Advances in Leadership in Projects and Programs



By Shankar Sankaran, PhD (Australia),

Ralf Müller, DBA (Norway) and

& Nathalie Drouin, PhD (Canada)


The concept of project leadership is moving away from traditional leadership theories, which viewed project managers as charismatic, transactional and transformational leaders. Recently, there has been a movement towards studying leadership as a process carried out by different members of a project based on the context. This has led to research on the relationship between the leadership of the project manager and that of team-based leaders. Moreover, recent theories of leadership such as authentic and servant leadership are also being discussed as relevant in project management contexts. In addition, the ethical and moral responsibilities of project leaders is becoming important due to its importance in permanent organizations. In this article, the authors report on their research on these trends and hope that their work will inspire other project management researchers to carry out further research on project leadership.

Moving from traditional leadership theories

The traditional view of leadership in projects has focused mainly on the project manager. A history of project management (Chiu 2010) identifies the charismatic or heroic roles of master builders as project managers who ‘held a premier position in society and drove the vision funding, design, and construction of historic structures and improvements’ (Flavell 2011, p. 79). Historic monuments like the Pantheon were built by Roman master builders.

A more contemporary view of a project leader is that of a transactional leader (Northouse 2016). This is due to the view that a project manager is an agent carrying out a specific task or project on behalf of the principal or project owner (Keegan & Den Hartog 2004). The project is viewed as a temporary organization set up to carry out a transaction (Turner & Müller 2003). However, as projects became larger and more complex, a transformational leadership (Northouse 2016) style became relevant to project managers (Turner & Müller 2006).

More recently, the view of the project manager as sole leader of a project has been challenged by team-based leadership theories such as distributed leadership (Lindgren & Packendorff 2009) and shared leadership (Clarke 2012)

Balanced Leadership

The authors of this article developed the theory of balanced leadership through a Project Management Institute (PMI)-sponsored research program that was carried out between 2016 to 2017, which has now, in addition to several journal articles, been published as a book (Müller, Drouin. & Sankaran, 2021).

The authors undertook this research to study project reality beyond the dichotomous understanding of team-based and person-based leadership. They wanted to develop an integrated view of project leadership and examine how such a view contributes to a project’s success.

A mixed methods approach was used to collect data. Data was collected by nine research teams comprised of 22 researchers from nine countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Sweden. In total, 54 case studies (Yin 2018) were conducted resulting in 278 interviews. These case studies were followed by a global survey, which resulted in 174 responses. The qualitative data were collected and analysed using the Miles, Huberman and Saldana (2014) approach. The survey data were analysed using partial least squares structural equation modelling (Hair et al. 2022)


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Editor’s note: This paper is based on a presentation by the authors during the Project Management South Africa (PMSA) 2021 National Project Management Conference held virtually in November 2021. The PMWJ was a media partner for that event.  To learn more about PMSA and their events, visit https://www.projectmanagement.org.za/. For more on the subject of this article, see the author profiles at the end of this article and contact the authors directly.

How to cite this paper: Sankaran, S., Müller, R., Drouin, N. (2022). Advances in Leadership in Projects and Programs; PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue IV, April. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/pmwj116-Apr2022-Sankaran-Muller-Drouin-advances-in-leadership-in-projects-and-programs2.pdf

 About the Authors

Shankar Sankaran PhD

University of Technology Sydney
Sydney, Australia


Shankar Sankaran, PhD, PMP, CPEng is Professor of Organizational Project Management at the School of the Built Environment at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia teaching advanced level subjects in a Master of Project Management Course and conducting research in project leadership. Shankar teaches project leadership in a Master of Project Management Course in Australia and conducts research in megaprojects and project leadership. He has published papers in The International Journal of Project Management and The International Journal of Managing Projects in Business and guest edited a special issue on megaprojects for the Project Management Journal. He is one of the editors of the book titled Megaproject Leaders- Reflections on Personal Life Stories and author of a book titled Balanced Leadership: Making the Best of Personal and Team Leadership in Projects along with Professors Ralf Müller from Norway and Nathalie Drouin from Canada.  More at https://profiles.uts.edu.au/Shankar.Sankaran and https://www.linkedin.com/in/shankar-sankaran-260320a/?originalSubdomain=au. He can be contacted at shankar.sankaran@uts.edu.au


Prof. Dr. Ralf Müller

BI Norwegian Business School
Oslo, Norway


 Dr Ralf Müller is Professor of Project Management, Department of Leadership and Organizational Behavior, BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, Norway, as well as adjunct and visiting professor at several other institutions worldwide. He lectures and researches in leadership, governance of projects, organizational project management, and research methods. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Project Management Journal and author or (co-)author of more than 290 academic publications. His research appeared in almost 300 scientific publications, including 18 books. In recent years, PMI, IPMA and other institutions acknowledged his work with 18 awards, including several fellow and lifetime achievement awards. Stanford University ranked him as among of the top 2% of the most influential scientists worldwide.

Before joining academia, Dr Müller spent 30 years in industry consulting with large enterprises and governments in more than 50 different countries for their project management and governance. He also held related line management positions, such as Worldwide Director of Project Management at NCR Corporation. Learn more at http://www.pm-concepts.com . Professor Müller can be contacted at ralf.mueller@pm-concepts.com


Nathalie Drouin, PhD

École des Sciences de la gestion,
Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM)
Montréal, Canada


Nathalie Drouin is the Executive Director at KHEOPS, an International Research Consortium on the Governance of Large Infrastructure Projects, the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, a full professor at the Department of Management, École des Sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM), Adjunct Professor at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia and Associate Researcher at École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP), Canada.  Nathalie teaches initiation and strategic management of projects in the Graduate Project Management Programs at ESG UQAM. The result of her work has been published in major academic journals and presented at several international conferences. She is looking at organizational project management, leadership issues and megaprojects. She is a former member of the PMI Insight Academic Group. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Logistics and Transportation Metropolitan Cluster of Montreal (CARGO M) and an Audit Committee Member of Parks Canada Agency Audit Committee, Government of Canada. With Ralf Müller and Shankar Sankaran, she has won the 2021 PMI Cleland Award for the book: Müller, R., Drouin, N., & Sankaran, S. (2019). Organizational Project Management: Theory and Implementation. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA; the 2019 Walt Lipke Project Governance and Control Excellence Award and; the 2019 International Project Management Association IPMA Research Award. Learn more at https://www.kheops.ca and  https://www.linkedin.com/in/nathaliedrouin/. She can be contacted at drouin.nathalie@uqam.ca