The Evolution of Project Leadership



By Audrey Mphela

South Africa

Dinosaurs did not adapt to the new way of project leadership. Look what happened to them now. The project environment has certainly evolved. My question to the project leaders is, have they evolved? Are they confident that they and their project team can anticipates the potential threats and opportunities of an evolving environment and are able to make breakthrough decisions based upon a combination of expertise, experience, and forward thinking?

In this VUCA global village, it is of paramount importance that project leaders identify not only risks that are commonly known to projects but risks also that are emerging with no historical data, risks that are developing, and risks that are ever changing. It is also critical to identify the risk of being a risk to ourselves. An example of a risk to ourselves as project leaders, project team, and/or project stakeholders, can be the risk of being irrelevant, outdated and redundant. When we consider the changes that have taken place between what was key in ensuring project success a year ago to what is key today – the difference is striking in terms of the technology, methodology and the terminology we use.

The project team will need to evolve with these changes. Innovation and technology have proven to significantly improve competitive advantage and project success. In the Mythical Man Month, Fredrick Brooks, asks the question, “how does a project get to be a year late? …….one day at time.” Due to the evolution of the project environment, perhaps the question we should be asking today, in this instant society is…. “How does a project get to be a year early?’’ …. One of the key changes in the project environment is undoubtably the time it takes to complete not only one project, but multiple projects running simultaneously, where there is not one which is of less priority to the other. The expectation to expedite results is unquestionable.

(Example: The reconstruction of Santa Monica Freeway project in 1994)


Accessed 13/02/2022


Accessed 13/02/2022

07 January 1994, a massive 6.7 Magnitude Earthquake rocked Los Angeles. 48 000 buildings damaged, more than 22 000 people left homeless, some injured and some died.

One of the key areas affected was the Santa Monica freeway which carried more than 341 000 vehicles daily. The closure of the freeway cost Los Angeles more than 900 million dollars a day. This was back in 1994, 28 years ago.

Hashtag: #Project Management lessons learned should live forever: https://www.epi.org/publication/bp166/

Accessed 13/02/2022

The project leaders elaborate, “We were rebuilding the roads and bridges within 24 hours of the earthquake. I issued an executive order suspending all statutes and regulations related to state contracting.…My goal was to reopen I-10 within 6 months, and every other road within a year. Each contract included an incentive if the work was late, we charged a fine and if it was completed early, we paid a bonus and the motorists in Los Angeles were happy each time we did. We waived the requirements for lengthy environmental and permitting reviews for strict replacement work cutting 18 to 24 months off the construction schedule.”


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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: Mphela, A. (2022). The Evolution of Project Leadership, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue III, March.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/pmwj115-Mar2022-Mphela-the-evolution-of-project-leadership.pdf

About the Author

Audrey Mphela

South Africa


Audrey Mphela is a retail systems training specialist at SPAR SRDC where she was recently recognized as the best project manager for a 12-month project.

Audrey provides expert advice and guidance to store Owners/Managers with regards to IT Systems being used to develop skills and competencies.  Activities include assessing if a store is operating within accepted parameters for the various departments; providing retailers with sufficient system knowledge to assist them in the management of their business, to use systems correctly, to analyze and act effectively on the information contained in a system; analyzing financial indicators such as gross profit, high/low profit areas, sales growth/loss, high/low sales areas, sales versus purchases, stock holding, cash flow, ratios; identifying areas outside the normally accepted operating range for a given set of criteria and to rectify the situation using a set of procedures designed for this,  She advises store owners, store managers, supervisors, and operators on best operating policies and procedures to run and manage their stores to gain greater business benefit from using the group business systems, also to grow profit, reduce shrinkage and grow the business entirely through the application and utilization of the Group Business systems.

Audrey holds an Advanced IT Project Management NQF Level 7 Certificate with UJ and an E-Technology Professional Diploma.  She is currently engaged in Occupationally Directed Education and Training and development.