Magnus Olsen: Winner “Thesis of the Year” 2023

In the Swedish Project Academy’s annual essay competition, 19 essays from no less than eight different universities have been submitted for the 2023 prize. This makes the work of the competition jury exciting and instructive, but also difficult as the essays are all of high quality. However, the jury has agreed on a winner, who will receive his prize at the Academy’s annual meeting on April 20, 2023: “Political Astuteness in Project Management: Could Street Smart Project Management be an Additional Dimension?”.

Within the project management field, the focus is often on how project managers and project employees should be able to act more rationally in their professional roles, in order to be able to handle complex deliveries and complex organization. At the same time, we know from practical experience and a more limited research tradition that project situations can include ambiguity, differences of interest, power plays, conflicts and that project managers need to handle such phenomena with the help of intuition and understanding of cultural differences. Magnus Olsen’s essay is an interesting and well-executed contribution to this research tradition, in that he highlights phenomena that we all know exist but that we rarely study in project research. The project manager’s political skill is an aspect of project management that we need to discuss more in the future.

Previous research has identified both difficult situations and challenges in a project manager’s career and it is also expressed that in many contexts it is linked to politics in organizations and projects. It is said that politics is everywhere and that it is a necessity to be able to handle the politically charged situations. In relation to previous research, Magnus Olsen’s study has found that political skill and street-smartness in a project management context are unexplored but can be of great relevance. In the described situations that project managers are faced with, it is understood that there will be negative consequences and often serious ones, if the situation is not foreseen, prevented and/or handled in a good way. The study has been qualitative with an inductive approach and used semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis as data collection method and analysis method, respectively. The results are presented in four main themes; “The nature of political skill in a project management context”, “The dirty tricks”, “The politically skilled project manager”, and “The street-smart project manager: Use the power – the feeling”.

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