Project Management and Leadership: An Analysis


Prepared by: Majed Abdeen

A number of tasks and skills are essential for both managers and leaders working on projects, including: Managing conflict, leading teams, supporting team performance, empowering team members and stakeholders, ensuring team members and stakeholders are adequately trained, team building, dealing with and removing impediments for the team, negotiating project agreements, collaborating with stakeholders, building shared understanding, engaging and supporting virtual teams, and defining team ground rules (PMI, 2019).

As a Project Manager, I do agree with PMI that we have to employ both Management and Leadership in order to be successful. This is not only a theory in the literature, it is a required practicality. In my work experience, I've met many managers who employed both leadership and management based on the situation they are dealing with, and I felt that this was why they were successful; they knew both when to Push, and when to Pull.


Consideration of literature on the topic of Management and Leadership demonstrates they are intertwined; both are key aspects of the PMI Talent Triangle (PMI, 2017b, p. 9). Research shows that 75% of organisations believe that leadership is a critical required skill, especially with increasing environmental complexity (PMI, 2017b, p. 51). Leadership abilities enable individuals to motivate and direct others, enhancing overall performance (IPMA, 2015, p. 76).


Literature analysis indicates leadership has no single definition, as definitions vary through individuals and over time, and will continue to do so (Northouse, 2016, pp. 1-5); Packendorff, et al. note that leadership is frequently defined through processes and social, not individual matters (Packendorff, et al., 2014, p. 4). Leadership involves an individual influencing a group to attain a shared goal (Northouse, 2016, p. 6), while providing direction and guidance (IPMA, 2015, p. 76; PMI, 2017a).

Analysis of Leadership and Management (L&M)

L&M Relationship

L&M are intertwined, as demonstrated by IPMA: "Leadership…involves the ability to choose and apply appropriate styles of management in different situations" (IPMA, 2015, p. 76). Both have similar processes (Northouse, 2016, p. 13) and are essential in order to achieve goals (PMI, 2017a, p. 62); leaders and managers must work closely together (Mendenhall, et al., 2012, p. 493); managers should have their leadership skills developed in a variety of complex contexts in order to be effective (Mendenhall, et al., 2012, pp. 501,502). While management is assigned, leadership may be emergent, with team members functioning as leaders in specific situations (Northouse, 2016, p. 8).

L&M Differences

Management provides direction through set behaviours, while leadership provides guidance through influencing others (PMI, 2017a, p. 64). Thus, management is functional while leadership is relationship-focused (Maccoby, 2000, p. 58), the former seeks stability while the latter is about constructive change (Northouse, 2016, p. 13). The image below demonstrates key differences between the two:

Figure 1: Majed Abdeen after (PMI, 2017a, p. 64)

Thus, we can see that management facilitates, while leadership builds trust (Maccoby, 2000, p. 58). Considering positional functions in the literature, management is procedural, with tasks including planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, and controlling, problem and solving, while leadership is less-so, focusing on establishing direction and vision, aligning people, ideas, and goals, and motivating and inspiring others (Northouse, 2016, p. 13; Weathersby, 1999, p. 5).

Impact on Project Management

Leadership skills are mandatory in Project Management: since the majority of the Project Manager's work is communicating and working with others, leadership ability is essential to success (PMI, 2017a, p. 60). Good Project Managers recognise that team members can act as leaders and should employ this when managing, through empowering, assessing the team member's self-management, and ensuring the presence of a shared mental model (Müller, et al., 2018, p. 4). Harnessing leadership through management can ensure the Project Manager is able to deliver success.

Project Managers' Attributes

Literature analysis shows that Project Managers must be both managers and leaders. Analysis of two key Best Practice guides and their intersecting leadership and management skills required is demonstrated below:

Figure 2: Majed Abdeen after (IPMA, 2015; PMI, 2017a)

As shown, Project Managers must have both the practical managerial skills and the more intangible leadership skills. They must be able to manage relationships and conflict, through building trust, maintaining optimism, establishing consensus, and they must be efficient and skilled communicators, demonstrating and commanding respect, inspiring and motivating, and being able to both ask and to listen (PMI, 2017a, p. 61; IPMA, 2015, p. 76). The growing importance of leadership attributes is demonstrated through entities such as PMI developing new exams which focus on leadership skills and abilities for Project Managers, who must be able to define the vision and mission, be servant leaders, and be able to select and apply the appropriate leadership style for empowering and inspiring stakeholders and teams (PMI, 2019).


Project Managers must balance both L&M, obtaining and sharing power and authority within their organisations through being proactive (PMI, 2017a, pp. 63-64), demonstrating the skills and attributes of both management and leadership to deliver projects successfully. The greater focus on leadership impacts Project Management through encouraging Project Managers to become better leaders and therefore more successful managers.


IPMA, 2015. IPMA Individual Competence Baseline (ICB 4). 4 ed. Switzerland: International Project Management Association (IPMA®).

Maccoby, M., 2000. Understanding the difference between management and leadership. Research Technology Management, 43(1), pp. 57-59.

Mendenhall, M. E., Reiche, B. S., Bird, A. & Osland, J. S., 2012. Defining the ‘‘global’’ in global leadership. Journal of World Business, 47(1), p. 493–503.

Müller, R., Drouin, N. & Sankaran, S., 2018. Balancing Person-Centric and Team-Centric Leadership in Projects, White Paper: Project Management Institute (PMI), inc.

Northouse, P., 2016. Leadership: theory and practice. 7th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Packendorff, J., Crevani, L. & Lindgren, M., 2014. Project leadership in becoming: A process study of an organizational change project. Project Management Journal, 45(3), p. 5–20.

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

PMI, 2017b. Project Manager Competency Development Framework. 3rd ed. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

PMI, 2019. Project Management Professional (PMP)® Examination Content Outline, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Weathersby, G. B., 1999. Leadership vs. management. Management Review, 88(3), p. 5.