Climbing to the top: Personal life stories on becoming megaproject leaders

Alfons van Marrewijk*, Shankar Sankaran, Nathalie Drouin, Ralf Müller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


This paper captures a better understanding of the career development of people leading megaprojects through the use of biographical research method. The
characteristics of megaprojects cause serious and diverse challenges for their leaders, but programs where they are trained to overcome these challenges are not easily available around the world. We used a biographic research to gather sixteen life histories of megaproject leaders from ten different countries. This approach helps to explore megaproject leaders as people and how they have learned to become leaders. Findings show that leaders learned to manage megaprojects through a lifetime interaction of: (1) personal characteristics of leaders, (2) turning points in their lives, (3) value orientations stemming from their family, region or religion, (4) their relationship to the project team, and (5) their professionalization through a diversity of projects. These findings add to our knowledge on leaders’ career development that this not only depends on individual agency but also on contextual influences which span a lifetime. Furthermore, the findings contribute to the debate on narrative inquiry methods by demonstrating the full potential of biographical research method for understanding megaproject leadership. Finally, the findings contribute to the debate on megaprojects leaders with real accounts of how people have become leaders through self-development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100085
Number of pages10
JournalProject Leadership and Society
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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