Some “unexpected” differences between Australians and Americans, and their relevance to project management


By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia


The Editor recently called for papers on leading diverse and multi-cultural teams. He said, “The need for more cultural awareness, knowledge and intelligence is growing for project managers and team leaders everywhere”.

With regard to obvious cultural differences, Renwick 1980:2 has pointed out that

….when two peoples expect to encounter differences in one another (as, for example, do Americans and Japanese), their discovery of a point on which they are similar is exciting and reassuring.

However, we have a somewhat different situation when there are strong similarities in the cultures of two peoples, as for example with Australians and Americans (i.e. US citizens). Renwick 1980:9 observed that

Australians and Americans usually assume more similarity between them, more understanding and agreement, than actually exist. Despite their common origins and their resemblance to one another now, there are important differences between their societies and cultures, and therefore between their values, priorities, attitudes, motivations, and modes of interaction.

As an Australian who has had extensive interactions with Americans for over sixty years, I have been exposed to many such “unexpected” differences, and ensuing complications, many of which are relevant to teamwork in project environments. This article discusses some of these “unexpected” differences, to which I have added extensively from analyses by an American sociologist, Dr George W. Renwick, who has researched these types of Australian – American differences in substantial detail. His consolidated findings were published in Renwick 1980. I presented a paper on this topic many years ago (Stretton 1990), but have expanded very substantially on that work in the following.

It should first be made clear that the following descriptions of Australians and Americans are not intended to stereotype either peoples. As Renwick 1980:5 expresses it,

…. the descriptions of Australians and Americans are generalizations. The basic characteristics described, of course, are not found in every Australian or every American. Certainly, they are not found to the same degree in each person. What is described are the backgrounds and some of the basic qualities which many Australians share to some extent with other Australians, and some of the basic qualities which many Americans share to some extent with other Americans.


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About the Author


pmwj34-May2015-Stretton-PHOTOAlan Stretton, PhD

Faculty Corps, University of Management
and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA
Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)


Alan Stretton
is one of the pioneers of modern project management. He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA. In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects. He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France). Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992. He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996. He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management. He has published over 150 professional articles and papers. Alan can be contacted at [email protected].

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/.