Leadership – an introduction

On April 26th I wrote an article about leadership in project management. In response, I was asked whether I could explain a little more about leadership in general. What is leadership really about and what should you know about it as project manager? The following article is based on my book, “Projectmanagement op basis van NCB versie 3”.

Leadership is the ability to get people to move into effective roles and tasks, to achieve (project) goals. Project managers often have limited formal powers. They work with team members and user representatives, but are not hierarchically driven. This means that in task- and relationship-oriented management to their team, they have to rely on other sources of power than their formal position. Like power by knowledge or power by relationships. The coaching management style can be used to give direction to the task and relationship orientation. The definition of leadership and the main other terms are:

  • Managing people: The performance of managerial tasks such as setting goals, determine the necessary tasks and enforce.
  • Leadership role: A behavioral ability according the specific needs of a project.
  • Situational leadership: Leadership style of management which is based on the degree of ability and willingness of people in practical situations.
  • Coaching leadership: leadership attitude focusing on learning ability of staff and making their potential qualities available to achieve the highest possible performance.
  • Power: The ability to exert effective influence on reality.

Management vs. leadership
In this article we are consistently taking the project managers point of view. The person who, through proper planning, organization and management of work, ensures that project results are met within the prescribed conditions. That is the essence of the role of the project manager. Leadership is the connecting, stimulating, aligning and guiding force of the project manager, so the project stakeholders are intrinsically motivated to pick up the project planning and excel in the work, so the desired project results are realized. In this article I describe a number of role-oriented and task- and relationship-oriented leadership theories.

Leadership theories
There are several theories about leadership.

Covey (1993) emphasizes the features that a project manager has to develop, to achieve such an independent and reliable impact on the environment that synergy – as directed energy – in this environment is created.

In this article, the following leadership theories are described:

Quinn’s theory of management skills emphasizes the various roles that a project manager can perform. These roles are both internally focused or externally oriented and focused on flexibility of action, or control over the action. By deliberately choosing specific roles, the seemingly opposite values (internal / external, flexible / managerial) can be bridged.

The Managerial Grid of Blake & Mouton emphasizes the control given to the project manager. Their assumption is that project managers are focusing on task and relationship. The approach of Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard is based on situational leadership. They indicate that a project should be based on the situation, and you should choose an appropriate leadership style. The style can be chosen depending on the qualifications of the person.

This article is concluded with a section about two instruments; delegating and coaching. A project manager can use those to encourage employees to a higher qualification.

Figure 1 – Value perspective and leadership roles

Leadership Roles and value development (Quinn)
In the leadership model of Quinn, competing values play a key role, as shown in Figure 1. Opposite the value ‘internal focus’ is the value ‘external orientation’. In terms of project management, this means that the project manager has an eye for both the internal organization of the project and for the project environment, for which the project outcome is realized.

Opposite the value ‘flexibility of action’ is on the vertical axis ‘control of action’. For project managers this means that they focus on the individuality of project staff, and also in what way other project tasks can be realized in a controlled manner.

A project manager can choose the following leadership roles and skills:

Internal focus / Control of action – The project manager acts as a coordinator, through planning, organization and ensures that the project results will be realized. The project manager fills the role of controller, by means of a tight internal organization, established procedures and clear indicators to ensure that the project can enroll. Within this area, the project pays much attention to modeling and controlling of internal processes.

Internal focus / Flexibility of action – The project manager plays the role of stimulator. He will ensure that conflicts do not develop into an uncontrollable level and encourages the development of the team and joined decisions. He also fulfills the role of the mentor, aimed at developing individual team members and enhance interpersonal communication. Within this field, the employee is focused on the most efficient way of resourcing the project staff.

External focus / Flexibility of action – The project manager plays the role of innovator. He and his team ensures that changes are effectively identified, and exploring ways to realize these changes. The project manager fulfills the role of a target minded mediator, who uses all his ability to influence to obtain sufficient professional resources and capacity in order to meet the customers demand. For the project manager the project organization is an open and flexible system, which should be exploited to achieve the wanted project outcome.

External Focus / Control of action – The project fulfills the role as a producer for the customer. He makes sure that the required products meet the agreed quality criteria according and focuses on encouraging and motivating people to make it happen. The project manager fulfills the role of director, by means of setting goals, taking initiative and effectively delegate work in a controlled manner for the customer. From this area the project will look like a rational goal model in which the focus is on achieving, by the client accepted, project outcomes in a controlled way.

Within the framework of this project management model the project is firmly anchored in the internal organization, without losing focus on the users of the project result. Simultaneously, the attention is on developing project staff, within clearly identified management criteria.

By taking those four management areas in a account as project manager you:

  • have the internal organizations confidence in the professional execution of the project;
  • are able to motivate and challenge experienced team members of the project;
  • are able to keep team members focus on the interests of the user of the project results;
  • have a fine balance between the demands of the commissioning organization and the demands of the customer of the project results.

Factors that disturb the balance also lie in the focus of the project manager himself.

Task-and relationship-oriented leadership (Blake & Mouton)
Blake & Mouton focus their thinking on the attention project managers tend to give to themselves. They make a distinction:

Task orientation – the extent to which the task of the employee and the interests of the organization are important to the manager.
Human orientation – the extent to which the human aspects, such as the interests of the involved employees, are important to the manager.

These two dimensions combined, create a infinite number of leadership styles. Blake and Mouton distinguish five dominant styles, see Figure 2.

Figure 2 – Management Grid (Blake & Mouton)

Separation-oriented manager (Easy Rider)
For this manager is neither the role nor the human aspects of the work of real importance. In practice, this manager manages little. What does he do? There is no direct leadership present and achieving the project outcome is highly dependent on the professionalism of the project team. This area should not be assessed in advance as negative. Project managers who are able to ensure that results are established by the self-steering ability of a team, can focus on tasks that also matter. To reach that point, the project manager will have a more then average separation-oriented attitude.

Human-oriented manager (the Country Club Chairman)
A high score on “relationships” and little attention for the realization of tasks. This manager focuses on the importance of the employees. Preferably, this manager focuses on the harmony and a pleasant working atmosphere. The task gets little attention. If this atmosphere orientation leads to higher motivation and task-oriented professionalism of employees is high, then you have the right manager in place.

Task-oriented manager (commander)
“Only the result counts”. This is the motto of a manager who scores high on task orientation and low on human orientation. Everything serves the business interests, aimed at the project outcome. Concern for employees is based on achieving the needed results. Especially in situations where rapid, adequate or high pressure performance is to be delivered, this task-oriented attitude is of great value. By the clarity of direction, everyone knows what to do.

Integration-oriented manager (the captain)
This manager focuses on team building. Good teamwork balances attention to relationship and tasks. In most cases, this is the right attitude in projects. People feel recognized and understood and the results will be realized. Two aspects that will lead to increased motivation.

The golden mean (the mediator)
This manager divides his attention between people, organization and personal goals. The manager strives for an acceptable balance between organizational performance and personal needs. Also his own.

Developing task- and people-oriented leadership
The position of project managers in the Managerial Grid is not fixed. Through personal development, changes in the environment and/or the company, the project manager may adopt another position. By learning the project manager to change his style according the situation, he can be highly effective in managing projects.

So far about leadership for now. In a future article I will take situational leadership a step forward. If you have any question please do not hesitate to write me a comment. For more information, please visit our website www.intrprimus.nl.


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