Design Projects and Leadership

Design Projects as a Vehicle for Leadership Training

Team design projects can effectively help in developing engineering students’ leadership skills (Chieh 2012). Besides, projects help students sharpen their interpersonal skills, and industry experiences help by providing the practical knowledge and mentoring that engineering students do not receive in the classroom (Crumpton-Young et al. 2010). Huemann et al. (2007) suggest that the project is a social system and includes several areas focused on organizational behaviour, leadership, communication, team building, and human resource management. A number of European engineering schools have developed peer tutoring models with a strong leadership element, where more senior students “coach” junior student project teams. An example of such a model is the Project Management in Practice (Ozgen et al. 2008) course at the Universitat Rovirai Virgili, Spain, where selected fourth year students lead first-year group design project teams (Graham, nd.).

Schools are increasingly relying on group design projects wherein students learn to apply leadership skills, such as team building and communicating. Providing students with “real” projects for “real” sponsors greatly enriches traditional education by bringing students’ textbooks to “life”. Projects afford undergraduates a transition from textbooks to the workplace wherein they learn to apply their new-found knowledge (Bowman and Farr 2000).

Leadership Attributes for Design Projects Success

Several leadership-related attributes that have been correlated with design projects success are as follows: effective leadership (Ammeter and Dukerich 2002), good communication (Pettersen 1991; White and Fortune 2002), and the ability to operate under pressure in a complex environment (Pettersen 1991; White and Fortune 2002). Verma (1995) lists the following people skills that are important for project managers, apart from the technical knowledge and decision-making skills that they require: communication, motivation and negotiation, self-confidence, reliability, maturity and emotional stability, a constructive, positive attitude, and flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Kerzner (2003) states that effective leaders are not completely task or relationship focused in their actions, rather they maintain a balance between the two.

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