Project managers' reactions to project disruption: sponsor actions versus environmental uncertainty

Henrik Franke, Finn Wynstra*, Fabian Nullmeier, Chloe Nullmeier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Managing projects is an important part of operations management, but many projects fail. This study focuses on attribution processes of such disruption from the underrepresented perspective of the project manager. The authors consider two types of causes: the more frequently researched environmental uncertainty (i.e. uncontrollable events) and the scarcely researched uncertainty imposed by non-collaborative project sponsors (i.e. other-controllable events). Design/methodology/approach: The authors test conceptual arguments grounded in attribution theory and the notion of psychological contracts in a scenario-based experiment among 325 practicing project managers. Findings: The findings indicate that non-collaborative project sponsors negatively affect project managers' motivation, whereas uncontrollable disruptions leave hope to achieve positive future outcomes. This latter effect is further strengthened when project managers have an internal attribution style. They tend to blame the disruption on themselves and generally feel in control of achieving success even if they are not. Originality/value: These socio-psychological insights nuance the economic idea that uncertainty reduces motivation per se in the context of project disruption appraisal. The authors contribute to the behavioral project management literature and general attribution theory and help guide the allocation of resources during the recovery of failed projects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-357
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Operations and Production Management
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Henrik Franke, Finn Wynstra, Fabian Nullmeier and Chloe Nullmeier.


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