Psychological effects on people involved in projects


Projects and project management for a sustainable social impact


By Reinhard Wagner

Munich, Germany


Projects appear from an early date in narratives. Daniel Defoe, for example, describes the 17th century as a ‘projecting age’ and characterizes those who perform projects as follows: “A mere projector, then, is a contemptible thing, driven by his own desperate fortune to such a strait that he must be delivered by a miracle, or starve; and when he has beat his brains for some such miracle in vain, he finds no remedy but to paint up some bauble or other, as players make puppets talk big, to show like strange thing, and then cry it up for a new invention, gets a patent for it, divides it into shares, and they must be sold… but the honest projector is he who, having by fair and plain principles of sense, honesty, and ingenuity brought any contrivance to a suitable perfection, makes out what he pretends to, picks nobody´s pockets, puts his project in execution, and contents himself with the real produce as the profit of his invention.” (Defoe, 1697: 17)

From the 17th century to the 19th century, there are many stories of people realizing projects and being passionate about them, but their achievements are often highly controversial. In the course of industrialization, the introduction of Scientific Management in the context of mass production and with the beginning of project management in the 1950s in defense and aerospace projects, more attention was paid to methods, processes and techniques (Morris, 2013). People were increasingly ‘means to an end,’ who had to subordinate themselves to management and processes and had to function. Only in the last twenty or thirty years has the focus of project work shifted back to people. Because people realize projects for people.

Winter and Szczepanek (2009), for example, have pointed to the social dimension of projects, emphasizing that it is not only the individual but, above all, the interaction of many people in a network is what matters for success. Turner et al. (2010) highlight aspects such as organizational structure and culture of projects, team development and leadership, diversity as well as well-being in projects under the social perspective. Later, psychological aspects, emotional and cognitive intelligence, flow experiences and psychological safety were added as perspectives on people in projects, but these have so far tended to be considered rather scientifically only and have found little entry into practical work. In the following, we will therefore sketch the psychological effects that projects have on the people participating in them.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is 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). Psychological effects on people involved in projects; Series on projects and project management for a sustainable social impact, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue X, October. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/pmwj122-Oct2022-Wagner-psychological-effects-on-people-involved-in-projects-series-6.pdf

About the Author

Dr. Reinhard Wagner



Dr. 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 Assistant Professor at the European University Alma Mater Europaea and teaches project, program and portfolio management. 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/