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Understanding leadership in the context of transformation projects

What is the research?

This research aims to advance understandings of individual, team and organisation-wide leadership capabilities for successfully delivering transformation projects, and ways in which they can be fostered. The research intends to provide advanced understandings of: approaches to leading transformation; challenges/opportunities for leadership and ways to effectively respond to them; and ways to examine and strengthen individual, team and organisational leadership capabilities. This study is linked to IPA’s Project X research initiative – theme E on capability, leadership and knowledge management.

Why is it important?

Despite presenting varying views on the failure rates of organisational change projects, most research agrees that a significant portion of transformation projects fail to meet their business objectives. As transformation projects increase in the public and private sectors, and the challenges facing them are growing in scale, scope and complexity, there is a pressing need to focus on improving the delivery of transformation projects. Addressing this urgent issue is also important for accomplishing APM’s ambitious 2020 vision of “a world in which all projects succeed”.

Understanding how to develop effective leadership capabilities can be a powerful response to resolving delivery issues of transformation projects, since:

  • Various studies and critical success factors identified by APM suggest that effective leadership is a key contributor to successful project delivery;
  • Various findings demonstrate that leadership challenges (e.g. high turnover of leaders, complexities of leadership decisions) can be important barriers to improving transformation project delivery capabilities;
  • Leadership is recognised as a key skill for project management professionals (e.g. in APM Body of Knowledge, APM Competence Framework). However, evidence suggests that the existing project management body of knowledge and training programs typically provide limited perspectives on leadership that are often inadequate for meeting demands of complexity and uncertainty .

This research intends to make a contribution to the APM theme of “Application of project management to transformation”. At the same time, as part of Project X, a wider initiative within the Cabinet Office, the study will also generate valuable insights that can help further APM theme of “Improved delivery of public sector projects in the context of disruption”. Moreover, by focusing on understanding how individual and organisation-wide project leadership capabilities can be better developed the study also has the potential to contribute to the APM theme of “Frameworks for non-technical skills/competencies”.

Who is the intended audience?

This research will be conducted as part Project X, a wider initiative within the UK Cabinet office. Infrastructure and Projects Authority is providing access to the public sector projects. Empirical work concerned with the private sector will be conducted in a large financial services institution based in the UK. This access is being granted through the personal contacts of the researcher who has previously led complex transformation programmes.