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Personality and Project Management

By Andrea Wenger | STC Associate Fellow

Project management is an important part of the technical communicator’s job. It keeps us on task and on target to ensure that we produce the right deliverables for our customers at the right time.

For me, project management has always been a necessary evil. I’m bored by administrative tasks like tracking project status. I hate bugging subject matter experts to remind them about deadlines.

So I delved into personality theory to better understand what makes project management painful for me, and how I can trick myself into thinking I enjoy it.

In this article, I’ll share with you what I learned about how personality type relates to project management style. I’ll include information on the natural style for each dimension of personality, and well as the blind spots and how to avoid them.

The model I used was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), but the information in this article is also consistent with the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS). The MBTI measures personality on four scales, as shown Table 1. Keep in mind that these descriptions are generalizations, and every individual is unique.

The MBTI assigns a letter to each dimension, and then combines them to form a personality type. More on that later. Let’s start by looking at the project management style and the possible sources of conflict for each dimension of personality.

Dimensions of Personality
Extraversion (E)

Project management style

People who prefer extraversion generally like to brainstorm and present ideas off the top of their head. They communicate regularly with other team members to discuss ideas and check on status. These types prefer verbal to written communication.

Sources of conflict

Those with a preference for extraversion may spend more time communicating about tasks than working on them. They risk scope creep by verbalizing impulsive ideas that sound like decisions. To help avoid conflict, they can try asking, “Will this discussion move the project forward?”

Introversion (I)

Project management style

People who prefer introversion tend to consider their ideas carefully before discussing them with the group. They focus their time and energy on completing their tasks as individual contributors. These types prefer written to verbal communication.

Sources of conflict

Those with a preference for introversion may fail to adequately communicate decisions and delays to the entire team. They may take action without considering the effect on the team. To help avoid conflict, they can try asking, “Do I need to discuss this with anyone first?”

Sensation (S)

Project management style

People who prefer sensation think in terms of present needs and the practical benefits of the product. They rely on past successes to build approaches to future projects. These types break projects down into an assortment of small tasks.

Sources of conflict

Those with a preference for sensation may view tasks at such a granular level that they overlook opportunities to combine them. They may fail to develop an overall vision that they can succinctly articulate to management. To help avoid conflict, they can try asking, “What are the implications? What patterns are emerging?”

Intuition (N)

Project management style

People who prefer intuition take a long-term view and consider how current changes will affect future iterations. They innovate new and better ways of approaching the project. These types view the project from a high level and fill in the details as the need arises.

Sources of conflict

Those with a preference for intuition may underestimate the needed resources because they haven’t documented all the tasks involved. They may fail to articulate specific benefits to management and customers. To help avoid conflict, they can try asking, “Does this solution address today’s practical needs?”

Thinking (T)

Project management style

People who prefer thinking tend to focus on an objective set of criteria. They consider problems before people. These types challenge statements made by others, looking for holes and opportunities for improvement.

Sources of conflict

Those with a preference for thinking may assign tasks without considering personal needs of members, leading to alienation. They may risk failure by developing a product that meets specs but that no one wants to buy. To help avoid conflict, they can try asking, “What would customers and stakeholders think about this?”

Feeling (F)

Project management style

People who prefer feeling tend to focus on pleasing customers and stakeholders. They assign tasks based on the skills and preferences of the individual. These types encourage team spirit and praise individual contributions, stating disagreement indirectly.

Table 1. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Measures personality on four scales

People who prefer…

Extraversion

Gain energy from the external world of people, objects, and events

Introversion

Gain energy from the internal world of thoughts, ideas, and emotions

Sensation

Trust facts and focus on detail

Intuition

Trust insight and focus on the big picture

Thinking

Seek to objectively remove themselves from a situation when making decisions

Feeling

Seek to empathetically project themselves into a situation when making decisions

Judgment

Seek closure and make decisions as soon as sufficient facts are known

Perception

Keep their options open as long as possible in case new facts or opportunities arise

Sources of conflict

Those with a preference for feeling may maintain harmony by leaving tasks unassigned or not pointing out when deliverables are late. They risk discouraging debate that could lead to hurt feelings but also better solutions. To help avoid conflict, they can try asking, “What would I do if I weren’t worried about people’s feelings?”

Judgment (J)

Project management style

People who prefer judgment tend to measure progress based on whether tasks are completed. They organize meetings according to an agenda and stick to it. These types work to avoid scope creep, which could place the deadline at risk.

Sources of conflict

Those with a preference for judgment tend to focus more on project management than on the end product. They may appear inflexible to customers, stakeholders, and other team members. To help avoid conflict, they can try asking, “Can I adapt the schedule to accommodate new information?”

Perception (P)

Project management style

People who prefer perception recognize that conditions evolve, so they focus on the ultimate goal rather than a schedule. They work intensely as the deadline approaches rather than steadily throughout the project. These types often develop informal projects when gaps are identified in the existing projects or product offerings

Sources of conflict

Those with a preference for perception may take action without getting buy-in, leading to questions of who agreed to what. They risk focusing more on the learning process than on completing tasks on time. To help avoid conflict, they can try asking, “Will exploring this option place the deadline at risk?”

Personality types

The sixteen MBTI personality type designations are formed by combining the preferences on each dimension of personality. The examples below show the questions that the ESTJ and INFP types should ask to avoid conflict in project management situations.

Examples

ESTJ questions:

  • “Will this discussion move the project forward?”
  • “What are the implications? What patterns are emerging?”
  • “What would customers and stakeholders think about this?”
  • “Can I adapt the schedule to accommodate new information?”

INFP questions:

  • “Do I need to discuss this with anyone first?”
  • “Does this solution address today’s practical needs?”
  • “What would I do if I weren’t worried about people’s feelings?”
  • “Will exploring this option place the deadline at risk?”

For me as an INFJ, project management creates two sources of stress:

  • The intuitive part of me is bored by administrative tasks like project tracking, but the judging part likes planning and organizing. So if I mentally recategorize project tracking as a judging task, rather than as a sensing task, I’m less likely to avoid it.
  • The feeling part of me hates reminding people about deadlines. So by asking, “What would I do if I weren’t worried about people’s feelings?”, I can see clearly that if I don’t send those reminders, I’m letting subjective concerns get in the way of completing the project on time. Moreover, people would much rather receive a reminder than fall behind on a task. I’m actually doing them a favor.

If you struggle with project management, understanding your MBTI type can help you identify your natural tendencies and potential blind spots. By incorporating elements of the preferences opposite to yours, you may be able to improve your skills for smoother-running projects.

Bibliography

Baron, Renee. 1998. What Type Am I? New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Myers, Isabel Briggs, with Peter B. Myers. 1995. Gifts Differing. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

Tucker, Jennifer. 2008. Introduction to Type and Project Management. Mountain View, CA: CPP Inc.

ANDREA J. WENGER is an award-winning technical writer and editor with more than twenty years’ experience at Schneider Electric in Raleigh, NC. An STC Associate Fellow, she’s a past president of the Carolina Chapter and has served on the Nominating Committee. Andrea has given numerous presentations at the local and international level on topics related to personality type. Her popular blog, WriteWithPersonality.com, explores the influence of personality on writing projects.

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