Case Study

Case Study
A Strained Research Team
Dr. Adam Wood is the principal investigator on a 3-year, $1 million federally funded research
grant to study health education programs for older populations, called the Elder Care Project.
Unlike previous projects, in which Dr. Wood worked alone or with one or two other
investigators, on this project Dr. Wood has 11 colleagues. His project team is made up of two coinvestigators (with PhDs), four intervention staff (with MAs), and five general staff members
(with BAs). One year into the project, it has become apparent to Dr. Wood and the team that the
project is under budgeted and has too few resources. Team members are spending 20%–30%
more time on the project than has been budgeted to pay them. Regardless of the resource strain,
all team members are committed to the project; they believe in its goals and the importance of its
outcomes. Dr. Wood is known throughout the country as the foremost scholar in this area of
health education research. He is often asked to serve on national review and advisory boards. His
publication record is second to none. In addition, his colleagues in the university know Dr. Wood
as a very competent researcher. People come to Dr. Wood for advice on research design and
methodology questions. They also come to him for questions about theoretical formulations. He
has a reputation as someone who can see the big picture on research projects.
Despite his research competence, there are problems on Dr. Wood’s research team. Dr. Wood
worries there is a great deal of work to be done but that the members of the team are not devoting
sufficient time to the Elder Care Project. He is frustrated because many of the day-today research
tasks of the project are falling into his lap. He enters a research meeting, throws his notebook
down on the table, and says, “I wish I’d never taken this project on. It’s taking way too much of
my time. The rest of you aren’t pulling your fair share.” Team members feel exasperated at Dr.
Wood’s comments. Although they respect his competence, they find his leadership style
frustrating. His negative comments at staff meetings are having a demoralizing effect on the
research team. Despite their hard work and devotion to the project, Dr. Wood seldom
compliments or praises their efforts. Team members believe that they have spent more time than
anticipated on the project and have received less pay or credit than expected. The project is
sucking away a lot of staff energy, yet Dr. Wood does not seem to understand the pressures
confronting his staff.
The research staff is starting to feel burned out, but members realize they need to keep trying
because they are under time constraints from the federal government to do the work promised.
The team needs to develop a pamphlet for the participants in the Elder Care Project, but the
pamphlet costs are significantly more than budgeted in the grant. Dr. Wood has been very adept
at finding out where they might find small pockets of money to help cover those costs. Although
team members are pleased that he is able to obtain the money, they are sure he will use this as
just another example of how he was the one doing most of the work on the project.
1. Based on the skills approach, how would you assess Dr. Wood’s leadership and his
relationship to the members of the Elder Care Project team? Will the project be
Leadership skills is the ability to use ones knowledge and competencies to achieve a set of goals
and objective. The skills approach suggests that leaders at the top need to have high levels of
Conceptual and human skills, with some technical skills as well.
Dr. Wood has good technical competencies as he has demonstrated in the past on different
projects, but unfortunately, these skills are required at the middle and lower management level.
He is not competent in human and conceptual skills. Human skills are very important to make
people work as a team, be motivated and achieve goals. He is not able to deal with his team
members properly and also he is not able to motivate them. He is getting frustrated frequently
and expresses himself in front of the team. He is not able to foster an environment of trust and
communication among the team members. Dr. Wood is also weak in conceptual skills which are
required for the creation of vision and goals.
Will the project be successful?
Although Dr. Wood’s team members truly admire his wisdom, they are not comfortable working
with him. They do not feel appreciated for their efforts and are therefore doing work in order just
to complete the task allotted to them. It is very difficult for a team to achieve its target if the
motivation levels are low and there is no unity in the team. Unless, Dr. Woods and the team
work as one and treat each other respectfully and equally, they are bound to fail in achieving the
set target in time.
2. Does Dr. Wood have the skills necessary to be an effective leader of this research
No, despite the fact that Dr. Wood has excellent problem-solving skills and extensive
knowledge, his team spirit, motivation, accountability, and empathy are all severely lacking. A
leader must be able to instill in his team a spirit of cooperation. He should also encourage his
team members to work harder by recognizing and appreciating their accomplishments. A good
leader should be able to empathize with his team members for the challenges he/she has been
facing for not achieving targets and provide them necessary guidance and support. Dr. Wood
needs coaching on these skills because he does not sense the colleagues’ anxiety and frustration
with the project. He seems to lack insight into their motivations, and does not understand their
3. The skills model describes three important competencies for leaders: problemsolving skills, social judgment skills, and knowledge. If you were to coach Dr. Wood
using this model, what competencies would you address with him? What changes
would you suggest that he make in his leadership?
Dr. Woods is certainly knowledgeable and has excellent problem-solving skills based on track
record of success in his field. However, With regards to this project using the skills model for
leadership, I would use problem-solving and social judgement skills. Social judgment skills are
the capacity to understand people and social systems. Perspective taking, social perceptiveness,
flexibility, and social performance are all part of social judgment skills.
The reason I would coach Dr. Wood on these skills is because Dr. Wood is in the midst of
several problems that arises in the project such as depleting resources. Additionally, Dr. Wood
needs to understand his team members and the social system for the smooth implementation of
the project. Dr. Wood has never been strong in human skills, so this is an important talent for
him to master as a leader. I will not use talent to build Dr. Wood’s leadership capabilities because
he is proficient in the knowledge competency.
What changes would you suggest that he make in his leadership?
The changes I would suggest to Dr. Wood’s leadership style is to connect with his team members
to understand them and make them perform tasks and he should also share Vision of the project
with his team members so they can all be on the same pace. I would advise Dr. Woods to work
on improving his social skills with his team members, empathize with them, understand their
concerns, and provide answers. He should also encourage his team by praising and recognizing
their work.

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