Project Leadership vs Project Management

Project Leadership vs Project Management

This is not a new subject and I bet during the course of your career you have come to a point that one is doing other’s job and vice versa. I would like to elaborate on the topic and share my experience on the framework of the roles around project management.

Project Leadership (PL): A complex project can certainly benefit from presence of a project leader. It is hard to quantify the level of complexity, but presence of one or a combination of following factors would impose a multi dimensional complexity to the project that need to be addressed and managed:

1. Handling multiple internal/external stakeholders

2. Managing several interfaces with other projects and/or business units (e.g. operations)

3. Presence of one or several strategic external stakeholders such as JV partner(s) and/or multiple governmental authorities

4. Changing environment that demands effective communication with the project sponsors at strategic level (e.g. projects at the  business development stage)

Integrated upstream projects are a good example of managing a project in a complex environment. The role of the project leader is critical to the success of the project. The PL will be actively working on the interfaces, effectively communicating the risks and opportunities to the project sponsors, JV partner and government authorities and will be orchestrating the project efforts on the fly. He/she would be a visionary leader hence he/she will be leading the change if deems necessary.

Steering committees and board meetings are the venues that she/he would bring the strategic issues for discussion and decision up to the attention of the senior leadership. The project leader usually reports to the project sponsor(s). Depending on the project size and complexity there may be one or several project managers reporting to the project leader. In some organizations this role is called Project Director.

Project Manager (PM) – The role of the project manager is to optimize the resources among scope/quality, cost and schedule and manage the project life cycle. In smaller and less complex projects he/she would be reporting to the project sponsor directly, but in more complex project this role will be reporting to the project leader.

The project manager is expected to manage the interfaces and make sure of the quality of the input that each discipline or stakeholder bring to the table. The project manager(s) need to be in sync with the project leader for optimum workflow and efficiency.

It would be to everyone’s benefit that organization develop a clear roles and responsibilities of the project leader and project manager(s), and not to leave it to people’s interpretation.

In the upstream context the project leader is expected to have a good understanding of the subsurface and reservoir, surface facility, gathering line, environmental and regulatory requirements, legal and commercial affairs, potential mid and down stream solutions, business case optimization, economic modelling and value improvement processes and so on. but the PL is not the subject matter expert in each and every domain (just like PM). Rather he/she should be a visionary leader; a charismatic individual who has demonstrated strong soft skills specially in strategic thinking, effective communication and business acumen.

The PM tracks the progress of the project in a respective discipline. For example in the case of the upstream project, the project might have dedicated PMs for subsurface and reservoir, surface facilities, mid-stream and regulatory and commercial, all reporting to the PL.


How these roles are defined in your project environment?