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The Evolution of Project Management: A Behavioural Perspective 

By Sebastian Green 21 May 2024
The Evolution of Project Management: A Behavioural Perspective 

In reflecting on the evolution of project management over the last two decades, Professor Sebastian Green, Emeritus Professor of Management at UCC, emphasises the discipline's historical strength in applying engineering principles to manage complex production processes. He acknowledges its prowess in rational, analytical, and scientific methods, particularly in domains like construction and IT.   

However, Professor Green points out a significant limitation – a potential neglect of behavioural processes and what is really going on below the surface of project management group dynamics. Despite ongoing efforts to integrate behavioural aspects into project management practices, the discipline often tends to favour a predominantly rational and analytical perspective. This emphasis on technical proficiency, while essential, may overlook the intricacies of human behaviour, the importance of unconscious blind spots and of communication dynamics that differentiate between the rhetoric and what is really occurring, and team interactions that profoundly influence project outcomes.   

Evolution of Project Management

Moreover, Professor Green argues that in today's rapidly changing business environment, where innovation, collaboration, and adaptability are paramount, a purely technical approach to project management may no longer suffice and probably never did. He suggests that by embracing behavioural insights and understanding group dynamics, project managers will enhance their ability to navigate crucial challenges, inspire high-performance teams, and drive sustainable project success.     

Beyond Technical Solutions: Embracing Behavioural Insights  

To address this shortfall, Professor Green advocates for the integration of insights from various disciplines, including psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, social anthropology, and sociology. He argues that a deeper understanding of these disciplines is crucial for fostering effective project leadership.    

He further elaborates on the importance of behavioural insights in project management, emphasising the need to transcend purely technical solutions. Professor Green suggests that while technical prowess is indispensable, it must be complemented by an understanding of human behaviour, emotions, and interpersonal dynamics. Organisations can enhance team collaboration, communication, and overall project success by incorporating behavioural insights into project management practices.   

The Three P's of Behavioural Project Leadership

The Three Ps - Project Management

Internal Philosopher

In our interview, Professor Green introduced the intriguing concept of the "internal philosopher." He emphasised the critical role this inner philosophical framework plays in the realm of project management, particularly when facing the inevitable challenges of uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk. Reconciling what we think we should be doing (the existential imperative) along with what we are required to do and what we are actually doing in our project and practice (the normative and phenomenological aspects) enhances personal well-being and the likelihood of project and organisation success. 

Moreover, he highlighted how this reflective process fosters a culture of psychological safety within project teams, encouraging open dialogue, innovative thinking, and collective problem-solving.   

Personal Progression: Draftsmanship to Abstraction

Professor Green drew a fascinating parallel between project management and artistry, urging project managers to transcend the confines of mere technical proficiency and embrace abstraction. Project managers can tackle complex challenges with agility and ingenuity by leveraging both the left-brain (analytical) approach and the intuitive, right-brain (emotional and creative) perspective.   

Through such personal progression, they can transcend the limitations of the concrete to think outside the box and be open to new and exciting possibilities, what some are now calling the potential of negative capability. Coined by the famous poet John Keats in 1817 when he was only 22 years old, this is a peculiar state in which a person 'is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'  Authentic leadership requires both positive and negative capability.   

Professor Green's insights underscore the importance of cultivating a holistic skill set that integrates analytical rigour and imaginative flexibility.    

Positive Vulnerability

One of the key themes Professor Green emphasises is the concept of "positive vulnerability." He advocated for project leaders to embrace vulnerability as a catalyst for growth and resilience, particularly amid uncertainty and adversity. Rather than viewing vulnerability as a weakness, Professor Green highlighted its transformative potential in fostering trust, empathy, and authentic communication within project teams.  

Acknowledging one's own and other's vulnerability rather than denying it, using it as a crutch for poor performance, or blaming others can allow both authority and followership to be embraced in positive, non-threatening ways.    

This creates a safe and supportive environment where team members feel empowered to express their concerns and ideas openly, and project leaders can enhance collaboration, creativity, and, ultimately, project success.   

Project Leadership - The Future of Project Management

Looking ahead, Professor Green envisions a transition whereby project management is accorded its correct (re) designation as Project Leadership. He predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) will assume control over technical aspects. However, human project leaders' distinctive contribution lies in their capacity to navigate behavioural complexities and take up their leadership to leverage healthy relationships that support the achievement of appropriate project and organisational outcomes. This is essential to avoid the pitfall of creating poor leader-follower relations and steer their project teams to become work groups focused on the task rather than on anti-task dysfunctional group dynamics.    

Professor Green stresses the need for developing project leaders who can engage with stakeholders, inspire team members, and adapt to diverse project environments. By integrating behavioural skills into project management education and training, organisations can prepare future leaders to excel in an increasingly complex business landscape.   

The Imperative for Behavioural Skills 

According to Professor Green, the future trajectory of project management hinges on a paradigm shift toward embracing behavioural skills and an appreciation of the blind spots and personal and organisational defences that frustrate thinking that is in touch with reality. Without this evolution, project management risks obsolescence as AI takes over administrative tasks. He underscores that education and training in project management must incorporate insights from behavioural disciplines to equip future project leaders with the holistic skills needed for success.   


In conclusion, Professor Sebastian Green's expert insights form the cornerstone of this discussion on the trajectory of project management. The narrative emphasises the need for a balanced integration of technical and behavioural dimensions as organisations navigate an increasingly complex landscape. The evolution of project management into project leadership emerges as a crucial narrative for the future, echoing Professor Green's profound observations on the subject.   

Moreover, transitioning from traditional project management to a more nuanced form of project leadership emerges as a central theme in our discussion. Professor Green's illuminating perspectives shed light on the evolving role of project managers as not just administrators of tasks but as truly insightful leaders capable of inspiring teams, fostering innovation, and driving meaningful change.   

As we look ahead, Professor Green's insights invite us to reframe our understanding of project management as a dynamic and evolving discipline that demands continual learning, adaptation, and growth.