Communicating Project Management

A Participatory Rhetoric for Development Teams

Excerpt of Chapter 4: On site with The Gardener and The Chef: Project Leadership and Communication


Advances in Project Management Series


By Benjamin Lauren

Michigan, USA


There are two metaphors I’ve come across used to describe leadership philosophy at the project team level. The first, offered by Demacro and Lister (1999), suggests that teams can be grown, but not built. This leadership approach describes project managers who cultivate the conditions for teams to succeed as a member of a team. The second approach was described by Lammers and Tsvetkov (2008), and it positioned project managers as chefs because they must deliver successful project results consistently. The chef, they argue, uses “industry standard processes” to achieve these results. Chefs tend to have a more complicated power relationship with the team, as they are very clearly responsible for managing its processes and procedures. Leadership models in project management offer important insight into communication practices. This excerpt from Chapter 4 of my book Communicating Project Management: A Participatory Rhetoric for Development Teams explores leadership at the project level by embodying the two metaphors of gardening and cooking to understand how these leadership values influence the approach to communicating. Through a closer examination of two of the participants, this excerpt explains how leadership values influence communication at the project level, and to what extent they shape invitations to participate in project work.

To study the relationship between leadership and communication, the excerpt will lean heavily on examining the communication of two participants. The first participant I call “The Gardener” because she tends to communicate in ways that focus on growing and cultivating the growth of people to help a team succeed. Meanwhile, I refer to other participant as “The Chef” because he tends to focus on making and assembling, usually through industry standard practices, the kinds of resources and people needed to successfully complete a project. As the excerpt will explain, their individual positionality on the team also influenced how they performed leadership. Given these metaphors, how each participant approaches communicating project management is very different, even though they work toward the same goals: to complete project work successfully and to make space for people to participate.

The excerpt begins by reviewing leadership in project management. Then, it introduces The Gardener and presents the data from our work together, which illustrates her approach to growing and contributing to project teams. After, The Chef is introduced and I explain how his approach to communicating focused on following proven recipes for success. Next, the excerpt explores how their leadership approaches are linked to specific ways of communicating; how they give presence to certain values. Finally, the article ends describing the role of leadership identity as a form of rhetorical performance.

Communicating Leadership, Positionality, and Identity

As a scholarly interest and workplace practice, leadership contains a broad range of topic areas. For example, there are a number of books that focus on how to best lead (such as, Asghar, 2014; Maxwell, 2007) or attempt to teach students to be effective leaders (Northouse, 2015; Kouzes and Posner, 2017). Often the published work in leadership traverses academic and practitioner spheres. Particularly useful is Higgs’ (2003) work, which assembled a trajectory of leadership research in a western tradition, including the trends and schools of thought emerging since the ancient Greeks. In his article, he argued that scholarship in leadership tends struggle with its paradigm, oscillating between a focus on personality or behavior (p. 274). A focus on leadership personality asserts, for example, the importance of an individual’s character and charisma; whereas a focus on behavior is concerned with how leadership can be developed as a skillset. Higgs explained, “A personality-based paradigm would argue for selection as being the main focus, whereas a behaviour-based one would argue for development. In essence this is the debate around whether leaders are born or made” (p. 274). This excerpt seeks to add to this conversation to argue that leadership at the project level is a kind of rhetorical performance that is based on a set of implicit values that shape communication activities.


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge worldwide. Information about Routledge project management books can be found here.

How to cite this paper: Lauren, B. (2018). Communicating Project Management: A Participatory Rhetoric for Development Teams – Excerpt of Chapter 4: On site with The Gardener and The Chef: Project Leadership and Communication, PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue VIII – August. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/pmwj73-Aug2018-Lauren-communicating-project-management-series-article.pdf


About the Author

Benjamin Lauren

Michigan, USA



Benjamin Lauren is an Assistant Professor of Experience Architecture in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University, where he serves as Assistant Director of the MA in Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing and as a HUB for Innovation in Learning and Technology Fellow. His book, Communicating Project Management: A Participatory Rhetoric for Development Teams was published in the ATTW Series by Routledge. The book makes an argument that project managers must communicate to facilitate participation in project work, particularly in the context of networked organizations. Ben’s work has been published in journals such as Technical CommunicationTransactions on Professional Communication, and Computers and Composition.

For more about the book Communicating Project Management: A Participatory Rhetoric for Development Teams, click here.