Leadership roles in project management

Pentagon leadership model

The Pentagon model is not a definition of leadership, but describes five crucial elements required within change initiatives.  The Pentagon icon was adopted to illustrate that the five leadership roles cannot operate in isolation.  Individual leaders may take on several of these leadership elements, or more than one person may contribute to one area.  An absence or failure of change leadership in any of these key areas will put at risk the entire change initiative.


Aesthetic leadership is provided by the business, pre-eminently by the catalyst sponsor.  As visionary leaders they translate general strategies into clear directions.

This aspect of leadership is concerned with creating a cogent, compelling view of the reasons for change.  It requires clear analysis of the current situation: the business problem, purpose or opportunity.  The assessment of the current situation must provoke in the change audience feelings of discomfort or dissatisfaction, as this provides an impetus for change within the organisation.

However, on its own, such an examination does not provide direction.  The visionary leader must also set out a prospectus for a desired future state where the current issues have been addressed by being transformed, resolved or eliminated.   In order for this to provide direction, the future vision set out by the visionary leader must be unambiguous, clear, compelling, tangible and make sense as a realistic alternative to the current state.  It must also be seen as having value to the organisation within the broader strategies of the business.

In effect, the visionary leader establishes a creative tension between two contrasting visions – those of ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ – that energises the organisation to seek change.

Political leadership is often provided through a network of alliances and agreements from disparate areas of the organisation.  Political leadership is typically a shared responsibility within the business community, often formalised in the change governance that is overseen by a change board.  At the least, political leadership sits with the catalyst, delivery and enabler sponsors.

It is the role of political leaders to associate the original vision with necessary changes to the organisation’s structures, processes, people, and culture.  The desired direction is translated into a set of meaningful changes for those whose support will be required to make it happen: the deliverers and enablers, and the wider organisation.

Political leadership in change is about describing and negotiating the impacts and benefits of the change.  It defines what will make the vision both acceptable and attractive throughout the organisation by elaborating on the value to the business and the factors that will ensure successful change.

Political leaders marshal the support of and align the wills of the various communities that make up the organisation.  Such political considerations necessarily involve negotiation and may adapt the original vision, but only to temper it in the sense of making it robust, demonstrably valid, coherent and achievable.

Strong political leadership will not seek to subvert the original vision, but will verify that it is wanted within the organisation, is do-able, and can be made to stick.

Action leadership is primarily associated with the delivery and adoption of products required to create the ‘tomorrow’ of the organisation.  It is required from those who are tasked with translating the political will and the project vision into a set of concrete deliverables and their adoption into the organisation’s operating model.

Action leadership is about focusing on achievement, maximising productivity, and ensuring that critical factors are addressed.  Action leadership can take many forms, employ varying management techniques and intra- and interpersonal styles that ensure the structures, procedures, roles, responsibilities and behaviours of the team and the individuals are aligned with the change vision.  This overarching cooperation requires interest in individual needs and desires, formation of group dynamics, and attention to task requirements.  An action leader will use these as ‘levers’ to create a positive momentum.

Ethical leadership may be fulfilled by, but is not exclusive to, the change design authority and other ‘rule enforcers’, but requires an appreciation of the impact of change upon established practices.

Ethical leadership involves judgment – the interpretation and application of shared standards that are concerned with the meanings and intentions embodied in formal practices and procedures and standards, and their relationship to the change being brought about within the organisation.

Ethical leaders seek solutions to the challenges of change, as opposed to the preservation of the status quo.  They will act to adapt and extend ‘the way things are done’ to improve or enhance the essence of the organisation’s shared values and culture.  Ethical leaders may act as a necessary check on ill-considered change, but as leaders their role is forward-looking and active, not reactionary.

 Structural leadership is typically provided by the enabler sponsors who ensure that changes brought about are embedded in the business and become part of the ‘new reality’. They are concerned with ensuring that business change is not only managed into place but embraced.

As formative leaders they ensure that the adoption of change supports the original intent.  Their primary focus is ensuring business value through the realisation of business benefit from the change deliverables and that the organisation’s values have been adopted by those within their units.  This involves ensuring that the business units are both willing and able to absorb the changes and derive value from them, and that the change will stick.

Formative leadership will be most prominent during adoption, but must begin as early as possible in the planning of change.  Formative leaders guide the business through the close-down of old procedures and structures as well as the adoption of new, and so they take the lead in setting expectations, addressing conflict and setting the climate within which changes will operate.

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