Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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The Four Personalities Of A Project Manager

When speaking with new clients one of the challenges they consistently face in delivering their projects is a lack of collaboration. Upwards, downwards, sidewards… you name it, it’s just something that doesn’t happen very often.

It is something that’s talked about a lot. Often it’s even included in organisation values or money is spent on moving to an open plan office, introducing an activity-based working environment or simply a declaration of ‘going agile’.

Despite this, there is still siloed working, too many unproductive meetings, and long unread emails. Most of all there is a lack of progress, especially in projects.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that one of the the most popular modules when I run my Conscious Project Leader program is the one that deals with personalities. How to get the best out of people, regardless of personality and create an environment in which everyone can feel at ease  and therefore do their best work. In other words, how to collaborate properly.

The importance of understanding personalities in creating collaborative cultures is seldom discussed and invested in (as I wrote about in a blog earlier this year).

To foster a culture of collaboration you need leaders who understand that different people are motivated by different things. Leaders need to be able to adapt to their audience and be consistent in their messaging and behaviours.

It’s one of the hardest things to learn and yet all the great leaders have it. You’ll hear phrases like ‘they just got me’ or ‘they really knew how to motivate me’. It’s not accidental, it’s a choice that people make once they understand their own strengths and opportunities for improvement.

Our personality is evident in the things we say, the way we express our feelings, the way that we write, how we dress and, of course, in the work we produce. It’s also evident in the things that we avoid doing.

Once we understand ourselves, it’s much easier to understand others and develop the skills to motivate them.

As an extroverted project manager, my preferences always favoured action, trust and being social. It took me about six months to realise that not everyone was motivated by my flapping arms, one liners and high energy style. I got frustrated and wondered why, when I’d put my trust in others, they hadn’t delivered. Frustrated that no-one really understood or welcomed my trademark changes of mind. Frustrated that no other team members wanted to chair a meeting or present to senior management. I was also frustrated with myself for losing interest once the initial ‘buzz’ had worn off.

So I had to learn some other personality styles. Three to be precise.

Who I was, the values and goals I had, my behaviours and the professionalism I demonstrated for my role didn’t change but my style did, depending on the people I was working with.

So here are the four project manager personality styles that I observed on the road to becoming a Conscious Project Leader. As individuals we are a mixture of these elements but we have a preference for using some of them over others:


By learning these other personalities I was able to better understand:

  • The motivation and emotions of others

  • How to communicate what I needed

  • How to encourage accountability

  • How to make people feel part of something special

  • How to promote the exertions of the team and protect their time and opinions

  • How to manage poor performance

  • How to gather and present data

  • How to manage upwards

  • How to give and receive feedback

  • How to keep stakeholders happy

  • When it was appropriate to be light-hearted!

As Anthony Mersino said in his excellent book Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers, “To excel on projects we need to be able to switch and adjust our leadership style to the needs of the situation.”

This means adjusting your personality towards that which will most motivate the individual or team you’re working with at the time... and sometimes that will require more work than others.

Which personality best describes you and which elements do you need to work on to become a Conscious Project Leader?

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