Leadership Skills in Complex Projects Management


A project manager needs to be adaptable when complexities arise in the course of their work (Hobday, 2000). For instance, when the scope of a project keeps changing, the project manager must be willing to adapt to change requests made by the sponsors. In addition, when employee turnover occurs, the project manager has to adapt and work with new employees who were not a part of the initial project briefing, meetings, and communication of the project goals and objectives.

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Conflicts of interests among the stakeholders of a project are bound to happen, thus requiring the intervention of the manager. On the other hand, employees are likely to engage in conflicts with their supervisors on issues such as workload, overtime, and team allocation among others. When such situations arise, the project manager has to step in to negotiate and resolve the conflicts (Kerzner, 2013). This means that negotiation and dispute resolution are requisite skills ideal for project managers.

Vision and Focus on the Results

No matter how complex and challenging a project becomes, especially because of unforeseen uncertainties, project managers should not lose focus of the goals and objectives of the project (Hobday, 2000). They should always uphold and meet stakeholders’ expectations for successful conclusion of the project. The managers need to constantly monitor the progress of the project’s milestones and assess whether they are inclined towards the vision of the project and sponsors’ anticipated results.

Emotional Intelligence

Managing complex projects requires the project managers to recognize other people’s emotions and theirs as well (Thomas & Mengel, 2008). They should rely on this emotional information to manage and influence the behaviours of their followers. For instance, employees are rational human beings. They react depending on the prevailing environment such as complex workloads, overtime, and commuting distance among other factors. Effective project leaders recognize these needs and may offer better wages, breaks, and travelling allowances among other incentives.

Effective Communication

Complex projects are characterized by many overlapping leader-follower relationships along a highly structured organisational hierarchy (Thomas & Mengel, 2008). In order to ensure employees at the lowest level of the organisational hierarchy attain the objectives and vision of the project, the project manager needs to be an effective and persuasive communicator with the middle-level managers. In order for communication to be effective, the project manager must win the confidence of the middle-level managers because they have direct contacts with employees at the lower levels.

Questions for Staffing Projects to Ensure Success

Tell about Your Personality of Working in a Team

  • Can you refer yourself as a team player?
  • What makes you think you are a good team player?

Tell about Workplace Diversity

  • Have you worked in a diverse team of people from different cultural backgrounds?
  • Have you worked in a diverse team of people from different disciplinary expertise?
  • Were you comfortable working in a diverse team?
  • In what ways do you think working in a diverse team shaped you?

Tell about a Time You Had a Conflict with a Colleague or supervisor

  • What was the issue beforehand?
  • Eventually, how was the issue resolved?
  • Were you contended with how the conflict was resolved? Why?

Major Causes of Conflicts in Project Management

Task Interdependency

In project management, there are many tasks or milestones that need to be accomplished based on predefined periods (Thomas & Mengel, 2008). In some cases, these tasks are interdependent. For instance, some tasks can only be started after the completion of other tasks. In other cases, separate tasks must be executed together in parallel. This interdependency may lead to conflicts in case the interdependent tasks are not executed as planned.

Diversity of Expertise

The execution of a project requires an amalgamation of employees with diverse disciplinary expertise and competencies (Thomas & Mengel, 2008). For example, employees may be specialised in economics, accounting, management, or engineering, among other disciplines. In real life, there is usually a tendency of people from one discipline of specialisation to feel superior to employees of other disciplines. This subjective perception can be a cause of a conflict in the course of a project.

Role Ambiguity

Many projects tend to lack organisational hierarchies or structures that define the chain of command. This is a common occurrence because of the temporal nature of projects characterised by many overlapping leader-follower relationships (Hobday, 2000). These deficiencies sometimes can lead to junior employees taking orders from multiple project supervisors, which then results in confusions and role ambiguity as some tasks end up unexecuted simply because another supervisor poached the designated employees. This does not only lead to supervisor-employee conflicts, but supervisor-supervisor as well.

Human Emotions

Workers in a project are rational human beings who can react depending on their beliefs and what they perceive is right or wrong (Clarke, 2010). This means that their subjective perceptions can make them behave in an unpredicted manner that could be a cause of conflicts. For instance, a supervisor reprimanding a junior employee in front of everyone is likely to cause a feeling of humiliation. Such an employee may end up deliberately rebellious, thus causing supervisor-employee conflicts.

Prospect of Change

Changes in a project are bound to happen, such as the scope and duration. When they do actually happen, workers in a project are likely to react to the changes because of what Clarke (2010) refers to as the fear of the unknown. Imposing the changes among the employees without consulting them, and lack of sensitive implementation on the side of the project managers, can easily trigger conflicts that manifest in form of high employee turnover, lateness to work, and many absenteeism cases.

Different Possible Ways of Resolving Conflicts


If the urgency and level of risk is low, the project manager may choose to ignore the conflict (Mackie & Mackie, 2013). The project manager can decide to address the conflict at a later stage when he or she deems necessary. This is a common practice where the project manager perceives that the efforts required to solve the risk are not worth the final benefit.


Sometimes the cause of a conflict could have emanated from the project manager as a result of implementing policies or strategies that were not mutually agreed upon among all stakeholders. If this is case, the project manager can accommodate the conflict by accepting the position of others (Mackie & Mackie, 2013), such as lifting the policies.


When time for handling a conflict is short, the project manager can decide to adopt the compromise approach (Mackie & Mackie, 2013). This involves searching for a solution that is mutually acceptable among the affected parties. Here, the project manager ought to take the middle ground without siding with any party.


Sometimes the project manager can involve different stakeholders to take a part in a dispute resolution involving the affected parties. As a total membership approach (Mackie & Mackie, 2013), the selected parties take time to understand the conflicts and come up with several possible solutions to the predicament. Then, the best solution is selected and implemented.


Clarke, N. (2010). Emotional intelligence and its relationship to transformational leadership and key project manager competences. Project Management Journal, 41(2), 5-20.

Hobday, M. (2000). The project-based organisation: An ideal form for managing complex products and systems?. Research policy, 29(7), 871-893.

Kerzner, H. R. (2013). Project management: A systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling. John Wiley & Sons.

Mackie, K. J., & Mackie, K. (2013). A handbook of dispute resolution: ADR in action. London: Routledge.

Thomas, J., & Mengel, T. (2008). Preparing project managers to deal with complexity–Advanced project management education. International Journal of Project Management, 26(3), 304-315.

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