Leadership has long been considered as an essential success factor in business, government, and military environments. However, the optimal style of leadership in a particular organizational setting still remains unclear. Increasing public scrutiny of leaders has also raised the question of what leadership style is to be put in action that can guarantee success. Therefore, the purpose of this report is to identify and analyse in what key ways leadership is important to delivering successful projects and also what leadership theories, methods and concepts are most helpful in understanding effective project leadership. With a view to achieving these objectives, this report at first spots some key factors of effective leadership and then discusses few concepts that are momentous in delivering present day views of leadership.
The periphery of such undertaking is enormous and it is quite complex to capture an instant snap shot across a number of leadership strategies. In order to react to the changing global environment, leaders consistently modify their strategies and behaviours. Therefore, the paper has attempted to limit the depth of investigation across the various measurement criteria because of time and resource constraints. Nonetheless, these can be satisfactorily used for high level evaluation.
Importance of leadership in delivering successful projects
Leadership, being different from management, requires different knowledge; different skill set and accomplishes different purpose. While management deals with the present, the resources and the facts; leadership deals with the future, the people and personalities and the ideas.
The first rule of effective leadership is to identify and maintain awareness of critical success factors. Things that matter most should not be left at the mercy of things that matter least. As aptly put by Ingen (2007, p. 55), a project leader must characterize the project drivers. A clear focus on priority prevents the project from being distracted. Setting and actively monitoring the goals is also crucial in delivering success because without knowing the destination, a project may end up at someplace undesirable. To establish team goals, leader presents a set of project goals at the kick-off meetings and team progress is to be reviewed against these goals, celebrating success and capturing lessons learned from the failures. Leader has to create an environment for success. Leader provides a clear vision on what success looks like and how it can be achieved. A successful leader lays a firm foundation with the bricks that others have thrown at him. Developing a comprehensive execution plan is the key to turn lemons into lemonade. Understanding the power environment of the organization and the position of its actors is also vital to the success of a project (Lovell, 1993, p. 76). As identified by Block (1983, p. 198), this understanding is a combination of conscious and intuitive, almost instinctive, thought process leading to actions. Failure to understand and control the political process has been the cause of downfall of many projects (Heery, 1998, p. 255). Block (1983, p. 2000) identified that successful project leader has to understand the organization’s formal structure, its informal structure such as friendships, alliances; and also its environment such as each player’s motivation, priorities and values.
A successful leader is responsible for clear communication. A vast majority of project failures can be traced, directly or indirectly, to communication failures (Ingen, 2007, p. 57). The number of communication channels increase exponentially with the size of project team. Regular project updates and formal presentations and communications to defined stakeholders and frequent governance meetings are formal means, while the informal ones require more face ensuring currency in knowledge and not to mention tapping into the grapevine (Bourne, 2008, p. 16). Moreover, Briner, Hastings and Geddes (1996, p. 155) are of the opinion that maintenance in the form of active communication also provides early warnings. Durable relationship is the key to surviving and thriving in the organizational political structure through peaceful settlement of differences (Briner et al., 1996, p. 72). The person who does the most talking and a successful leader are rarely the same person. There is a time to talk and there is a time to listen and a good leader allocates attention properly. Since team members were hired because of their expertise, actively listening to them breeds respect, trust and confidence because at the end of the day people will forget what someone said, people will forget what someone did, but they will never forget what someone made them feel (Ingen, 2007, p. 56).
An effective leader does not think himself as a new way of acting; rather he acts himself into a new way of thinking. Bourne (2008, p. 15) finds a very few leader that are good at anticipating, identifying and knowing how to dilute disasters caused by equivocal power relationships. According to Briner et al. (1996, p. 76), every organization has its own dynamics, distinctive pattern of actions and reaction to which an effective leader can read and adapt to. It is imperative for a project leader to understand how to react in a particular situation and if necessary, adapt behaviours to ensure success. According to Thompson (2011, p. 32), the emphasis must be on striking a balance between deliberate rational thoughtful strategies as well as supporting the psychology of emotive and intuitive aspects. Leader must also be able to recognize the danger signals, the early warning system, the warning of possible conflict with any stakeholder group. As mentioned by Boddy and Buchanan (1992, p. 254), only a project leader who has built credibility and knows how to tap into the power structures can defuse potential crisis. The main leadership skills still around are: being able to evaluate the effect and urgency of the issue and provide options and recommendations accordingly (Bourne, 2008, p. 17). As aptly put by Block (1983, p. 186), anticipating problems and planning long term strategies in a well thought-out manner can eventually lead to good solutions.
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