGERS AND THEIR SUBORDINATES AND F-VALUES FOR THE COMPARISONS BETWEEN GROUPS

Means and Standard Deviations for Behavioral Dimension Scores for Functional and Project Managers and Their Subordinates and F-Values for the Comparisons Between Groups

A comparison of functional managers and project managers (groups 1 and 3) indicated that functional managers’ scores were significantly higher on the Coordination dimension.

Lastly, a comparison of functional staff members and project team members (groups 2 and 4) shown that functional staff members had significantly higher scores on the Decision Participation, Autonomy-Delegation, Role Clarification, and Coordination dimensions, while project team members had a significantly higher score on the Training-Coaching dimension.

Both functional and project managers were again encouraged to share the results with their subordinates, especially on those dimensions where there were differences of one point or more. The scores for specific items comprising each dimension were provided to help the managers pinpoint differences between themselves and their staff.

Areas Targeted for Management Development

Table 3 presents the rank orders of the mean need and behavior scores and the differences between the need and behavior ranks for each group. Each need-behavior dimension was placed in one of the three categories described earlier based on the differences between the need and behavior rankings. The criterion used was the mean difference of the rank differences for each group of managers and subordinates. This value was 3.5 for functional managers and 4.2 for their subordinates, and 4.8 for project managers and 6.9 for their subordinates.

Dimensions Requiring Decreases in Behavior Level

For functional managers, decreases in behavior were indicated if either the functional managers’ need rank score was 3-5 or lower than the behavior rank score or their subordinates’ need rank score was 4.2 or lower than the behavior rank score. Table 3 shows that both functional managers and their subordinates reported that more emphasis than needed is placed on decision participation and training-coaching. Only functional managers perceived that more emphasis than necessary is placed on goal setting and work facilitation, while only their subordinates saw their managers as providing more information dissemination and representation than was needed.

Table 3 also provides the results for project managers and their team members. A dimension was placed in this category if either the project managers’ need rank score was 4.8 or lower than their behavior rank score or their team members’ need rank score was 6.9 or lower than their behavior rank score.

TABLE 3
RANK ORDERS FORM MEAN DIMENSIONAL NEED AND BEHAVIORAL SKILL SCORES AND THEIR DIFFERENCES FOR FUNCTIONAL AND PROJECT MANAGERS AND THEIR SUBORDINATES

Rank Orders form Mean Dimensional Need and Behavioral Skill Scores and Their Differences for Functional and Project Managers and Their Subordinates

Both project managers and their subordinates indicated the need for less coordination than each perceived project managers as exhibiting. Only project managers reported emphasizing more performance, planning, interaction-facilitation, and criticism discipline behaviors than they perceived were needed in the situation. On the other hand, only subordinates reported that their managers engaged in more praise-recognition, decision participation, and representation than they perceived the situation required.

Dimensions Requiring Increases in Skill Level

For functional managers and their subordinates, a dimension was placed in this category if either the functional managers’ need rank score was 3-5 or higher than the behavior rank score or their subordinates’ need rank score was 4.2 or higher than the behavior rank score. Table 3 shows that both functional managers and their subordinates perceived need for more role and problem solving behavior than was presently being provided. Only functional managers reported a greater need for consideration and coordination, while only their subordinates reported a greater need for performance emphasis.

Increases in specific skills for project managers were indicated if the project managers’ need rank score on a dimension was 4.8 or higher than the behavior rank score or the team members’ need rank score was 6.9 or higher than the behavior rank score. Both project managers and their subordinates reported a need for more role clarification, problem solving, and work facilitation. Only project managers perceived a need for more consideration and autonomy-delegation, and only their subordinates reported the need for more performance emphasis, goal setting, and training-coaching.

Dimensions Requiring No Change in Behavior Level

For functional managers, a dimension was placed in this category if the difference between the functional managers’ need and behavior rank score was less than 3.5 and if the difference between their subordinates’ need and behavior rank score was less than 4.2. Table 3 shows that the behavior dimensions of inspiration, praise-recognition, structuring reward contingencies, autonomy-delegation, planning, interaction facilitation, conflict management, and criticism-discipline appeared to be appropriately suited to the situation.

For project managers, no training was required in a dimension where the difference between the project managers’ need and behavior rank score was less than 4.8 and the difference between team members’ need and behavior rank score was less than 6.9. As shown in Table 3, project managers appear to have appropriate skills in the dimensions of inspiration, structuring reward contingencies, goal setting, information dissemination, and conflict management.

CONCLUSION

The results of this study show the importance of a situational approach to the management development of project and functional managers. Behavioral recommendations from theory and research may provide some general guidelines for these managers to follow, but the current results indicate that the most appropriate choice of behaviors depends on the leadership situation. For example, the finding in this study that both project and functional managers and their subordinates perceived the need for more role clarification and problem solving is consistent with previous research in the area of matrix leadership. However, it is also generally presumed that participation in decision making is critical to effective leadership in matrix organizations. In this study, subordinates of both project and functional managers felt that their managers were placing more emphasis on decision participation than was required by the situation.

The results of the application of this approach also demonstrated the need to use the inputs of both supervisors and their subordinates in designing and implementing a management development training effort. All too often, the effectiveness of such a program is less than it should be because the inputs of subordinates were not sought or considered. This study showed that, in many instances, subordinates were seeking specific actions from their managers, while managers were concentrating on other areas. For example, subordinates of project managers wanted their leaders to engage in more task-oriented behaviors, e.g., performance emphasis, goal setting, and training-coaching. On the other hand, project managers themselves felt that the situation called for more relationship oriented behaviors, e.g., consideration and autonomy-delegation. Similarly, functional managers perceived that more emphasis on consideration and coordination was needed, while subordinates were looking for more performance emphasis. Discovering these differences in perception and determining their cause is the first big step in developing an effective training program.

Programs such as the one reported here will be essential to the development of skills needed to manage in the unique situation of the project and functional manager. Such an approach not only provides more accurate information regarding areas in which training and development are needed, but it also ensures that all parties will be receptive to the subsequent development effort.

REFERENCES

1. Dilworth, J.B., R.C. Ford, P.M. Ginter, A.C. Rucks, “Centralized Project Management,” Journal of Systems Management, August, 1985, pp. 30-35.

2. Dressier, D.M., “In Project Management, the Emphasis Should Be On Management,” Data Management, January, 1986, p. 62.

3. Joyce, W.F., “Matrix Organization: A Social Experiment,” Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 536-561.

4. Katz, R., and T.J. Allen, “Project Performance and the Locus of Influence in the R&D Matrix,” Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1, 1985, pp. 67-87.

5. Kerzner, H., “ The R&D Project Manager,” Project Management Quarterly, June, 1981, pp. 20-24.

6. Phillips, R.C., “Project Conflict: Cost, Causes, and Cures,” Public Utilities Fortnightly, May 16, 1985, pp. 35-39.

7. Salinger, A.W., “Leadership, Communication Skills Lift Projects to Success,” Data Management, September, 1985, pp. 36-37.

8. Yukl, G.A., Leadership in Organizations. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1981.

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Dr. Jane R. Goodson is an Assistant Professor of Management in the School of Business, Auburn University at Montgomery. She received a B.S. degree in Health Care Administration, M.A. in Human Resource Management, and Ph.D. in Business Administration (Organizational Behavior) from the University of Alabama. She has published articles in both academic and practitioner journals and has presented papers at professional meetings in the areas of leadership, motivation, stress management and strategic management. She is a member of the Academy of Management, the Southern Management Association, and the Society for the Advancement of Management, which she currently serves as vicepresident in the local chapter.

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Dr. Henry F. Houser is currently Associate Professor in the Management Department of the School of Business at Auburn University at Montgomery. Dr. Houser holds a B.S. degree in General Engineering From North Carolina State, M.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas-Austin and in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla, and Ph.D. in Business Administration from St. Louis University. He has 30 years experience in industry, including 12 years as Manager, Training and Development, for Monsanto's Corporate Engineering Department. Dr. Houser has been a member of the faculty at Auburn University at Montgomery since 1978.

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Dr. Nicholas J. DiMarco, Professor at Webster University and Senior Consultant, Director of Program Development holds a B.A. in psychology for the State University of New York at Buffalo; an M.A. in industrial psychology and an M.B.A. in management from Western Michigan University; and a Ph. D. in management and organizational behavior from Case-Western Reserve University. He is a licensed psychologist and is a member of the Academy of Management, the American Psychological Association, the Missouri Psychological Association, and the St. Louis Society of Psychologists.

Dr. DiMarco has 17years of teaching, research and consulting experience in the areas of behavioral and human resource management.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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