Balancing Leadership and Management in Projects



By Christopher Worsley

Cape Town, South Africa

Leadership in projects has come into sharper focus over the past few years.  A sensible balance between management and leadership has long been identified as necessary for many traditional projects.  Current practice and theory in project management suggest a rethink is needed.  For example, the PMI BoK has made the case that management and leadership roles may be best situated in different roles and people within a project.  Others have introduced the concept of servant-leadership, an interesting and unusual inversion of taking responsibility for decision-making

I agree that it is time to re-examine leadership in the context of projects, but first, let’s examine why it matters. What is the difference between management and leadership?  Here are some views:

The difference between management and leadership

You can see from this brief sample that leadership is exciting, while management – not so much!   Perhaps projects, work entities designed to create often innovative solutions, require a visionary approach and not the dead hand of structure and discipline?  Having 30 years of project management experience behind me, I believe John Kotter got it right.  He asserted that:

“The real challenge [in project management] is to combine leadership and management and use each to balance each other”

So how can project managers do this? What does it mean to be a leader, and when should you practice leadership rather than management?

Leadership in Projects

Projects have always been my first love because of the way they compress and accentuate classic management scenarios.  In a single day, a project manager may be faced with making significant strategic decisions and, moments later, complex tactical actions.  In a week, they may have to resolve technical, resource, and calendar time problems. It’s a great life if you like stress.  And so it is for leadership.

The functions and abilities of a leader in a project context are tested in three different circumstances.

First, project managers need to be able to manage and regulate themselves.  Anger, stress, and other behaviours must be internally channelled to deliver the project objective and not disrupt performance to satisfy personal gains.

Second, there is a continuing need to manage one-on-one interactions with team members, stakeholders, and other resource owners, influencing and collaborating with them to produce the outcomes the project manager needs.

And, of course, there is a need to lead in the more traditional sense of getting others in a group to follow or at least accept that what you want is what they want.


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Editor’s note: This article is based on a presentation by the author during the Project Management South Africa (PMSA) 2021 National Project Management Conference held virtually in November 2021m for which the PMWJ was a media partner.  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 profile at the end of this article and contact the author directly.

How to cite this article: Worsley, C. (2022). Balancing Leadership and Management in Projects, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue III, March.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/pmwj115-Mar2022-Worsley-balancing-leadership-and-management-in-projects.pdf

About the Author

Christopher Worsley

Cape Town, South Africa


Christopher Worsley was the CEO of CITI from 1991 until 2019. CITI is a UK company dedicated to developing organisational and personal capabilities in project and program management.

He now lectures in the University of Cape Town’s Masters’ programme on project management and provides coaching and consultancy support to several organisations in South Africa.

Christopher has been involved in project and programme management for over 45 years.  He has managed or supported several major transformation programmes and has been a programme architect and a lead assessor on programme assurance teams.

With his wife, Louise, he has published two books on planning: Adaptive Project Planning and The Lost Art of Project Planning (published by Business Expert Press in 2019).

For more, visit www.pi3learning.com; he can be contacted at cworsley@pi3learning.com