What sort of personality is best for project management?
Insane? Well, insanity is more a pathology than a personality type, so let’s set that aside and consider an article I ran across a while back at http://www.maxwideman.com/papers/profiles/intro.htm. It’s a well-reasoned piece and I recommend it as a good read, even though I don’t entirely agree with it.
The article divides the population into four groups:
- Explorer/Imaginative. These folks are problem-focused and have a directive style (they prefer to tell people what to do).
- Driver/Assertive. People like this also have a directive style, but are people-focused.
- Coordinator/Catalyst. Focused on problems, the CC’s style is receptive (they prefer to get input and seek consensus when leading).
- Administrator/Professional. This type has a receptive style and a focus on problems.
The author then overlays the four groups with Meyers-Briggs personality types:
- Explorer/Imaginative: INTJ, INTP, INFJ, INFP
- Driver/Assertive: ENTP, ENTJ, ENFP, ENFJ
- Coordinator/Catalyst: ISFJ, ISFP, ISTJ, ISTP
- Administrator/Professional: ESFP, ESFJ, ESTP, ESTJ
Then, the article says, the author “…made a subjective and coarse assessment of whether the population in the cell is strongly inclined towards project management leadership.” Based on that assessment, the suitability of the personality types to project leadership is as follows:
- 100% suited to leadership: INTJ, ENTJ, ISTJ, ESTJ
- 100% suited to following: INFJ, ISFJ,
- Partially suited to leadership: INTP, ENTP, ESFJ, ESTP
- Mix of follower and unsuited: ENFP
- 0% suited to leadership: INFP, ISFP, ESFP, ISTP
I have a couple of problems here:
- M-B types vary along a continuum. The basic diagram of an M-B typing test is a bisected rectangle. The intensity of any one of your four personality traits varies depending on which side of the bisecting line it’s on and how close it is to that line. For example, an INFP can be super-introverted, with a score all the way out to the right, just mildly introverted, with a score close to the midpoint, or anywhere in between; they are not all “generally unsociable loners” as the article states. The degree to which one possesses the characteristics plays a huge role in the workings of one’s personality. The types aren’t one-size-fits-all boxes.
- Personality type is not a straight jacket. If you end up in a profession your personality type isn’t particularly suited to, but you want to (or have to) stay in it, you can adapt and use various strategies to achieve success.
- Every personality type has something to offer the project management role. If you play to your strengths andcompensate for your weaknesses (self-knowledge required!), it’s not impossible for you to be a great project leader, regardless of your M-B type, shoe size, or anything else.
The Wideman article has an interesting suggestion: put a project manager of the most suitable type in charge of each phase of a project. Put an Explorer in charge of the concept phase, let a Coordinator run planning, have a Driver get you through execution, and then finish off with an Administrator to close out and handle the life cycle.
This suggestion gets close to the idea of every type having something to contribute. Alas, I have never seen an organization with that kind of project management firepower. It’s one project and one lucky soul to manage it from stem to stern.
If that person is you, then you can handle it, with self-awareness and determination, regardless of your personality type.