Leading projects by balancing vertical and horizontal leadership – International case studies

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Conference Proceeding
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Leadership has become a central theme in the project management literature. Two major streams of research have emerged in studies on project leadership: the person-centered or vertical leadership stream, which focuses on the leadership role and skills of project managers; and the team-centered or horizontal leadership stream, which recognizes the distributed form of leadership in projects. Previous research in project leadership has focused mostly on vertical leadership while in recent studies horizontal leadership has begun to emerge as an important area. While some view these two forms of leadership as separate, in reality, projects have to include both forms of leadership simultaneously. Studies on new product development teams have shown that horizontal leadership supplements, but does not replace, vertical leadership. We investigate the interrelationship between vertical and horizontal leadership in projects and argue that projects are characterized by vertical leadership which provides a socio-cognitive space in form of structures, processes and shared frameworks that enable the team to engage in horizontal leadership. Based on a study of projects in different organizational contexts in Australia and China, we provide insights about the characteristics of these socio-cognitive spaces and how they contribute to a balance between vertical and horizontal leadership in project management.
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