Aaron J. Shenhar, Institute Professor of Management, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ and R. Max Wideman

The original of this paper first published on the PMForum web site, September, 2000. (Updated presentation, April, 2002.) Presented here as the fifth in a series linking project type through management style to project success.

Published here April, 2002.

Introduction | Project Management | Success | Nature | Content
Project Work | Style | Types of Leader | All Together | Conclusions

Bringing it All Together

It would be very satisfying if it were possible to relate these various project management elements into one cohesive pattern. However, project management is multi-dimensional apparently with no direct correspondence. Nevertheless, there do appear to be some common trends.

Shenhar and Dvir have observed from their project database that a number of common project variables progress from one form to another across the Technological Uncertainty spectrum as shown in Figure 3. For example, from established technology projects to highly advanced or exploratory projects, design cycles and design freezes progress from only one cycle with a design freeze prior to execution, to multiple cycles and late design freeze well into the execution period. Similarly, communications progress from formal and relative few regularly scheduled meetings to multiple, frequent and informal interaction.

In the former low-end type of project, the project manager must have good administrative skills, a firm style and stick to the initial plan. At the high end, the project manager must be an exceptional technical leader to handle highly skilled professionals, adopt a highly flexible style, and live with continuous change.[17] This suggests that at the low end, a good administrative or driver type is required, while at the high end what is required is a good explorer/coordinator.

Similarly, we might compare the different types of major elements in projects with technological uncertainty and management style. As shown in Table 3, most traditional projects fall into the Tangible/Craft quadrant and require the driver type manager for their execution. At the opposite end, the major elements of many of the hi- or super hi-tech projects fall into the Intangible/Intellect quadrant requiring the explorer/coordinator type manager for execution.

We might go further and match the project manager style required on a "traditional" type project with its project life cycle as follows.

At its most fundamental level, every well-run traditional project has four major periods in its life cycle. A project must first be "conceived" and articulated as a goal or objective. That goal or objective must then be "developed" into an agreed set of requirements from which a defined scope and scope of work can be derived and translated into a viable and doable set of activities. With appropriate approvals and sufficient time and funding, this plan can then be "executed". Finally, the project must be properly "finished" with the product successfully transferred into the care, custody and control of its eventual owners.

Figure 4 and a moment's thought suggests that the "Concept" period should start out with the "Explorer" type; proceed to the "Coordinator" type in the "Development" or planning period; move to an assertive "Driver" type in the "Execution" period; and culminate with the "Administrator" type in the clean-up "Finishing" period.

Obviously, these are over-simplified generalizations, but there can be no question that project leadership style and the need for flexibility to suit particular circumstances, must be an important determinant of project success. The successful development, production and testing of the largest and most complex aircraft built to date, the Boeing 777, is an instructive example of most appropriate style of project management.[18] Conversely, the infamous Challenger disaster was perhaps the most vivid project example of the application of inappropriate management style.[19]

Failure to match an appropriate style with the particular project or element can quickly demoralize the project work force and lead to unsatisfactory project results. Table 5 takes the same period descriptions shown in Table 3 and illustrates vividly the negative impressions that can develop when an inappropriate project management style is adopted.

Project Leader Type

As seen when appropriately assigned

As seen when inappropriately assigned


  • Vision oriented
  • Solution Seeker
  • Inspiring
  • Determined
  • Focus long range
  • Evokes dedication
  • Leads by example
  • Takes major decisions
  • "Starry-eyed"
  • Devious
  • Out-of-touch
  • Unworkable
  • "Far out"
  • Scattered
  • Unrealistic
  • Mischievous


  • Mission oriented
  • Conflict mediator
  • Understanding
  • Free-form
  • Focus on participation
  • Obtains willing effort
  • Develops Commitment
  • Reaches closure
  • Impromptu
  • Outsider
  • Sentimental
  • leisurely
  • Contriving
  • Obtuse
  • Over personalizes
  • Stirs up conflict


  • Goal oriented
  • Solution enforcer
  • Hard driving
  • Rigid
  • Focus short range
  • Gets early results
  • Uses partnerships
  • Makes most decisions
  • Acts first, thinks later
  • Arrogant
  • Domineering
  • Dictatorial
  • Lacks long-range view
  • Ladder climber
  • Self-seeker
  • Untrusting


  • Objective oriented
  • Conflict solver
  • Analytical
  • Flexible
  • Focus on solutions
  • Harmonizes effort
  • Reinforces commitment
  • Implements decisions
  • Over zealous
  • Long winded
  • Over analyzes
  • Indecisive
  • Hidebound
  • Ruling
  • Unemotional
  • Unglamorous
Table 5: Project Leader’s Image when Appropriately and Inappropriately Assigned

If these indications are true, might it be possible to postulate some guiding relationship such as that shown in Table 6? Based on the observations earlier, this table suggests that to achieve optimum success, there must be some correlation between the type of project leader, the type of product and the phase of the project. For example, for established technology project elements with their shorter-term success goals a low-key or regular progression through the four project management styles is shown. These compare with those of higher technology, with their relatively longer-term success goals, and in which the styles of the explorer and coordinator types need to drive further down through the project life cycle.



Development or Definition




or Finish




Explorer or Coordinator

or Driver








Driver or Administrator







Super High-tech

(Highly Advanced
or Exploratory)





Table 6: Potential Selection of Leader Type or Management Style to Optimize Success,
Given the Project Type and Project Phase
Four Types of Project Leader  Four Types of Project Leader

17. Shenhar, A.J., & Dov Dvir, Managing Technology Projects: A Contingent Exploratory Approach, Proceedings 28th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 1995, Table 1, p 500.
18. Sabbagh, K., 777: First Flight, An Inside Look at the Innovative Production of the Boeing 777, PBS Home Video, Channel 4 London, 1993.
19. Feynman, R.P., What do You Care What Other People Think? Bantam Books, New York, 1989, pp. 113-237.
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