The Project Manager Leadership Dilemma: Candid versus Creative Communications



By William A Moylan, PhD, PMP
Eastern Michigan University


Loran W Walker, DMIT, PMP
Capella University




A key responsibility of the project manager is to communicate reality during project execution. Candid communication exhibited with brutal honesty may cause the project manager to be executed prematurely. Alternatively, the project manager as political spin-doctor spews creative deceit about project progress and performance. The paper addresses the communication challenges and ethical leadership dilemmas that confront the project manager, and proposes suggestions for astute project communications and project stakeholder management.


Groucho Marx opined “I’m not crazy about Reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.” How is reality communicated during project execution, both visually and virtually? Should the project manager communicate with brutal honesty, or alternatively, become a political spin-doctor spewing creative deceit about project progress and performance? Are there better ways to move a project forward? Is it a case of the Project Manager being honest, reasonable, and/or pragmatic? What is the truth-reality for the Project Manager? The paper considers this conundrum of candid versus creative communications that confront the project manager.

Being transparent in the business world means to be free from pretense or deceit (www.m-w.com). This transparency requires the ethical project manager to be completely honest in managing people and their projects. The Project Management Institute’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is “specific about the basic obligation of responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty” (PM/BOK, p. 29). However, can the project stakeholders truly handle the truth without executing the messenger – the Project Manager?

This paper addresses these communication challenges and the ethical leadership dilemmas that challenge the project manager as functions of proper project communications and astute project stakeholder management. The paper includes a series of tips and suggestions for astute project communications and project stakeholder management based on a collection of lessons learned.

The Culture of Project Communications

The project organization culture is formed by the project stakeholders, both proponents and team participants, which influences greatly the particular project’s communication procedures and practices. The preferred behaviors for a successful project manager include being honest, open, trustworthy and co-operative. These personal virtues are all functions of the professional trait of exhibiting strong personal communications. Likewise, the core managerial skills of leadership, decision making and motivation are rooted in project communications. Irrespective of the quality of the project manager’s management acumen and personal attributes, the project may still fail if the proper balance of team dynamics, executive support and customer satisfaction are not executed properly (Cerimagic, 2010). Savvy management of project communications is critical for project success, which requires an in-depth understanding of both the project manager’s role [the medium] as well as the importance of accurate project communications [the message].


To read entire paper (click here)


Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 2nd annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium in College Park, Maryland, USA in June 2015. It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.


About the Authors


pmwj36-Jul2015-Moylan-MOYLANWilliam A. Moylan, PhD, PMP

Michigan, USA



Dr. William A. Moylan, PhD, PMP, FESD, DTM is an educator, consultant, trainer, expert witness and practitioner in project management and Construction Engineering. He is an Associate Professor in Construction Management at Eastern Michigan University. Dr. Moylan has extensive professional experience in all aspects of program and project management, including over eleven years internationally with the Arabian American Oil Co, and since 1983 has been involved in implementing information technology. Dr. Moylan received his BS in Construction Engineering from Lawrence Technological University; his Masters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in Project Management and minoring in International Business, and, his Ph.D. in Organization and Management with a specialization in Leadership from Capella University. Dr. Moylan is active in a variety of professional societies including PMI, ESD and Toastmasters International. Dr. Moylan can be contacted at [email protected].


pmwj36-Jul2015-Moylan-WALKERDr. Loran W. Walker DMIT, PMP

Michigan, USA



Dr. Loren W. Walker, DMIT, PMP, passed away unexpectedly on November 25, 2014 from an apparent heart attack. Loving husband of Susan for 32 years and beloved father of Adam and Barbara Walker. Dr. Walker worked in the Computer Science and Information Systems fields for nearly 30 years. He was an Adjunct and Full-time professor in information systems and the social sciences. He specialized in consulting and teaching High-Level Programming Languages (C, C++, Java, and .Net Technologies), Systems Analysis & Design, Project Management, Web Design, Programming Technologies and Enterprise Architecture. He was a full Professor at Capella University [a premiere distance learning university based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA], and served as the Project Management Lead Core Faculty for Capella’s Masters and Undergraduate programs, which included responsibility for all PM course content and directing all adjunct instructors in the Project Management discipline. The proposal abstract for the original paper was submitted to the University of Maryland by Dr. Moylan and him shortly before his untimely passing. Susan Walker can be contacted at [email protected]