Leadership Skills to Manage Nationally and Culturally Diverse Project Teams: A Phenomenological Study

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The leadership of nationally and culturally diverse teams is a juxtaposition of the leader’s awareness of different cultures and the skills essential in successfully managing the diverse team. The purpose of the study was to explore the lived experiences and leadership skills needed to manage construction projects with multicultural team members from different countries in the United Arab Emirates. There is a lack of understanding of the leadership skills needed in the multinational, multicultural construction environment. A better understanding of different nationalities and cultures opens the door for improved team communication and effective project management. The research questions focused on the lived experience of participants who manage multicultural construction project teams and the perceptions of the leadership skills helpful when doing so. The study employed semi-structured interviews to gather the rich experiences of those who serve in construction project management roles. The study’s 10 participants were expatriates representing eight countries working in the United Arab Emirates in construction project management leadership positions. The team members reporting to the project leaders represented 19 nationalities. Eight themes emerged from the data analysis, including (1) Culture Shock, (2) Mindful of Cultural Stereotypes, (3) Clarity in Communication, (4) Share Similarities and Celebrate Differences, (5) Connect on a Human Level, (6) Bridge the Language Gap, (7) Recognition Champion, and (8) Cultural Competence. Strong management skills and effective leadership skills are both essential for a project leader’s success. The leadership skills identified in this study can help project leaders managing nationally and culturally diverse teams to develop new skills to complement those which make them successful as managers.