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Project Leadership: the Game Changer in Large-scale Complex Projects

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Author: Reinhard Wagner     Source: IPMA
A new report on Project Leadership, published by the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM) and the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership at the University of Sydney, emphasises the fact that “the game changer in large scale complex projects is the leaders’ ability to see projects not just as assets or systems but also as conversations and act from a Strategist logic.”

In the Executive Summary of the report it is mentioned that global importance of projects is increasing while the environment in which projects are selected, shaped, designed and delivered is becoming significantly more challenging. It is imperative that the project leadership adapts to this changing context if projects are to deliver their envisioned outcomes and value. It is argued in the report that a fundamental paradigm shift is needed in how project leaders understand projects if they are to develop and sustain these capabilities and truly adapt to the challenging environments that they face. This paradigm shift requires project leaders to be able to extend across three distinct visions of projects that reveal increasing layers of complexity: project-as-asset, project-as-system, and project-as-conversation. These visions require an increasing emotional and cognitive capacity to act from a corresponding logic as Expert, Achiever or Strategist:

A project-as-asset vision focuses on the obvious characteristics of the ‘thing’ that the project is meant to deliver. The corresponding action logic is that of an Expert where the leader is called upon to provide expertise in relation to the asset.


A project-as-system vision highlights the broad dynamics of the system in which the asset sits and the system that will deliver it. The corresponding action logic is that of an Achiever where the leader is expected to get it done.

A project-as conversation vision emphasises the ongoing dialogue that occurs in relation to the project and that shapes what meaning people give it or how they respond emotionally to the project. The corresponding action logic is that of a Strategist where the leader uses a deep awareness of what drives.


Insights were captured through a series of roundtables helping organisations understand contemporary needs and stay at the forefront of successful complex project delivery. In the report – drawing from contributions across Australia, Canada and the UK – it is described what this means across key areas of project leadership with focus on the following:


Reforming stakeholder interactions
Digital transformation & Industry 4.0 design principles
Considering the human side
Building high performance project teams
Re-imagining governance

Negotiation project success


The focus of the ICCPM roundtable series was to explore project leadership based on the above mentioned themes widely acknowledged to impact on delivering successful complex projects. Drawing on a perspective that focuses the human, complex, and changing nature of leadership in projects, participants shared their experiences and insights regarding the various themes and sub-themes around leadership in complex projects.
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