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The lived experience of project leadership in a loosely coupled transient context

Christopher Cullen (Centre for Project Management, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland)
Brian Leavy (Business School, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 6 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the lived experience of the project leader and generate additional insight into the relationship between the social and technical aspects of the actual practice of project leadership, focussing on a particular type of project that is prevalent in practice but largely overlooked in mainstream literature. It is referred to here as a “loosely coupled transient” (LCT) project.


Using an exploratory, inductive approach, the research investigates the lived experience of 30 project management (PM) practitioners to try to deepen the empirical and conceptual insight into the nature of the leadership challenge and what it takes to be successful in the LCT project setting. The research design includes an extra data-collection phase to allow the initial findings and their interpretation to be further validated and refined in the field.


The empirical findings highlight the importance of three socio-behavioural roles: context building, culture-bridging and political brokering, in addition to the more traditional technical coordinating role, and examine their implications for future research and practice.

Research limitations/implications

The findings emerging from this study are based on the insights provided by 35 exploratory interviews and while they provide the authors with useful insights into the socio-behavioural roles that practitioners consider necessary, they should now be further examined through more focussed, systematic research.

Practical implications

This study points up that project leadership requires new forms of ability and intelligence described in this study as contextual, cultural and political forms of intelligence. Practitioners suggest the findings have a potential usefulness in the selection and training of future project managers.


The study attempts to provide a fresh perspective on social phenomena that are context specific, of relevance to PM practice and of interest to the academic community. It contributes to previous PM research by furthering the analysis of actual PM practice that takes place within the project setting by giving explicit consideration to the importance of understanding the contextual, cultural and political influences on leadership in the project setting.



Cullen, C. and Leavy, B. (2017), "The lived experience of project leadership in a loosely coupled transient context", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 600-620.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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