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Megaproject management and leadership: a narrative analysis of life stories – past and present

Shankar Sankaran (School of the Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, Australia)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 5 March 2018




The purpose of this paper is to glean leadership lessons of megaproject managers through the life stories of four purposefully selected managers from two contemporary and two landmark megaprojects.


A narrative inquiry approach applying thematic analysis is used to capture lessons learnt from these stories with a focus on leading megaprojects. Narrative analysis has been used in organization studies and this paper is an attempt to use it in project management research.


Common strategies used by all four megaproject managers to be successful include: selecting the right people and building their capability; building trust with stakeholders; dealing with institutional power and politics effectively; and having the courage to innovate. There were also some differences in the approaches used by these managers due the times in which these projects were implemented.

Research limitations/implications

The use of narrative inquiry is new to project management literature. As the life stories were not presented in the same way it was difficult to analyze them in the same manner, and further data had to be collected. This could have been avoided if it were feasible to collect narratives directly from the megaproject managers. This is being planned in future research emerging from this paper.

Practical implications

This study helps megaproject managers to exhibit leadership attributes that would be required to execute such large complex projects that have wide implications for the society, economy and the environment.

Social implications

Megaprojects are often considered major displacements that cause social and geophysical issues that affect the environment. Lessons learnt from these stories could be useful to avoid such issues. The stories analyzed showed the human side of the megaproject managers toward people related, health and societal issues.


Narrative inquiry is new to project management literature. In the past, project management literature has focused on extracting lessons learnt from historical and classical projects, but lessons from life stories of project managers have not been used for the same purpose.



Sankaran, S. (2018), "Megaproject management and leadership: a narrative analysis of life stories – past and present", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 53-79.



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