The relationship between project complexity and project success and the moderating effect of project leadership styles and roles in the construction industry of an emerging economy

Dartey-Baah, Samuel Kwasi (2022-04)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2022.


ENGLISH SUMMARY: Construction projects in most emerging economies provide infrastructural growth that facilitates economic and social development. However, most construction projects fail to meet expected outcomes owing to their complex nature. Various studies have alluded to managerial influences on the nexus between project complexity and project success. With this background, the purpose of the study was to determine how project complexity relates to project success and to explore the potential moderating effect of project leadership styles and roles on the project complexity–project success relationship. The study adopted a mixed-methods approach, the sequential explanatory mixed-methods strategy. Data were first collected and analysed quantitatively and then, based on the findings, qualitative data were collected and analysed to provide deeper insights and a better understanding of the initial quantitative findings. The study was conducted in three main stages involving different sets of samples. The first sample consisting of 10 experts in Ghana’s construction industry was obtained using the convenient sampling technique. This sample engaged in assessing the face and content validity of Geraldi and Adlbrecht (2007) project complexity scale and the proposed project leadership role instrument in Ghana’s construction industry. The second stage of the data collection involved 315 participants from Ghana’s construction industry who were conveniently sampled for the quantitative survey. The final data collection involved 20 participants, who were conveniently sampled from the participants who took part in the main survey for the purpose of qualitative interviews. The quantitative data were collated using an Excel spreadsheet and exported into SPSS (Version 20) and Amos (Version 22.0). Covariance-based structural equation modelling (CB-SEM) was used in analysing the quantitative data. The qualitative data were transcribed, collated, and analysed using thematic analysis. The researcher ensured that all ethical considerations were strictly adhered to throughout the study. The study’s findings confirmed results from previous studies of the negative relationship between aspects of project complexity and project success, although the relationship of project complexity as a composite construct with project success was insignificant. Analyses of the qualitative data revealed that this might be due to the participants’ understanding of the implementation of mitigating measures to deal with complexity. For instance, experienced project teams working on complex projects contributed to reducing the negative effect of project complexity on project success, albeit at a higher cost. The net effect of the success of projects can thus be neutral or the determination of success of large construction projects can become ambiguous. The findings of the study confirmed that transformational and ethical leadership styles are important to ensure project success and positively moderate the insignificant relationship between project complexity and project success. The transactional leadership style had no significant effect on project success and did not moderate the project complexity–project success relationship and did not engender project success. Furthermore, the study showed that project leadership roles significantly moderate the relationship between project complexity and project success. The findings demonstrated how project complexity should be approached because of the uniqueness and influence of each of the dimensions of complexity. For complexity associated with novelty and uncertainty, experience plays a significant role in ensuring project success. Complexity of fact relates to proper decision-making that is guided by reliable information and skilled personnel. Complexity of interaction requires proper stakeholder engagement and communication. The study also sheds light on some of the expectations of project teams concerning how project managers should lead large and complex construction projects in order to promote the probability of success. The demonstration of trust, respect, and concern creates a positive environment that encourages project teams to work hard in difficult times. Particularly, project managers can create an environment that eschews corrupt practices through the demonstration of exemplary behaviours such as fairness, openness, and professionalism. Considering the fact that corruption contributes significantly to project failure and is widespread in construction projects, the management of ethics must be designed to fight corruption in such projects. One way to operationalise ethical behaviours is to have leadership put in place structural mechanisms for managing ethics. This should include monitoring ethical behaviours among project teams, communicating ethical polices, creating channels for reporting ethical violations, promoting ethical training, and putting in place sanctions for corrupt and unethical practices. Despite research work on the concept of leadership being conducted over many years, studies have not yielded any comprehensive definition of leadership that embraces unique project situations such as handling complex projects. This is because leadership can be understood, not only in different fields, but in different ways. Leadership has different connotations within the same field. Studies on leadership which have focused on traits and behaviours as a means of unearthing effective leadership have been criticised as being too idealistic. Some scholars have suggested that, rather than focusing on leadership traits and behaviours, project leaders could focus on performing essential project leadership roles. To address this, the study identified key leadership roles relevant to the project environment through an extensive literature search. The main contribution of the study to the field of project management is the conceptualisation of project leadership roles and the development of the project leadership role instrument. Furthermore, this study’s recommendation to shift the preoccupation of mainstream leadership literature from leadership styles to more practical leadership roles that are suitable for large construction project environments is a unique and innovative contribution to the body of knowledge on project leadership.

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