Projects and project management from a social perspective


Projects and project management for a sustainable social impact


By Reinhard Wagner

Munich, Germany


Nowadays, projects and project management are used as a matter of course in everyday working life as a solution approach for demanding tasks. A glance at the instruments of project management quickly reveals that they are based on the paradigms of rational thinking and action or on the mathematical principles of operations research from the middle of the last century (Morris 2013). People tended to play a subordinate role in this approach and were considered more of a risk factor in project-related work grounded in a process of efficient implementation. Project management standards, the associations and the literature focused mainly on the processes, methods and tools of managing projects in the following decades. It was not until the 1990s that people and their perspective on projects were addressed. At first, the focus was more on the qualification and certification of project personnel so that all of them could support the execution of projects as efficiently as possible. Only gradually did the realization take hold that people do projects for people and that the social processes are just as important to consider as management processes and methods throughout the project life cycle (MacNicol 2013).


Even if today it sounds quite trivial that people in projects work together towards a common goal and that, in this process, more and more often an effect is also achieved for the people involved and affected, this fact was only recognized in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For example, Lundin and Söderholm describe in their theory of temporary organization that projects are constituted by time, tasks, team, and transition. “Any temporary organization needs to be designed by and around people. Temporary organizations are naturally also dependent on the will, commitment and ability of individuals for their creation, development and termination” (Lundin and Söderholm 1995, 441). More than one and a half decades later, Winter and Szczepanek highlight in their book ‘Images of Projects’ seven perspectives under which the project is also described as a social process. “The SOCIAL IMAGE is a framework for seeing projects as social processes, covering aspects such as the ever-changing flux of events, the individuals, groups and organizations involved, and other aspects such as social networks, culture and tribalism, and language and metaphor” (Winter and Szczepanek 2009, 58).

It is no coincidence that stakeholder management was given special emphasis during the concurrent development of the first international standard for project management, ISO 21500, and was later also adopted in the PMBOK Guide of the Project Management Institute (PMI). The International Project Management Association (IPMA) had already started in the 1990s to describe competence requirements for project managers in a competence baseline, which was then released in 2006 in the third and finally in 2015 in the fourth and currently valid version. Competence is understood as the application of knowledge, skills and abilities for achieving desired results in a project and cover the competence areas of ‘perspective’, ‘people’ and ‘practice’. The ‘people’ competences particularly describe the “personal and social competences that an individual working in the project, programme or portfolio needs to possess to be able to realise success” (IPMA 2015, 29). In addition, the social perspective in projects and project management also involves a variety of other aspects, including those of motivation, self-management, leadership and teamwork, and many more (Turner et al. 2010).


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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles by Reinhard Wagner, PMWJ honorary global advisor and former Chair of IPMA. The series aims to position projects and project management in the context of society as social activities performed by and for people. The focus is on a sustainable social impact, which is to be achieved through the projects, and less on the management of the projects and the immediate deliverables. At the same time, projects are to be positioned as a means of self-realization through which people can jointly work for their communities, the environment or society as a whole. The series is aimed at the global community of project management practitioners, researchers, and those interested in learning about current developments in the field of project activities in society and how to achieve sustainable social impact through this engagement.

How to cite this article: Wagner, R. (2022). Projects and project management from a social perspective; Series on projects and project management for a sustainable social impact, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue I, January. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/pmwj113-Jan2022-Wagner-projects-and-project-management-from-a-social-perspective-series1.pdf

About the Author

Reinhard Wagner



Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 35 years in the field of project-related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Automotive, Engineering, and Consultancy, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, a leading PM Consultancy in Munich/Germany, he supports executives of industrial clients in transforming their companies towards a project-oriented, adaptive and sustainably successful organization. Reinhard Wagner has published 36 books as well as several hundred articles and blogposts in the field of project, program and project portfolio management. In more than 20 years of voluntary engagement he served the German Project Management Association (GPM) as well as the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in a range of leadership roles (including President and Chairman) and was granted for his international commitment with the Honorary Fellowship of IPMA and several of IPMA´s Member Associations. Reinhard is Senior Lecturer at the Alma Mater Europaea and is currently finishing his doctoral thesis on the topic of Project Society. He can be contacted via reinhard.wagner@tiba.de.

To view other works by Reinhard Wagner, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/reinhard-wagner/