Are some project managers more psychologically equipped for success than others?

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Projects are carried out by people and have an impact on people, so it is no surprise then that a number of the success factors for projects are around managing people and relationships. The way, in which we interact with others, build relationships etc tends to be personality related and therefore genetically determined to some extent. The research into personality has identified five main factors which impact on how we do things i.e. extraversion/introversion, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness and conscientiousness.

A project manager with a degree of extraversion is more likely to build strong working relationships with the project team and stakeholders. An introverted project manager on the other hand, may still be able to do this but he will have to work a lot harder as it is not a natural preference for him and will feel less comfortable.

The factor of ‘agreeableness’ is also relevant to success, in that, project managers who score above average on this scale are likely to be friendly, empathetic and sympathetic. This means that these Project managers are more likely to take people processes into account when planning and delivering their projects e.g. resistance to change. An empathetic project manager is also more likely to have an understanding of team dynamics and how each of the project team members relates, not only to each other but also to people outside the team.

The factor ‘emotional stability’ is also relevant to success in projects because this factor is about how we react to things. Project managers who score above average in emotional stability are likely to feel more relaxed in different situations and are more likely to react calmly when things go wrong. Given that projects can be very stressful and that sometimes, things do not go as planned, it is easy to hypothesise that an emotionally stable project manager is going to experience less personal wear and tear but is also more likely to be able to manage and maintain those vital stakeholder relationships when the chips are down. 

Openness to experience is about being open to new ideas and demonstrating creativity. This factor is possibly less relevant to the success of projects, although, an ability to produce novel or creative solutions to problems may well be an asset for a project manager. The final factor of ‘conscientiousness’ is interesting as scoring above average on this scale tends to be associated with success across all occupations. Conscientiousness is about being organised and persistently seeing tasks through to the end. It is easy to see how this would be advantageous for a project manager.

The research into personality, suggests that some project managers are likely to be more successful than others just because of the genetic hand that they have been dealt. Real life Performance, however, is always a complex mixture of personality, capability, experience and situational factors. Which brings us back to the question of whether successful project managers are born or made i.e. are some project managers more psychologically equipped for success than others?

Further reading:


APM members can claim exclusive discounts on Project Psychology: Using Psychological Models and Techniques to Create a Successful Project and a range of Gower titles, click here for more details.

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Posted by Sharon De Mascia on 4th Apr 2014

About the Author
Sharon De Mascia is the Director of ‘Cognoscenti’ (Chartered Business Psychologists), www.cognoscenti.uk.com. She is a chartered occupational psychologist and an experienced (Prince2 qualified) project manager. She has 25 years experience of delivering change management and other organisational initiatives across both public and private sectors. Sharon is also a Chartered Scientist and a qualified coach. She is a supervisor for the global MBA at Manchester Business School and a published author.

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