Project Leadership Versus Management in an ERP Implementation

Which is more important for the success of an ERP implementation: project/technical management skills or project leadership skills? Before getting into the answer, lets try to define both management and leadership.

There are various definitions for both. In its simplest form, management is about creating and maintaining a sense of predictability in the project. And that could be in either technical or non-technical activities. Management is about proactively identifying issues before they occur and then resolving or mitigating them so that the project can progress as planned. On the other hand, leadership is about producing changes. It produces changes for betterment, for opportunity and for a better overall direction in the journey of the ERP project.

Surprisingly, the definitions of management and leadership seem to contradict each other. While management is all about monitoring, controlling and problem-solving, leadership is all about establishing a direction, preparing for a bigger picture  (which requires aligning resources), aligning strategies, and aligning tasks and activities. In a very simplistic way, while management follows a goal through defined activities and paths, and thus removes obstacles towards the goal, leadership defines the activities/paths necessary to see what could be done to reach to the goal – an activity which is bigger than the project goal.

Now if managing a project is all about reaching the project goal why would project leadership be needed at all? There is no doubt that without strong project/technical management, the success of a project could be in jeopardy. But the success of the project is not only dependent on following certain well-defined tasks, whether technical or non-technical. Projects bring activities, people, and environments together, which creates dynamic conditions. However, managing – and taking advantage of  – this dynamism requires leadership to envision future opportunities, inspire and motivate people to contribute, and empower people to make tough decisions.

For an ERP system implementation to be successful, both qualities are needed. Success requires a fine balance between following predefined tasks in a disciplined manner and taking advantages of changes for both the betterment of the team and the project. Imagine a sports team: any member of the team can play the game but its the coach who not only makes sure the players can perform all the necessary tasks but also motivates them to contribute their best in a team environment, strategizes to bring out the best in everyone and sometimes even changes the direction and/or strategy to win the game. Ultimately it’s not about fighting the battle with management but about winning the war with leadership. A team of soldiers can win a battle but a leader can help them win the war.

Blog entry written by Ipsita Mitra, Director of ERP Selection and Implementation at Panorama Consulting Solutions.

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The Consultants' Corner features blog entries direct from our ERP consultants. These blog entries provide real-world examples and advice related to ERP software selection projects, ERP implementations, business process reengineering and optimization, IT strategy initiatives and organizational change management.

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  1. Project Leadership and Project Management complement each other and there has to be symmetry between the two for successful ERP implementation. Both have their upsides and downsides, but the key challenge is to integrate the two in such as way that it minimizes the downsides of both. Now how do we integrate the two schools of thought, each at the other end of the rainbow? The answer to this lies in the uniqueness of each organization and the strategies it implements to battle this challenge. However from a general perspective, if the leader represents the messiah of change, he should avoid driving on the roads of unplanned change. Dynamism is positive as all say but it is also known to cast a negative shadow if done just for the sake of bringing change or when the repercussions are not thought of. As far as management is concerned, it should avoid being rigid as each situation could bring a new set of challenges and demand new solutions. ‘Follow the book’ approach does not always go well with unique challenges.

  2. Project manager will need to identify the obstacles to the implementation and provide corrective measures. Some of the obstacles would be resistance to change on the part of the employees of the customer. When faced with this situation the PM can act as a leader to provide vision and big picture to the negatively affected stakeholders.
    At different points in the project, the PM has to play the role of the manager vs. leader. So the essential question is not ‘Manager OR Leader’ but ‘when to manage and when to lead’. No ERP implementation can succeed without the PM playing the leader role when required.
    Finally, the PMs ability to act as a leader will also be dependent on his prior experience in handling similar challenges. No one is born a leader….

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