This paper was presented to a conference on "The Project Management Information Society", May 14-16, 1995, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It was given at a time when the idea of a Canadian project management institute was being promoted.

Published November 2001

Introduction  | Client-Server | Leadership | Project Life Cycle
Team Building | Skills |  Knowledge | PMI•Canada | Conclusions

The Need for Leadership

The type of project just described clearly needs leadership, but what is leadership?

Through the efforts of the Project Management Institute ("PMI"), an understanding of the importance of "people" to the success of a project has developed rapidly over the last several years. The major thrusts are perhaps best portrayed graphically as shown in Figure 2.[2]

Figure 2: Major project leadership skills
Figure 2: Major project leadership skills

With these attributes in mind, the following definition is a simple, yet comprehensive distillation of leadership thought in the project context.

Project leadership is an ability to get things done well through others.

It requires:

  • A vision of the destination
  • A compelling reason to get there
  • A realistic timetable, and
  • A capacity to attract a willing team

But in PMI we talk about project managers. So, is there a difference between a project leader and a project manager? PMI defines a project manager as one who is responsible for project management..., and now defines project management as the application of knowledge, tools and techniques to project activities...[3]. However, these definitions only focus on the administrative aspects of project work. Many well-known authors have written about managers and, especially recently, about leadership. Generally, these authors see a distinction according to the primary focus of the leader or manager.

Table 1[4],[5],[6] shows the respective positions of leaders and managers on a number of issues. It is a truism that leaders focus on doing "the right thing" while managers focus on doing "the thing right".

Managers focus on

Leaders focus on

  • Goals and objectives
  • Telling how and when
  • Shorter range
  • Organization and structure
  • Autocracy
  • Restraining
  • Maintaining
  • Conforming
  • Imitating
  • Administrating
  • Controlling
  • Procedures
  • Consistency
  • Risk-avoidance
  • Bottom line
  • Vision
  • Selling what and why
  • Longer range
  • People
  • Democracy
  • Enabling
  • Developing
  • Challenging
  • Originating
  • Innovating
  • Directing
  • Policy
  • Flexibility
  • Risk-opportunity
  • Top line

Good managers do the
things right

Good leaders do the
right things

Sources: Adapted from Warren Bennis On Becoming a Leader, Addison Wesley, 1989; J. W. McLean & William Weitzel Leadership, Magic or Method?, AMACOM, 1991; Stephen R. Covey Principle-Centered Leadership, Summit Books, 1991.

Table 1: Differences in style

Collectively, project leadership and project "managership" may be referred to as project "stewardship". To be a steward is to hold something in trust for another. Thus, project stewardship may be defined as a willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the project organization while placing service towards the goals of the project above self-interest. It entails holding accountability for your people without exacting harsh compliance from them. In the planning phases, "managership", as described, has its limitations. Leadership overcomes these limitations. In the producing phases, leadership per se also has its limitations, and good "managership" is required.

A Client/Server Project Success Story  A Client/Server Project Success Story

2.  Adapted from Hellreigel, D., Slocum, J. W., Jr. & Woodman, R. W., Organizational Behaviour, Sixth Edition, West Publishing company, 1992, p386.
3.  PMBOK Glossary, Project Management Institute, 1987.
4.  Bennis, W., On Becoming a Leader, Addison Wesley, 1989.
5.  McLean, J. W., & Weitzel, W., Leadership, Magic, Myth or Method?, AMACOM, 1991.
6.  Covey, S. R., Principle-Centered Leadership, Summit Books, 1991.
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