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Transformational leadership in a project-based environment: A comparative study of the leadership styles of project managers and line managers

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Leadership is widely considered to be an important aspect of project-based organising and there are several reasons to suggest that transformational leadership is of particular relevance in this context. However, there is a dearth of both theoretical and empirical work on leadership in project-based organisations. The aim of this paper is to report the findings of an empirical study comparing the relationship between transformational leadership style and employee motivation, commitment and stress for employees reporting to either project or line managers. The results show that although project managers are not perceived as less transformational, the relationships between transformational leadership and outcomes tend to be less strong for employees reporting to project managers than for those reporting to line managers. Implications for future research on leadership in the project context are explored.
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Transformational leadership in a project-based environment:
a comparative study of the leadership styles of project managers
and line managers
q
Anne E. Keegan
*
, Deanne N. Den Hartog
a
Department of Marketing and Organisation, Faculty of Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O. Box 1738, Burg. Oudlaan 50,
3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Received 14 October 2003; received in revised form 27 February 2004; accepted 7 May 2004
Abstract
Leadership is widely considered to be an important aspect of project-based organising and there are several reasons to suggest
that transformational leadership is of particular relevance in this context. However, there is a dearth of both theoretical and em-
pirical work on leadership in project-based organisations. The aim of this paper is to report the findings of an empirical study
comparing the relationship between transformational leadership style and employee motivation, commitment and stress for em-
ployees reporting to either project or line managers. The results show that although project managers are not perceived as less
transformational, the relationships between transformational leadership and outcomes tend to be less strong for employees re-
porting to project managers than for those reporting to line managers. Implications for future research on leadership in the project
context are explored.
Ó2004 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Transformational leadership; Managing and leading; Organisational design
1. Introduction
Much of the current work on leadership – in both the
general leadership literature as well as in specialist pro-
ject management literature – stresses the importance of
so-called ‘transformational leadership’ [1,2]. Transfor-
mational leadership is a concept that has come to
prominence in the last two decades, and is also associ-
ated with terms such as ‘visionary’ and ‘charismatic’
leadership, e.g. [3,4]. Collectively, Bryman [3] labelled
these ‘new leadership styles’ to distinguish them from
other prominent models of leadership that emphasise
leader characteristics, leaders behaviours or a contin-
gency perspective (see for example [5] for an overview of
the literature).
Transformational leadership is associated with strong
personal identification with the leader, the creation of a
shared vision of the future, and a relationship between
leaders and followers based on far more than just the
simple exchange of rewards for compliance. Transfor-
mational leaders define the need for change, create new
visions, mobilise commitment to these visions and
transform individual followers and even organisations
[1,6]. The ability of the leader to articulate an attractive
vision of a possible future is a core element of trans-
formational leadership [7]. Such leaders display cha-
risma and self-confidence. While a leader’s charisma
may attract subordinates to a vision or mission, pro-
viding individualised consideration and support is also
needed to gain desired results and helps individual
subordinates achieve their fullest potential. Individua-
lised consideration implies treating each individual as
valuable and unique, and aiming to aid his or her per-
sonal development. It is in part coaching and mentoring
provides for continuous feedback and links the indi-
vidual’s current needs to the organisation’s mission.
q
Both authors contributed equally to this paper.
*
Corresponding author. Tel.: +31-10-408-1347; fax: +31-10-4089-
169.
E-mail addresses: keegan@few.eur.nl (A.E. Keegan), denhartog@
few.eur.nl (D.N. Den Hartog).
0263-7863/$30.00 Ó2004 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2004.05.005
International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 609–617
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF
PROJECT
MANAGEMENT
www.elsevier.com/locate/ijproman
Finally, intellectual stimulation is also part of the
transformational leadership style. An intellectually
stimulating leader provides subordinates with a flow of
challenging new ideas to stimulate rethinking of old
ways of doing things [1,6,8,9].
Transformational leadership is often contrasted with
transactional leadership. Transactional leadership is
based on (a series of) exchanges between leader and
follower. Followers receive certain valued outcomes (e.g.
wages, prestige) when they act according to the leader’s
wishes [6,10]. Transformational leadership goes beyond
the cost-benefit exchange of transactional leadership by
motivating and inspiring followers to perform beyond
expectations [6]. As Hater and Bass [11] point out,
contrasting transactional and transformational leader-
ship does not mean the models are unrelated. Burns [10]
thought of the two types of leadership as being at op-
posite ends of a continuum. However, here we follow
Bass [6], who views transformational and transactional
leadership as separate dimensions. This viewpoint im-
plies that leaders could show both transactional and
transformational behaviors. Bass argues that transfor-
mational leadership builds on transactional leadership
but not vice versa.
Transformational leaders (when compared to trans-
actional leaders) were shown to have subordinates who
report greater satisfaction, motivation and commitment,
and who more often exert extra effort. Transformational
leadership is also associated with higher levels of trust in
the leader on the part of subordinates, which in turn
leads them to show more so-called ‘‘organisational cit-
izenship behaviours’’ [12,13]. In sum, leaders with a
transformational style are seen as more effective by
subordinates and superiors and tend to have higher
performing units and businesses [14,15].
The aforementioned findings were mostly obtained in
non-project-based organisations. The question we ask
here is whether this style of leadership is also relevant to
the project-based context. The issue of how to lead
employees in project-based firms is one that attracts
considerable attention in the specialist project manage-
ment literature [2,16,17]. Leading commentators have
recently begun to suggest that transformational leader-
ship may be of particular interest in the project-based
context. They stress for example the growing importance
of emotional and motivational aspects of the role of
project managers, and the necessity for project managers
to develop faith in and commitment to a larger moral
purpose in their role as chief executive officers in tem-
porary organisations [18]. Project managers are con-
ceived of as leading ‘‘a diverse set of people despite
having little direct control over most of them’’ [16, p.
467], and transformational leadership resonates with the
leadership demands of project-based organising in em-
phasising the visionary, inspirational role of leaders [2].
Because project managers are conceived of as leading
‘‘groups of talented people in an environment of col-
laborative bureaucracy’’ [17, p. 72-2] the emphasis has
shifted from control and compliance to identification,
loyalty and commitment. Such processes are central to
transformational leadership. Thus, transformational
leadership is a style of leading that may suit the project
context well.
Although it is widely accepted that ‘‘projects are be-
coming increasingly complex, requiring multi-disciplin-
ary teams comprising of specialists and consultants from
different organisations’’ [19, p. 71-1], not all project
teams are the same. There are different forms of project-
based working and these have varying consequences for
leader behaviour and effectiveness. Different types of
project organisation are used to organise the labour
process. Although there are different typologies to de-
scribe these, the results are generally quite similar
[20,21]. Drawing on the work of Turner [20] these in-
clude for example the functional hierarchy, the co-or-
dinated matrix, the balanced matrix, the secondment
matrix and the project hierarchy. The choice of which
form to use depends on several factors including one of
which is of particular relevance to us in this paper – the
question of where to locate project resources. There are
two extremes that we can discuss to draw out important
theoretical issues – (1) resources can be either isolated
from normal operations being placed in a task force, or
else (2) integrated with operations by working on a
project from their normal place of work [20].
In cases where it is decided to isolate the resources,
project members are released full-time from their nom-
inal organisational homes, for example the function or
department with whom they generally work, and placed
in a separate project location. Cleland and Ireland [16]
describe a ‘pure project organisation’ as one in which the
project manager has complete line authority over the
project personnel such that project participants work
directly for the project manager. Turner [20] describes
this form as ‘project hierarchy’.
Project team members may work on ‘isolated’ pro-
jects in the company with whom they are employed
(often in a project room laid aside for the duration of the
project) or at another location (for example offsite at a
client company). In both cases, the relationship between
the project member and their traditional leader – for
example their line manager – is altered. The line man-
ager may have less impact on the behaviour or perfor-
mance of the project team member because the two are
isolated from each other for the duration of the project.
In this case, contact can be maintained through planned
social events or chance meetings, but the day-to-day
contact is likely to be reduced. For the duration of the
project, the line manager is also less able to influence the
learning events or career development of the project
team member, and has fewer opportunities to assess the
person’s progress and performance except at a distance.
610 A.E. Keegan, D.N. Den Hartog / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 609–617
The relationship between the project team member
and the project manager as leader is likely to be different
from the traditional leader–follower relationship in a
functional hierarchy. Although the project manager is
responsible for the day-to-day work of the team mem-
bers – often for long periods of time – he or she often
has an unclear clear role to play in the overall devel-
opment, career plans and longer-term goals of the pro-
ject team member. As stated, helping subordinates
develop to their fullest potential is an integral part of
transformational leadership. This role may be harder to
play for project managers than for line managers in a
traditional functional hierarchy. The decisions and is-
sues regarding development and careers – of crucial
importance to team members – often remain the formal
responsibility of the functional or line manager. This
becomes problematic, however, when projects last for
long periods of time. A situation can arise where the
project manager has most insight into the performance
of the project worker, and perhaps the best insight into
the kind of developmental experiences that might benefit
the worker, but no formal authority to influence these
kinds of issues. Allowing the project manager to provide
leadership at this level is one way to resolve this diffi-
culty. However, this can meet with resistance from the
line manager or be hampered by the rules and regula-
tions set by the organisation for for example conducting
performance appraisals or succession planning. Added
to this, in the heat of the project much can be gleaned
from a project members performance in terms of their
potential, but when projects are disbanded and people
allocated to new projects with pressing deadlines, these
issues tend to lose urgency and the communication
needed between project leaders and line managers does
not always take place. Significant learning opportunities
– for both individual project members and for organi-
sations in general – can be lost as projects disband and
members go their separate ways [22].
Perhaps signalling the difficulties project team mem-
bers experience in managing the interface between pro-
ject working and traditional structures of career
management, a study of career development in the film
industry by Jones and DeFillippi [23] highlights the
transitory nature of projects and necessity for project
team members to be proactive in managing their own
careers and developing their own vision of career de-
velopment as opposed to relying on other parties. As
support for career development and progress are widely
associated with the leadership role, this may suggest that
leadership is less important to project-based personnel
than to personnel in more traditional organisational
relationships, a consequence of project-based working
we might expect to intensify for project members
working across multiple projects and thus under various
project leaders [24]. All of this suggests the necessity for
closer scrutiny of the idea that transformational lead-
ership is an appropriate and effective leadership style for
managers in project-based organisations.
Keegan and Turner [25] identified several other fea-
tures of project-based working of potential relevance to
leader–follower interactions beyond the ambiguous role
of project managers in influencing rewards and career
progress of project team members. They also mention
shifting and unstable collegial and managerial relations
and low levels of belongingness reported by respondents
working in projects. While commenting on the positive
effects of project working including flexibility, co-oper-
ation with colleagues from other functions and depart-
ments, and the opportunity to work closely with clients,
respondents also articulated a less desirable side of
(multiple) project working associated with feelings of
disconnection, low levels of social integration, and lack
of clarity regarding the role of (project) leaders in giving
direction, creating career development paths and man-
aging the learning processes taking place across multiple
projects and differing time frames. These aspects of
project-based working were described as ‘stressful’ and
frequently associated with the removal of artefacts that
serve to create stability of a sense of having a ‘home’
such as one’s own desk, post-box, computer facilities or
simply somewhere to hang one’s hat. Keegan and
Turner [25] coined the term ‘no-home syndrome’ to
summarise these features.
Older research had already pointed to the stressful and
ambiguous facets of working in an environment charac-
terised by low levels of formal structure and reporting
relationships and correspondingly high levels of techno-
logical change or competitive pressure creating the ne-
cessity for flexibility in orientation to clients and the
market, see for example [26–28]. Burns and Stalker [26]
for example theorised that although strict formal hierar-
chies associated with ‘mechanistic’ management forms or
‘machine bureaucracies’ [27] are often depicted as unde-
sirable places to work, more attention should be given to
the potentially negative aspects of so-called ‘organically
managed organisations’ including stress and uncertainty
arising from the necessity to constantly exercise high
levels of discretion and autonomy while working in a fast-
moving, uncertain and temporary organisational envi-
ronment. Alvesson [29,30] has conducted several studies
on leadership in knowledge intensive firms and describes
for example the disintegrative tendencies of this kind of
work deriving from frequent changes of project assign-
ment and shifting, unstable relationships between those
working on projects and the people who (nominally) lead
those projects. The disintegrative tendencies described by
Alvesson [30] can be explained by that fact that the as-
sumption that employees and their managers/leaders
share the same work location does not hold true in many
forms of project-based work arrangement. Location and
payment are the defining features of traditional Western
conceptions of work [31].
A.E. Keegan, D.N. Den Hartog / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 609–617 611
Hiltrop [32] suggests that organisational complexity
and ambiguity is growing all the time as a consequence
of external pressures, and that – ‘many people experi-
ence a sense of restlessness inside themselves with re-
lation to their employers’ [32, p. 70]. Modern
organising conditions, in general, and project-based
organising, in particular, may undermine strong iden-
tification between leaders and followers that is a core
aspect of transformational leadership. The identifica-
tion and trust-building processes involved in transfor-
mational leadership may thus be less likely to occur or
less easy to achieve in such temporary, shifting rela-
tionships.
To summarise, notwithstanding the positive results
attributed to transformational leaders, and the apparent
affinity between this leadership style and the challenges
of leading in project-based work arrangements, we must
bear in mind that research on the effects of transfor-
mational leadership has largely been conducted in tra-
ditional hierarchical arrangements. While the literature
would suggest that transformational leadership could be
highly relevant to and valuable for project-based firms,
there is a dearth of empirical studies to confirm this and
there is also reason to suggest that the effect of trans-
formational leaders might be weakened by features in-
herent to project-based working, including the
participation of personnel in multiple projects reporting
to different project leaders. The aim of the present paper
is to contribute to knowledge in this area by reporting
the findings of a study on transformational leadership
and its correlates, comparing project and line managers.
To address whether transformational leadership
styles in project-based contexts seem to produce the
kinds of positive outcomes found in traditional line
contexts, we examine whether perceptions of the lead-
ership styles of project and line managers differ and
whether the correlations between leadership and em-
ployee’s motivation, stress and commitment are equally
strong for employees reporting to both types of leaders.
As stated, in previous research done in non-project-
based contexts, employees’ affective commitment to the
organisation and their motivation (e.g. in terms of the
effort they are willing to extend) were found to be pos-
itively related to transformational leadership, e.g. [33].
We extend previous research by addressing these rela-
tionships in a project context. We also assess the rela-
tionship between this type of leadership and perceived
stressfulness of the job in the project context. Previous
research in non-project-based contexts has shown neg-
ative relationships between transformational leader be-
haviour and stress, e.g. [34].
Based on the above we expect:
Hypothesis 1. Project managers’ leadership style is on
average perceived as less transformational than that of
managers of functional departments.
Hypothesis 2a. Transformational leadership style is
positively related to employee motivation and employee
commitment and negatively to employees perceived
stressfulness of the job.
Hypothesis 2b. The relationships between leadership
style, commitment, motivation and stress (see Hypoth-
esis 2a) are weaker in project teams than in functional
departments.
2. Methods
2.1. Sample and procedure
In order to examine whether project managers are
different in terms of their transformational leadership
style and its outcomes than line managers we sought a
context in which operations and projects exist alongside
each other and project managers could be compared to
line managers. The study was conducted in a large
technical and logistics-oriented department of a gov-
ernment organisation that had restructured part of its
workforce into project teams in an effort to facilitate
more flexible and more efficient forms of working. The
pressure to work more cost-effectively had played a role
in the reorganisation. In total 700 people work for this
large department, of which 300 are project workers. The
work is mostly highly skilled and knowledge intensive
(e.g. purchasing of highly specialised and expensive
equipment). Employees currently either work in the
traditional line department or in the projects. They re-
port either to project managers or to managers of tra-
ditional functionally organised departments, not to
both. The organisation therefore provided an ideal op-
portunity to compare had leader–follower relationships
in an environment where employees perform similar
work in traditional line structure and in temporary
project-based teams. Managers of traditional function-
ally organised departments – hereafter line managers
are contrasted with managers of projects – hereafter
project managers.
Employees working in the line organisation worked
in a single functional group and reported to one line
manager. The sample was randomly selected from about
20 such groups, all reporting to different managers.
Those working in projects all worked in several teams
simultaneously and all reported to more than one
manager. As employees working in the projects all work
for more than one project manager at the same time,
they were asked to focus specifically on a single one of
these managers in filling out the questions. The re-
searchers indicated which manager the project worker
should focus on (all were asked to rate the manager
whom they were at that time working for most hours
for, information which was available from company
612 A.E. Keegan, D.N. Den Hartog / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 609–617
records provided by the organisation’s project staff ca-
pacity planners), which ensured that ratings of leader-
ship behaviour for 20 different project managers were
given. As previous research has shown that the indi-
vidual difference perspective is valid where transforma-
tional leadership ratings are concerned, e.g. [35–37], we
focus on the individual level responses.
Questionnaires were sent to 181 employees working
for the different line managers and project managers;
115 of these returned the questionnaire. Less than 5% of
the respondents were female. Respondents’ age ranged
from 25 to 61 and the average age was 45. On average,
respondents had worked for this organisation for 14.2
years. 7% had a university degree, 45% a college degree
and 40% had lower level professional qualifications.
2.2. Measures
2.2.1. Leadership
We used three subscales (charisma and inspiration,
individualised consideration and intellectual stimula-
tion) to measure transformational leadership and one
(contingent reward) to measure transactional leadership.
The leadership items we used were based on an adapted
Dutch version of the MLQ originally developed by Bass
and Avolio [38] and tested in the Netherlands by Den
Hartog et al. [9]. Where needed wording of the items was
adapted to fit the context and several items were left out.
Responses are given on 5-point scale, from 1 (not at all)
to 5 (very often). The charisma and inspiration subscale
had 11 items. The individualised consideration and the
intellectual stimulation subscale both had three items.
Cronbach’s a’s were 0.94, 0.79 and 0.75, respectively.
Sample items are: ‘‘ My line/project manager... ‘‘com-
municates a clear vision of our future opportunities’’,
‘‘listens to things that are important to me’’ and ‘‘shows
me how to look at problems from new and different
angles’’.
In measuring transactional leadership, we focused on
contingent reward behaviour. This implies clarifying
what subordinates need to do to be rewarded and en-
suring they get desirable rewards when their work meets
the agreed upon standards. The aforementioned 5-point
scale was used. There are four items in this scale. A
sample item is ‘‘tells me what I need to do in order to be
rewarded for my efforts.’’ Cronbach’s ais 0.82.
2.2.2. Commitment, motivation and stress
For the items measuring commitment, motivation
and stress, responses are given on 5-point scale, from 1
(not at all) to 5 (very often). The five items used to
measure affective commitment to the organisation were
based on the OCQ, originally developed by Mowday
et al. [39]. Cronbach’s ais 0.85. A sample item is ‘‘I feel
at home in this organisation’’. The items for stress and
motivation were in part based on Godard [40] and in
part formulated by the researchers based on extant lit-
erature and current theorising on project-based organ-
ising. Three items tap stress. Cronbach’s a0.67. A
sample item is ‘‘My job is stressful’’. Four items tap
motivation. Cronbach’s a0.82. A sample item is ‘‘I al-
ways give 100% where my work is concerned’’.
3. Results
In order to test our first hypothesis (project manag-
ers’ leadership style is seen as less transformational than
that of line managers), we performed ttests. Table 1
presents the means, SD and ttests comparing the two
groups of employees (i.e. those reporting to functional
line managers and those reporting to project managers).
Although the differences on leadership are in the pre-
dicted direction they are very small. None of these ttests
are significant, thus, no significant differences are found
between the perceived leadership styles of line managers
and the project managers. The two groups of employees
provide very similar mean ratings for these two types of
managers. Hypothesis one is not supported. We do not
find differences in means for these two groups on the
commitment, motivation and stress measures either.
Project team members are as committed and motivated
as employees in line teams and do not indicate that they
experience higher levels of stress in this organisation.
Hypothesis 2a focuses on the relationship between
leadership and the ‘‘outcome’’ variables (commitment,
motivation and stress). Table 2 presents the correlations
between the leadership and outcome variables for both
groups of employees (i.e. those reporting to project or to
line managers). Interestingly, there are some clear dif-
ferences between the two groups here. For commitment
and motivation, the predicted positive relationships with
transformational leadership are indeed found, but only
for the group of employees reporting to line managers.
The relationships are low and not significant for the
employees working in the project teams. We also find
that individualised consideration has a strong negative
relationship with stress, but again only for employees in
the functional groups, not for those in project teams. In
that group, again, no significant relationships are found.
4. Discussion
The aim of the current study was to extend previous
research on the positive impact of transformational
leadership on employee motivation and commitment by
testing whether these relationships also hold when
leadership is a temporary arrangement rather than a
permanent one. The project workers involved in our
study did similar work as the line workers. However,
all of the project workers simultaneously reported to
A.E. Keegan, D.N. Den Hartog / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 609–617 613
multiple project leaders and to all for limited periods of
time. The line workers all reported to only one manager
at a time, for an unlimited period of time.
We compared perceived leadership and its relation-
ship with motivation, commitment and stress in the
project teams with that in the line teams. We did not find
mean differences between the groups on any of the
variables. Thus, on average, subordinates of the project
managers in our sample do not perceive their leadership
style as less transformational. However, we did find that
transformational leadership correlates positively with
commitment and motivation in the line teams, but that
there is no significant link between transformational
leadership and commitment in the project teams.
We also looked at the relationship between this kind
of leadership and stress, an outcome that is not con-
sidered as often in the literature on transformational
leadership. The few available studies suggest a negative
relationship between transformational leadership and
stress and stress research in general has also pointed to
the potentially beneficial role of social support from the
supervisor or manager, e.g. [41]. Here, we find a strong
relationship with one leadership variable (individualised
consideration), but only for employees who have the
Table 2
Intercorrelations between the variables for the two groups
Sub-sample 1
1234567
Project teams
1. Charisma/inspiration 1.00
2. Individualised consideration 0.72** 1.00
3. Intellectual stimulation 0.75** 0.61** 1.00
4. Contingent reward 0.41** 0.19 0.30* 1.00
5. Commitment )0.01 )0.09 0.01 )0.07 1.00
6. Motivation 0.10 0.16 0.07 )0.08 0.32** 1.00
7. Stress )0.08 )0.03 0.04 0.12 )0.14 0.12 1.00
Sub-sample 2
1234567
Functional teams
1. Charisma/inspiration 1.00
2. Individualised consideration 0.71** 1.00
3. Intellectual stimulation 0.66** 0.67** 1.00
4. Contingent reward 0.42** 0.34** 0.41** 1.00
5. Commitment 0.31* 0.21 0.30* 0.04 1.00
6. Motivation 0.31* 0.21 0.27* 0.06 0.45** 1.00
7. Stress )0.14 )0.46** )0.11 0.05 )0.06 0.13 1.00
Table 1
Means and ttests for the variables in this study
Subgroup Mean SD Tvalue
Charisma/inspiration 1 Project team 3.04 0.98 )0.48 n.s.
2 Functional team 3.13 1.01
Individualised consideration 1 Project team 3.82 0.94 0.05 n.s.
2 Functional team 3.82 0.95
Intellectual stimulation 1 Project team 2.99 0.99 )0.90 n.s.
2 Functional team 3.15 0.87
Contingent reward 1 Project team 2.80 0.69 )0.26 n.s.
2 Functional team 2.82 0.91
Commitment 1 Project team 3.52 0.80 )1.1 n.s.
2 Functional team 3.70 0.89
Motivation 1 Project team 4.43 0.49 0.16 n.s.
2 Functional team 4.41 0.60
Stress 1 Project team 1.50 0.68 )0.12 n.s.
2 Functional team 1.53 0.76
n.s., Ttest not significant.
614 A.E. Keegan, D.N. Den Hartog / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 609–617
more permanent working relationships with their boss.
Thus, while line manager’s individualised consideration
appears to provide a buffer to employees in terms of
stress, project manager’s leadership style may be less
related to stress outcomes for their personnel. This
might suggest that employees reporting to project
managers may not seek their social support from their
project managers to the same extent.
5. Limitations
The study has some limitations. These include the
cross-sectional design in which same source bias may
play a role. Although we used several outcome mea-
sures, other relevant leader outcomes (such as perfor-
mance) may show a different picture. Also, the study
was performed in a single organisation. Project orien-
tation in this company is a recent development, and our
findings may be influenced by the fact that project-based
ways of working are perhaps not established to the ex-
tent that other organisational and human resource
management systems have had time to adapt to the
exigencies of project-based working methods. It is clear
that longitudinal research using multiple data sources
would be of particular value in identifying the way
project-based working influences the broader organisa-
tional design and HRM issues, as well as vice versa.
These elements imply that further research in this area is
needed.
The main conclusion we can draw from this study is
that project managers are likely not that different from
line managers in terms of their transformational lead-
ership behaviour, i.e. project manager’s leadership be-
haviour is not necessarily seen as more or less
transformational than that of line managers. However,
the results also suggest that in a temporary project-
based work arrangement, leadership may have less im-
pact on employee attitudes and outcomes than in a
traditional line management work arrangement. As
stated, future research is needed to further investigate
these conclusions.
6. Theoretical and practical implications for leadership in
project-based firms
There are important theoretical and practical impli-
cations arising from our findings. To begin with, our
findings suggest that although project managers and line
managers do not differ significantly in terms of their
transformational leadership styles, the impact of project
managers may be weaker than the impact of line man-
agers in terms of outcomes such as motivation, com-
mitment and stress of their employees. This suggests
that for some reason or reasons, what project managers
do and how they treat their followers just does not seem
to have as strong an effect on followers as is achieved by
line managers with the same leadership styles. What
might explain this? If the difference is not in the leaders
(project versus line), it may be in the way certain or-
ganisational factors mediate or moderate the relation-
ship between project or line managers and those they
lead. Perhaps career systems support the line manager in
their efforts to motivate and win commitment, but do
not support, or support to a lesser extent, project
managers’ efforts. Are human resource management
systems working with or against project managers in
their leadership roles?
Seen from the perspective of employees working on
several projects, is the impact of project manager’s
leadership styles diluted by the frequent change of re-
porting relationships? Are project manager’s unable to
make the same promises or exercise the same influence
over careers as their line manager counterparts on ways
that effect their respective effects on outcomes such as
stress, commitment and motivation. Clearly, if this is the
case, the exuberance with which some writers embrace
new temporary and flexible organisational forms may
need to be tempered by the possibility that such work
arrangements strain leader–follower relationships and
make leadership in general a more difficult undertaking.
Our results also suggest that new forms of organising
with their multiple forms of governance [42] require new
leadership theories to be developed in reaction to spe-
cific demands of this type of work arrangement and the
nature of the relationship between project managers and
project team members. Such models could for example
incorporate the fact that while transformational lead-
ership assumes a relatively straightforward relationship
between leaders and a stable body of ‘followers’, the
situation in project-based organisations is often one of
multiple and temporary leader–follower relationships,
shifting alliances and overlapping social relationships. If
these shifting and unstable social relations lessen the
impact of project managers leadership style on worker
outcomes such as motivation, commitment and stress, as
our study suggests might be the case, then new leader-
ship models should address the dynamics of leadership
under conditions of temporary projects and multiple,
overlapping leader–follower relationships. Research can
be envisaged that addresses how manager’s can build a
sense of belonging among employees working simulta-
neously across different teams and different managers?
What is the role of the HR function or HR practices in
this process? Research might also address the role of
broader mechanisms for social integration of employees
working in multiple, temporary project teams and the
potential drawbacks and benefits of such mechanisms.
Extant literature suggests that ideas on leadership in
project-based organisations are based on general theo-
ries of leadership developed in traditional functional
A.E. Keegan, D.N. Den Hartog / International Journal of Project Management 22 (2004) 609–617 615
hierarchies. It is plausible that the practical programmes
and policies for leadership development that have arisen
over the years and been implemented in project-based
organisations might be out of step with the realities of
leading people in projects. More research is required on
leadership processes as they unfold and emerge in pro-
jects and appreciating the work processes and leader
follower dynamics of project-based organising. We
envisage research that adopts a grounded theory ap-
proach and uses inductive methods to explore leadership
processes within the project context. We have highlighted
several assumptions contained in contemporary project
literature that provides a basis for project managers to
examine whether contemporary leadership models – and
particularly those emphasising transformational leader-
ship – resonate with their own experiences as project
leaders. Answers to these questions could provide a
valuable basis from which to address leadership in pro-
ject-based organisations, and the factors facilitating as
well as impeding project managers as leaders.
Acknowledgements
The authors thank Drs. Willem Nagtegaal for his
help in the carrying out of this study.
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