Leading versus Managing and the Role of the Project Manager

Date: 17/11/2018

Prepared by: Majed Abdeen


For the PM, achieving business value, through project team collaboration and guiding project direction, is a major responsibility. Human behaviour affects projects, and PMs must encourage individuals to perform effectively (Morris, 2013, p. 12). PMs play various roles, described by Mintzberg, including Interpersonal, Informational, and Decisional (Mintzberg, 1990, pp. 168-171). The PMI Talent Triangle® demonstrates that PMs require all-round leadership, management and business strategy skills (PMI, 2017, p. 56), using negotiation, charisma, drive and energy to motivate teams and deliver the project (Morris, 2013, p. 24).


I believe perception of PMs is a critical challenge; it affects their actions. Questions are asked, and assumptions made about his/her function; even PMs may have no answer (Mintzberg, 1990, p. 163). Four common assumptions: managers are planners without regular duties; they require information provided by systems; that management is a science: Yet facts contradict these (Mintzberg, 1990, pp. 163-6). PMs deal with unsupportive stakeholders (Morris, 2013, p. 23), team attitude/mood, changes (Meredith & Mantel, 2012, pp. 114, 156), and in a global world, dispersed teams; all require communication, carefully chosen management styles, competence and trust (Verburg, et al., 2013, p. 68).

Management roles - Process and Methodologies

Management uses power based on positional authority (PMBOK 64). Terms used in literature include "directing", "controlling" (PMI, 2017, pp. 64-5), (Zaleznik, 2004). Managers implement policies and procedures using systems and structures, planning, coordinating, and controlling, organising teams to achieve targets, focusing on short-term delivery of results (PMI, 2017, p. 64). Management maintains stability, speedily resolving problems using an environment based on logic and strategy (Zaleznik, 2004).

Leadership Skills

Leaders inspire project commitment in teams by communicating the vision (PMI, 2017, p. 350) (Meredith & Mantel, 2012, p. 129), using personality-based power, including Referent, Personal/Charismatic, Persuasive (PMI, 2017, p. 63). Project management is a social construct (Morris, 2013, p. 25); soft skills are crucial. PMs must communicate frequently, clearly and openly; successful PMs do so 90% of their work time (Verburg, et al., 2013, p. 74) (PMI, 2017, p. 61).

Relationships and Conflict

People are willful, emotional, and have egos (Morris, 2013, p. 12) thus leaders must manage relationships and conflict by using trust, persuasion, compromise and negotiation; relationships must be as important to the PM as the project goals (PMI, 2017, p. 61). Conflict resolution skills are vital; often supplier-client relationships are adversarial (Meredith & Mantel, 2012, p. 156). Success depends on the PM resolving conflict without affecting project objectives (PMI, 2017, p. 348) (Meredith & Mantel, 2012, p. 161).

Push & Pull approach (Manager and Leader)

Managers act based on power, whereas leaders do so based on personality. Managers push, whereas leaders pull their teams to action. An organisation with only leaders, or managers, is incomplete; both are required to achieve objectives (Zaleznik, 2004). Leadership establishes and maintains alliances, engages stakeholders, aligns expectations. Agile supports servant leadership, which gives individuals autonomy to work (PMI; Agile Alliance, 2017, p. 38). While this benefits some, others benefit from closer management. Interactions between PM leadership and management are illustrated below:

Figure 1: Leadership vs Management


In projects, to be successful, we should not try to manage people; we should only manage their engagement. Frequently PMs must produce results without required authority; they must influence rather than control, requiring both leadership and management (PMI, 2017, p. 350). By creating trust, leaders can align goals, focus on work, and motivate teams and stakeholders, delivering the project effectively (Verburg, et al., 2013, pp. 73-7). Using Agile, which focusses on "individuals and interactions over processes and tools" (PMI; Agile Alliance, 2017, p. 8) enables PMs to create an environment assisting successful project delivery.


Meredith, R. & Mantel, J., 2012. PROJECT MANAGEMENT: A Managerial Approach. 8th ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Mintzberg, H., 1990. The manager’s job: folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review, 68(2), pp. 163-176.

Morris, P., 2013. Reconstructing project management reprised: a knowledge perspective. Project Management Journal, 44(5), pp. 6-23.

PMI; Agile Alliance, 2017. AGILE PRACTICE GUIDE. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc..

PMI, 2017. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Verburg, R., Bosch-Sijtsema, P. & Vartiainen, M., 2013. Getting it done: critical success factors for project managers in virtual work settings. International Journal of Project Management, Volume 31, pp. 68-79.

Zaleznik, A., 2004. Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?. Harvard Business Review, January.