The effect of personality attributes on Project Management approaches

Date: 08/12/2018

Prepared by: Majed Abdeen

Based on the 16 personality test (https://www.16personalities.com/), my personality is logistician (ISTJ-T), which Wideman categorised as Project Leader (Cohen, et al., 2013, p. 6). In my experience, I haven’t worked with any organisation which applied the concept of the interaction between personality attributes and Project Management approaches. Unfortunately, most of them applied the 'Halo effect', meaning they assigned the PM based on their technical experience in the field, rather than other factors. I feel if they took into account the PM's personality attributes, then projects would be managed more successfully, and there would be lower staff turnover.


Introduction

The Project Management profession is perceived as requiring specific competencies (Bredin & Söderlund, 2013, p. 891), as project management is affected by PMs' personality types; the management styles and effectiveness of the PM are related to his/her personality. Personality is defined as different ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, broken down into characteristics such as: Creative, Emotional, Social, Intellectual …etc.; successful PM emphasise different aspects of their character (PMI, 2017, p. 66).

Personality attributes

Measures

Two key measures used in literature include the Five-Factor Model (FFM) and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The personality factors identified in FFM are: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability and Openness (Thal & Bedingfield, 2010, p. 246). MBTI contrasts four attributes:

These models have been used to identify traits affecting PMs Management approaches; Wideman quoted in Cohen, et al. (2013, p. 6) categorises MBTI types as project leaders, project followers, both, and unsuited; Dvir notes that particular traits are associated with PM success (Dvir, et al., 2006, p. 8). PMs who have Conscientiousness and Openness traits are seen as performing more successfully (Thal & Bedingfield, 2010, p. 254).


PM's personality and projects

Dvir notes that individuals often choose organisations which fit their personalities (Dvir, et al., 2006, p. 6). This applies to Project Management; where PMs can choose their projects, they will do so based on their personalities, and they will perform better in projects to which they are suited (Dvir, et al., 2006, p. 6).


Critical Skills

Research identifies critical PM skills: human, conceptual, and technical (Thal & Bedingfield, 2010, p. 246). PMs deal with "managing human inter-relationships, maintaining a balance between the technical and managerial project functions, coping with the risk associated with project management, and surviving organisational restraints" (Bredin & Söderlund, 2013, p. 890). PMs require decision-making and social skills to manage changes, deal with conflicts, and recognise opportunities, through leadership, and communication (Thal & Bedingfield, 2010, p. 246).

Impact and Interaction

Research indicates that PM's effectiveness is related to their leadership style. Based on project type PM attitudes and management styles vary; PM personality affects success, when the PM's personality matches the project, success is greater (Thal & Bedingfield, 2010, pp. 244-245, 255), (Cohen, et al., 2013, p. 19). Conscientious (reliable, goal-oriented) type PMs deliver successful outcomes, while problem-solving requires Openness (imaginative, intelligence) to devise creative approaches (Thal & Bedingfield, 2010, p. 254).

Extroverts versus Introverts

Introverts tend to value solitude, focusing on concepts and ideas, while extroverts focus on people, activity, social relationships, valuing the world around them; thus, extrovert PMs adept at interaction and cooperation, work well with others, thus perform better (Bevilacqua, et al., 2014, pp. 880, 863).

Judging versus Perception

Perceptive PMs reflect carefully when making choices, leaving decisions open, while judging PMs decide quickly; in projects, judging PMs can make snap decisions without obtaining necessary information, thus perceptive PMs provide better performance through careful decision-making (Bevilacqua, et al., 2014, pp. 880, 864).

Sensing versus Intuition

Intuitive PMs decide using analysis and intuition (Cohen, et al., 2013, p. 19), while sensing PMs obtain information through evaluation and past experiences (Bevilacqua, et al., 2014, p. 864). Projects require decision-making in ambiguous situations, thus PMs must rely on intuitive skills, for instance, budget forecasts or activity durations (Bevilacqua, et al., 2014, p. 865), (Cohen, et al., 2013, p. 19).

Thinking versus Feeling (decision-making preference)

Thinking PMs use logical analysis and cognitive processes, while feeling PMs use value-judgments (Bevilacqua, et al., 2014, p. 865). Feeling PMs are compassionate, considering their teams, making them well-suited to work with others, however, the majority of PMs tend to be Thinking personality type (Cohen, et al., 2013, p. 19).


Criticism

Personality-types research does not present the entire picture. Categorising individuals assists with studying cause/effect, but people are more complex than categorisation permits. Additionally, the research does not consider essential technical abilities. Thus, a PM may have the "perfect" personality type, but if they are technically incapable/unqualified, they will not be successful.

From my perspective, we can't precisely measure personality types, because when we think about people, that means we're trying to measure something dynamic. Let's take some dynamic factors which can affect the measurement of the personality type for a particular person:

  • The personality changes over time, based on age, and how we see things can change
  • The mood when the person takes the test
  • Technical ability and learning-curve change over time, resulting in us judging things differently
  • Culture and Environmental factors can impact our personality, for instance, the way in which someone behaves in one country, may be very different in a different country (e.g. risk takers may become very conservative)
  • And so on…

I feel the current literature doesn't cover all these aspects in enough detail to decide which personality type has to fit a particular project type. In my opinion, this would be very difficult, since the world is changing and people are complex and changing too.

Conclusion

It is clear that the extroversion/introversion and judging/perceiving MBTI personalities have the most significant impact on project management approaches (Bevilacqua, et al., 2014, p. 880). It is evident that PMs should always reflect not only on their work, but also on their own personality attributes, and how those attributes affect their management, in order to improve their practice and ensure personal and project success.

From my perspective, PMs may be able to fit the project type if they are qualified, but it's difficult to measure, since personality type is not enough to decide. We mustn't forget that each project is unique, each with different environmental factors. Even if we established the perfect personality type for each project type:

  • What about if the company or the customer are not supportive?
  • What about if the key stakeholders actively undermine the project?
  • What about if the PM himself was changed by outside influences?
  • Etc.

So, again, in my opinion, I think that we can't link the personality type and project type. But, I think we can say that the personality type can impact the management approach or style. For instance, the Agile approach requires a more extroverted personality than introverted. However, there are baseline personality attributes, that all projects require, such as proactive, honest, reliable, dedicated, etc.

References

Bevilacqua, M. et al., 2014. Relation of project managers’ personality and project performance: An approach based on value stream mapping. Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management, 7(4), pp. 857-890.

Bredin, K. & Söderlund, J., 2013. Project managers and career models: An exploratory comparative study. International Journal of Project Management, 31(6), pp. 889-902.

Cohen, Y., Ornoy, H. & Keren, B., 2013. MBTI personality types of project managers and their success: a field survey. Project Management Journal, 44(3), p. 78–87.

Dvir, D., Sadeh, A. & Malach-Pines, A., 2006. Projects and project managers: the relationship between project managers’ personality, project types, and project success. Project Management Journal, 37(5), p. 36–48.

PMI, 2017. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Thal, A. E. & Bedingfield, J. D., 2010. Successful project managers: an exploratory study into the impact of personality. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 22(2), pp. 243-259.