This thesis aims to increase the understanding about leadership in social innovation projects since they constitute an efficient alternative to merge the social and business arenas. In order to do so it identifies, describes and analyzes the characteristics that shape the perceived leadership style of the formal leader (Project Manager) of financially sustainable social innovation projects, departing from the challenges that this leaders face and the previous literature. The study begins examining the literature of social innovation projects to demonstrate that due to their specific nature, they constitute an interesting and particular context to study leadership. Then, the extensive leadership literature is explored in order to understand that different schools have described leadership styles using a diverse number of elements and that the different leadership schools have agreed that leadership is contingent to the context. Consequently, a framework of twelve unified characteristics was created to allow the re-definition of the existent leadership styles in a common language. Additionally, leadership in neighboring contexts (leadership in innovation and leadership in projects) was reviewed to identify common challenges with leaders of social innovation projects and the possible implications in terms of characteristics of their leaders. The study had an inductive approach and is cross-sectional, focusing on the most common challenges faced by the leaders of social innovation projects and the perceived characteristics present in leaders of social innovation projects. Semi-structured interviews were used to get the insights of eleven interviewees in ten financially sustainable social innovation projects in the UK. The analysis was developed using a series of templates which provided the flexibility to interpret and categorize the findings in order to answer the research question and accomplish the objective, combining both deductive and inductive reasoning. The results evidence six common challenges that those leaders of financially sustainable social innovation projects face as well as a set of twelve common characteristics that contains behaviors, knowledge, skills or emotional attributes that shape the leadership style. These are: the ability to build and maintain relationships, idealized influence, self-awareness of the leader, flexibility, delegation – Freedom, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, motivated by emotional reward, an awareness social need – personal motive, the ability to use business tools and understand social need, the ability to show evidence of social impact, and the ability to raise awareness of their cause and explain their business model. The results of the thesis contribute to the existing literature of the field and could have constructive implications in the selection of leaders for this type of projects, in the design of study programs, and in a clarification of the both the nature and the boundaries of field. Furthermore, the application of the results could impact positively giving hints on how to lead social innovation projects in order to obtain better results for both the project and society.
MBA Specialization: Strategic Project Management, Umeå Universitet, Umea, SE; Master Universitario di I Livello in Strategic Project Management, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, IT; Msc Strategic Project Management, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, UK
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