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The impact of ethical leadership on project success: the mediating role of trust and knowledge sharing

Sabeen Hussain Bhatti (Bahria University, Islamabad, Pakistan)
Saifullah Khalid Kiyani (OKTA IT Solutions, Islamabad, Pakistan)
Scott B. Dust (Farmer School of Business, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, USA)
Ramsha Zakariya (The University of Lahore–Islamabad Campus, Islamabad, Pakistan)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 9 February 2021

Issue publication date: 20 May 2021




Although the use of project teams is on the rise, there is a limited understanding of how project managers can ensure project team success. Research to date is relatively broad and does not pinpoint how and why leadership influences success in a project team context. Along these lines, we draw from social learning theory to illustrate that ethical leadership influences project success through leader trust and knowledge sharing.


We collected data from 175 project team members from the information technology and software industry to evaluate our hypotheses. The results were analyzed using structural equation modeling.


Our findings support our hypotheses, illustrating that ethical leadership is related to leader trust and knowledge sharing, and that leader trust and knowledge sharing mediate the relationship between ethical leadership and project success.

Research limitations/implications

Our work illustrates that the behaviors inherent in ethical leadership may be particularly well-suited for these project team challenges. Ethical leaders help team members understand that project success is possible when team members are transparent with one another, discussing their goals and challenges, and then working together to ensure their actions are coordinated in a way that increases the success of the overall project.

Practical implications

For those in industries or organizations where project teams are commonly used, our study may help to attract, select, and retain project managers that exhibit ethical leadership tendencies. Project managers are likely to be attracted to settings that align with their leadership style. Thus, organizations could focus on developing a culture that focuses on process over results.


We sought to align with the contingency approach to leadership, which suggests that the ideal leadership style depends on the followers, and the context in which the leader and followers interact. Specifically, we investigate ethical leadership as an ideal approach for project managers influencing members of their project teams. Our study demonstrates how ethical leadership is an ideal, context-specific approach that project managers can apply to increase the chances of project success.



Bhatti, S.H., Kiyani, S.K., Dust, S.B. and Zakariya, R. (2021), "The impact of ethical leadership on project success: the mediating role of trust and knowledge sharing", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 982-998.



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