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Journal of Contemporary Management

On-line version ISSN 1815-7440

JCMAN vol.20 n.2 Meyerton  2023 



An investigation into the constituents of Top Management Support essential for effective projects execution in revenue administrations in SACU



Tseko NyesemaneI,; Jan MeyerII; Seboka KopungIII

INorth-West Business School, North-West University, South Africa. Email:; ORCID:
IINorth-West Business School, North-West University, South Africa. Email:; ORCID:
IIIInstitutional Office, Walter Sisulu University, South Africa. Email:; ORCID:




PURPOSE OF THE STUDY: It has been established that successful delivery of projects contributes to effective strategy accomplishment, whereas unsuccessful project delivery leads to failure in realising strategy. While studies have explored and discovered factors which contribute to successful project execution, and with Top Management Support consistently ranking high amongst the list of such factors, projects still fail. One possible reason for this failure is the poor understanding of what constitutes Top Management Support. This study seeks to fill the gap in understanding the constituents of Top Management Support by proposing Top Management Support Practices within the realm of project execution
DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH: The study used a qualitative design. Purposeful selective sampling was used to identify research-relevant respondents from the identified organisational structures in the selected cases. Data collection was done through face-to-face, open-ended interviews with ten Project Managers from the selected organisations
FINDINGS: The study revealed 30 Top Management Support Practices across 3 managerial role groupings. These 30 practices are considered essential for the successful delivery of projects. Furthermore, the study revealed that out of the 30 Top Management Support Practices, only 12 were frequently applied, whilst 18 were less frequently applied
RECOMMENDATIONS/VALUE: The study produces activities based on what managers frequently do. The study recommends that these practices be incorporated into Top Management profiles to guide them in their work towards effective project delivery as well as being used to close identified gaps through personal development plans in the respective identified areas of concern. The practices can also be used as indicators by Project Managers to ensure that they get maximum support from Top Management
MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: By employing these Top Management Support Practices, Top Management may achieve more success in the delivery of organisational strategy through project execution

Keywords: Project; Project success; Top management; Top management work; Top management support practices.




It has been researched that a strategy is a tool that Top Management (TM) uses to deliver its organisational mandate (Mpofu, 2010). It has also been determined that one of the tools of strategy implementation and delivery is project execution (Malambo, 2021). Research in the field of project execution has identified elements considered essential for successful project execution, also referred to as Critical Success Factors (CSFs). Alias et al. (2014) defined CSFs as those conditions and variables which, when sustained, maintained, and managed, significantly improve project success. Most project management literature ranks Top Management Support (TMS) high in the list of CSFs across different industries (Young & Poon, 2013). TMS has been referred to as the amount and type of support a Project Manager receives from Top Management (TM) during the project execution journey (Kuesten, 2013). TMS is an always-required and necessary ingredient for project success (Elbanna & Newman (2022).

Notwithstanding this documented importance of TMS in ensuring successful project execution, little research has been carried out to determine the constituents of TMS. In addition, Elbanna and Newman (2022) asserted that there was a puzzling ambiguity about what TMS is. In addition, TMS as a CSF is general and may not be useful in decision-making (Ahmed et al., 2014).

With the understanding of the importance of TMS and its ambiguity, how can those responsible for strategy execution through projects apply TMS? Considering the importance of TMS and the vagueness around it motivated this research. This research also aligns with the observation by Elbanna and Newman (2022), that there is no clear guidance in the literature on what TM ought to do to provide support during project execution.

The purpose of this study was to propose constituents of TMS to fill the gap identified that there is no clear guidance on what constitutes TMS and to test the applicability of these constituents of TMS in revenue administrations in SACU. It seeks to achieve this by asking the question:

What constitutes Top Management Support Practices (TMSP) in project execution?

Based on the identified gap and problem, the 3 research objectives of this study were; 1. To develop an understanding of the constituents of TMS essential for the successful execution of projects, 2. To discover TMSP primarily employed during project execution in revenue administrations in SACU, 3. To establish those TMSPs considered essential for the successful execution of projects in revenue administrations in SACU, and 4. To propose a conceptual framework for effective project delivery which incorporates the proposed TMSP.

The research question is resolved by firstly perusing the extant literature on TM work through existing theories of managerial work. A proposal of a set of practices based on the Roles Approach as espoused by Mintzberg (1973) and as adapted by Mech (1973), is made to develop TMSP for the successful delivery of projects. The applicability of these practices is then tested by engaging and exploring the views of practising Project Managers in two case studies, namely two revenue administrations in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Revenue administrations are functional organisations established to assess, collect, and account for all revenue due under a country's tax laws and to play an advisory role to the government on required changes to tax laws and fiscal policy in general (Fjeldstad & Moore, 2009).

The next section of the article discusses the theoretical framework and the relevant literature and highlights the proposed TMSP. After that, a highlight of the research design and methodology used is given, followed by a discussion of the findings and the recommendations and the conclusion.



This section adopts the definitions of projects and project success factors and uses managerial roles theory to develop and test a framework for TMSP for the successful delivery of projects.

2.1 Understanding projects and project management

The literature on project management shows various definitions of what constitutes a project. According to the Project Management Institute (2017), a project is defined as a temporary endeavour undertaken to achieve a specific objective, product, or service through a unique set of interrelated tasks and the effective utilisation of resources. Organisations execute projects as part of delivering on their strategy, and successfully delivering on a project leads to strategy realisation (Hyväri, 2016; Musawir et al., 2020; Brito & Medeiros, 2021).

A project is a vehicle towards reaching a future state by achieving tangible goals (Musawir et al., 2020). It has been demonstrated that a successful project is one which satisfies the three constraints of cost, time, and scope (Lam & Adeleke, 2020). Sebestyen (2017) and Hussein (2019) have shown that there is a need to expand the definition of project success to include other elements and benefits of strategic importance beyond these constraints. This is especially so because the definition of project success may differ based on industry, organisation, project manager or team (Berssaneti & Carvalho, 2015; Sastoque-Pinilla et al., 2022).

Factors that enhance project success are independent variables that increase the likelihood of success and those elements of a project which, when influenced, resulting in the likelihood of a project being a success (Müller & Jugdev, 2012). Whilst these factors are many and similar in understanding to the CSFs, TMS features prominently among the factors contributing to project success (Müller & Jugdev, 2012; Hyvàri, 2016; Santos et al., 2019). TM's role is both essential and critical; they create the required conditions to promote project success by defining the project and resourcing it (Santos et al., 2019). Sudhakar (2016) has shown that determining how resources are used is one of the prerequisites for the effective execution of projects. A project implemented in an environment where TM allocates all projected and required resources gives the necessary direction, and provides timely decision-making is likely to be successful (Madanayake et al., 2009). Other studies which highlight the importance of TMS as a critical factor include Ekrot et al. (2016), Brem and Wolfram (2017) and Kemei et al. (2018), amongst others.

While it has been established that TMS is important in project execution, there still exists a puzzling ambiguity about what TMS is, with very little research done in this area (Banihashemi et al., 2017). In practice, this ambiguity leads to difficulty in TM supporting project execution (Mpofu, 2010). To guide TM on measures to take in support of projects, Zwikael (2008) presented 17 critical Top Management Processes in the execution of IT projects. Furthermore, Madanayake et al. (2009) identified 9 elements in the relationship between TM and Project Managers (PMs) which contributed toward effective Top Management Support. Another study identified TM roles which greatly influence the success of Information Technology and Systems projects (Madanayake, 2014). Despite the findings from these studies, the level of project performance is still not sufficient (Zuofa & Ochieng, 2014). Therefore, There is a need to conduct research in this area of TMSP (Banihashemi et al., 2017).

2.2 Understanding Top Management (TM), Top Management Work (TMW) and Top Management Support TMS)

It has been shown that TM includes the Chief Executive Officer and other top executives, namely Strategic Management, Middle Management, Operational Management, and Organisational Leadership, The Executives who are heads of functions and who formulate and oversee strategy implementation (Madanayake, 2014; Alzayed & Abdulwahed, 2022).

2.2.1 Understanding Top Management Work and Top Management Support: the process approach

According to de Oliveira et al. (2015), the process approach seeks to answer the question of "what activities managers carry out". As de Oliveira et al. (2015) put forward, this approach highlights the work a manager does through the general functions of Planning, Organising, Leading and Controlling. Also referred to as the process approach managerial work, Figure 1 highlights these functions, each with its construct and description.

2.2.2 Understanding Top Management Work and Top Management Support: the role approach

The term 'role' refers to the type of behaviour expected of an individual and is always associated with their social position or social status (Van der Horst, 2016). The role approach to managerial work emerged from the work on managerial roles, which was eventually developed into a theory by Mintzberg, culminating in his publication in 1973. Mintzberg (1973) concluded that Managers exist to fulfil 10 roles categorised into 3 main groups; Interpersonal Roles, Informational Roles and Decisional Roles, as highlighted in Figure 2.

2.2.3 Mintzberg's Managerial Roles with Constructs

In a further exploration of Mintzberg's Managerial Roles, Judson (1981), West and Anderson (1996), and Mech (1997) adapted a breakdown of these managerial roles into constructs and applied them to academic research. We also adapt these roles through their constructs and apply them to project management studies. Figure 3 showcases these constructs, which have been termed practices in this research.

Based on the preceding understanding of projects, projects' success includes the CSF of TMS, managerial work and the proposed constituents of TMS. Therefore, a conceptual framework is proposed depicting these elements' contribution towards the successful execution of projects, as presented in Figure 4, whereby the constituents of TMSP are made up of practices against each role, presented in Figure 4.

To sum up, Figure 4 depicts the proposed project success schematic. The conceptual framework is based on the literature on CSFs for project success. In this framework, project success, comprising cost, time, scope and other benefits of strategic importance, which may include profit margins, user satisfaction and others, is a result of a combination of project management bodies of knowledge and project success factors. Project management bodies of knowledge comprise those accepted project delivery methodologies, including the traditional and agile methods.



The research problem driving this paper was the absence of specific activities constituting Top Management Support applicable in the delivery of projects in Revenue Administrations in SACU. This study is inherently exploratory. It is concerned with exploring, informing, and advancing knowledge in business practice (O'Cathain et al., 2010). The main research question for this study was: "What constitutes Top Management Support Practices for successful project execution in revenue administrations in SACU?"

Pursuant to the assertions by Ismail et al. (2017), a pilot study was conducted to fine-tune and adjust the research protocol. The feedback from the pilot was used to consolidate the final research protocol. Following the pilot, the main research was undertaken. This study subscribed to the practice of informed consent as espoused by Saunders et al. (2019). Ethical standards were maintained at all stages of the research. Furthermore, the relevant faculty of a large South African public university approved this research and issued it an ethics certificate. During data collection, correspondents were informed of the aims of the study and their consent was sought. This guaranteed their confidentiality and rights.

To ensure that those participants who understood best the phenomenon under study in selected organisations were interviewed, the researcher adopted the use of purposive sampling to identify research-relevant respondents (Campbell et al., 2020). The unit of analysis was identified as Project Managers, as described by the Project Management Institute (2017). The study's sample size was 10, comprising 4 from Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) and 6 from Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA), as highlighted in Table 1. According to Saunders et al. (2019), when respondents repeat the same information in qualitative research, it means that saturation has been reached. It has been argued by Hennink and Kaiser (2022) that saturation usually occurs between respondent number 9 and respondent number 17. Mwita (2022) points out that saturation signals to the researcher that data collection must stop. In this research, saturation occurred at response number 10, at which point the researcher halted the data collection leg of the research. SACU comprises 5 members, and owing to the time required and the financial requirement to undertake the study in the 5 administrations, the researchers decided to study only 2 administrations. However, the cross-country and revenue administration results are representative of SACU, noting that these revenue administrations have similarities in strategy, including having undertaken a common regional bloc modernisation journey. Data collection followed semi-structured, one-on-one interviews carried out using a conversational mode according to an interview protocol (Bertels & Lawrence 2016). The interviews, each averaging 60 minutes, took place in the participant's chosen locations, mainly their offices. They were conducted in the English language and were audio recorded. Table 1 showcases the number of participants per organisation that being BURS and LRA.

The initial step in analysing data concerning this research study was transcribing the interview recordings. The second step involved verifying the transcriptions to safeguard the accuracy and assure that the data were trustworthy. This conforms with the conclusions by Welman et al. (2005), who maintained that audio tape recordings should be transcribed to text as handwritten notes before further processing. This phase of the study followed the views of Maguire and Delahunt (2017) on data analysis and adopted thematic analysis to make sense of the data. In analysing the data, Braun and Clarke (2006), a 6-step technique was adopted. The study adopted Tracy's (2010) "Eight Big-Tent criteria for excellent qualitative research" to guarantee and provide the required quality and rigour. According to Tracy (2010), the 8 indicators of good qualitative research are a worthy topic, rich rigour, sincerity, credibility, resonance, significant contribution, ethics, and meaningful coherence.



This study proposes that successful project execution is achieved through applying project management best practices which are carried out in combination with Critical Success Factors. These Critical Success Factors comprise TMS and other Critical Success Factors. The interview followed two directions; firstly, it found from respondents that TMSP was observed as being inherently present in TM in revenue administrations in SACU. Secondly, the study sought to find out from respondents those TMSP considered important, whether performed or not, for the successful execution of projects in revenue administrations in SACU. The participant's views were common across the cases. Participants believed that the proposed practices were essential for ensuring effective project delivery and that they constituted TMS. However, based on the participants' views, it is evident that whilst TMS, through their exercising of the identified practices, is significant in ensuring the effective delivery of projects, some TM does not exercise some to most of these practices. In line with the participants' comments, Figure 5 highlights those practices considered as more practised frequently (highlighted by the number 2) against those considered as less practised (highlighted by the number 1).

The participants' views through their responses re-affirm the observation by Mpofu (2010), that whereas TM may be aware that they should support project execution, they do not know what they are expected to do to support it. Furthermore, these findings confirm the opinion of Young and Jordan (2008), who concluded that the practicality of an organisation's life is that TM is often unable to fully support every project. Table 2 provides a snapshot of the participants' views from two directions, 1. on those TMP practices observed as being inherently present in TM in revenue administrations in SACU, 2. on those TMP considered important, whether practised or not, for the successful execution of projects in revenue administrations in SACU. These views are aligned with the managerial roles initially espoused by Mintzberg (1973), which formed the basis of determining TMSP in this study



Kemei et al. (2018) expressed the view that TM's roles include offering support to subordinates through resource provision, participation, and involvement. Likewise, projects require resources in the form of human talent, financial and other relevant resources. Jayeola et al. (2022) summed up that TM roles comprise establishing projects through creating project goals, determining the project budget, and allocating all other project-related resources necessary for the successful delivery of the project.

Kemei et al. (2018) assert that TM is responsible for the three elements comprising support, namely resource provision, participation and involvement, which link well to the practices under Mintzberg's10 managerial roles. Resource provision relates to the Resource Allocator Role under the Decisional Role Grouping, directly linking with the practices of evaluating budgets and allocating resources. Participation relates to all practices in the three groupings, namely Interpersonal, Informational and Decisional role groupings. Bueno and Gallego (2017) argued that it is crucial for TM to be present during the whole project lifecycle. In such situations, therefore, TM implements the constructs under the Figurehead Role, the Leader Role, and the Liaison Role under the Interpersonal Role Grouping. During these various stages of the project lifecycle, TM will play various but important roles which include the solving of problems and the timely re-alignment of non-value-adding processes. Furthermore, Sicotte and Delerue (2021) have shown project delivery becomes efficient when TM is committed and is able to anticipate required project resources. In support of this view, Ahmed et al. (2021) and Sicotte and Delerue (2021) emphasised that TM provide support by ensuring project attention, funding, mobilising resources and directing the project vision.

According to Ahmed and Azmi bin Mohamed (2017), TM provides support for effective communication and the development of structural arrangements denoting the Interpersonal and Informational Roles under the TMSP. Additionally, in reference to all the constructs under the Managerial Roles, TM is charged with ensuring that the organisational settings in which projects are implemented as part of strategy implementation are as supportive as possible (Serra & Kunc, 2015). Moreover, Hyvàri (2016) expressed the view that during the project execution journey, TM should be deeply engaged with the project execution process to accomplish their organisation's strategic transformation.

Additionally, Iden and Eikebrokk (2014) observed that TM's responsibility involves resource mobilisation, the granting of appropriate approvals and delegation for timely decision-making. These elements also talk to the practices under the three managerial roles of Resource Allocator, Entrepreneur and Leader. Going further, Hyvàri (2016) agreed that TM tasks include the provision of feedback and guidance throughout the project execution journey, an element which is linked to the great majority of the managerial roles and their constructs.

As indicated, the managerial roles initially espoused by Mintzberg formed the basis of determining TMSP in this study. This study has significantly contributed to the field of Critical Success Factors in the field of project management, especially in the area of TMS, which has been shown to be under-researched (Staehr, 2010; Boonstra, 2013). The few studies that considered this Critical Success Factor did not delve into the specific practices which could be applied by TM.



The goal of this research was to propose through investigation the constituents of TMS in the realm of project execution and to test the applicability of these in revenue administrations in SACU. Based on the research question, the study had 4 research objectives which were met. The reviewed extant literature has provided an understanding of the constituents of TMS, termed TMSP and highlighted in Figure 3. These proposed 30 practises, or TMSP, are based on Mintzberg Managerial Roles. The useability of this TMSP has been validated by exploring the views of those considered best to confirm them, namely Project Managers. Their views are presented in Figure 5. These views showcased those TMSP practices, including those practised more than the others. Furthermore, a conceptual framework incorporating TMSP was also proposed and presented in Figure 4. This framework suggests that project success is a function of a combination of Project Success Factors, made up of TMSP and other Factors, and Project Management Best Practices. Lastly, the study has also highlighted those TMSPs frequently executed and those less executed, as well as deciding on the essentialness of each.

The proposed TMSP is based on what managers do daily. These practices can thus be incorporated into TM job profiles, including in the form of performance indicators. In addition, the specific practices can help TM identify areas of managerial work that they need to be capacitated in and thus can be part of their personal development plans. Furthermore, Project Managers can also use these practices to gauge and ensure that they get the required and expected support from TM. Lastly, these practices can be incorporated into project work operating procedures and other project work literature as guidelines.

The study had some limitations. First, the study occurred during organisational restructuring in the 2 selected revenue administrations, which could result in respondents being new in their roles. This was mitigated by purposely selecting those Project Managers with some level of experience in their organisations. Second, the study only considered the view of Project Managers in 2 revenue administrations instead of the five that comprise SACU. This was mitigated by the fact that the revenue administrations have similarities in strategy, including a regional bloc modernisation strategy. Third, the study sought to understand TMS from the views of Project Managers only and not from the views of TM.

Future research could be undertaken with TM as respondents to confirm the developed TMSP. Another area of future research could be to identify TMSP by order of importance to assist TM in leveraging their efforts where the return will result in major benefits of strategic importance. Furthermore, a quantitative study could be conducted to expand understanding and confirm the TMSP developed from this exploratory qualitative research methodology to enable generalisations.



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