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Do projects need management or leadership?

Adeline Teoh ed.
July 1, 2013

Australia has changed Prime Minister for the second time in just over three years, South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela survives only on life support and Texan politician Wendy Davis just defeated an abortion bill by talking for 13 hours. And that was just June 26 in a nutshell.

The events of the past week have put the idea of leadership into sharp focus for me, because they represent different kinds of leadership. I must admit I never really considered the difference between management and leadership until recently. When examining how projects succeed, I have always thought of good project managers who may or may not have leadership qualities. The emphasis was always on the good management.

According to leadership author Warren Bennis, there is some overlap between management and leadership, but they are two discrete areas. Some traits he outlined included:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

I don’t agree with all of them. I don’t think, for example, that leaders do all the innovating, though perhaps leaders are more likely to allow space for innovation than managers are. I also feel this sweeps management into a pile that resembles bureaucracy rather than what we might consider modern management, which all have a dash of leadership in them (Bennis wrote On Becoming a Leader in 1989, after all).

The other aspect of this dissection led me to think about the glorification of leadership. In looking at the top we often forget that that position only exists on the good work done by everyone else who chooses him/her as a leader. Sometimes by looking outward for leadership we forget that we have an inner leader that we need to foster, and that it is okay to lead from the inside.

So, good project managers of the world, it’s all right to manage a project without feeling like you need to take a leadership position as well. You can lead in many ways—by example, by inspiration, by empowerment—or you can choose to lead through sound management. You can be a manager of a project while being a leader of people… otherwise how do things get done?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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