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Do steering committees really steer?

Stephen Keith McGrath (Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia)
Stephen Jonathan Whitty (Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 22 November 2018

Issue publication date: 8 October 2019




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the confusion among project management practitioners about the role of steering committees.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with highly experienced participants selected from a range of industries and disciplines in Queensland, Australia.


Six separate confusions on the role of steering committees were identified within that practitioner community. However, despite participants expressing various opposing views, they had actually come to the same working arrangements for their committees; all that was missing was a common conceptualisation of these working arrangements and consistent terminology.

Research limitations/implications

The paper provides clear evidence to the academic literature that confusion over the role of steering committees actually exists within the practitioner community and identifies six separate ways in which this occurs. It also identifies a problematic error in the widely used PRINCE2 governance model. Clarity in committee governance arrangements will facilitate future research endeavours through the removal of confusion surrounding committee labelling and accountability.

Practical implications

A committee decision tree model that guards against all six confusions is proposed for practitioner use, providing a means of avoiding unnecessary internal conflict within organisational governance arrangements. It can be used to check terms of reference of existing or proposed committees, facilitating organisational efficiency and effectiveness. The suggested renaming of project control groups to project coordination groups, and discontinuance of the practice of labelling committees that cannot authorise their decisions as either steering committees or boards, further supports this.

Social implications

Reconciliation of terminology with actual practice and the consequent clarity of governance arrangements can facilitate building social and physical systems and infrastructure, benefitting organisations, whether public, charitable or private.


Clarity regarding committee accountability can avoid confusion, misunderstanding and their consequent waste of time, resources and money.



McGrath, S.K. and Whitty, S.J. (2019), "Do steering committees really steer?", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 785-807.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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