Aaron J. Shenhar, Institute Professor of Management, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ and R. Max Wideman

The original of this paper first published on the PMForum web site, September, 2000. (Updated presentation, April, 2002.) Presented here as the fifth in a series linking project type through management style to project success.

Published here April, 2002.

Introduction | Project Management | Success | Nature | Content
Project Work | Style | Types of Leader | All Together | Conclusions

Project Management Style and Personality Traits

In the March 1996 issue of the PMI Journal, Kliem and Anderson discussed the project manager's style or approach toward team-building as a key variant in managing projects successfully.[12] They observed that "Only recently has the influence of the project manager's personality on project performance received recognition."[13] They identified four primary styles in how a person approaches relevant work situations and applied this to the processes of planning, organizing, controlling and leading.

Kliem and Anderson concluded that "Knowing the type of [project] environment and the team-building style [required] of the project manager increases the opportunities for selecting the right person for the position ...".[14] Unfortunately, the descriptors they used are not terms familiar to most project management people.

To bring more recognizable and practical utility to the issue of project leader selection, a six-step analysis was undertaken.[15] The analysis commenced with a review of the last ten years of PMI publications to abstract familiar words or phrases used to describe a project manager's required personal characteristics and skill sets. The selection excluded words depicting technical experience or know-how. The result was a list of some 200 words or phrases and, not surprisingly, implied that the leader of a project should be an impossible paragon of virtue.

The next step involved a literature review of personality typology and selecting those dominant types most relevant to the project management environment. This was based on two dimensions of "Focus" versus "Approach" as shown in Figure 4. This provided four "types" to which familiar but differentiated project leadership titles could be assigned. The list of words or phrases were then subjectively assigned to each title, except those that plainly referred to all four types.

Figure 4: Identification of Project Manager's Style

Figure 4: Identification of Project Manager's Style

Subsequent steps involved subdividing each group into either inherent personality traits or learnable skill sets, and matching these word sets across the four project management types to provide a cross-check and some degree of uniformity. In the final step, the word groupings were further subdivided into the management processes of planning, organizing, executing and controlling.

Of course, the propensities and skills of individuals never fit these descriptions exactly. Nor, for that matter, are projects ever that simple. But the arrangement does begin to show a correlation between personal characteristics and the realities of different project management environments.

The data is provided in the paper referenced above, but it is also available in the form of a two-part questionnaire for those who would like to conduct a self-examination.

Table 4: summarizes the characteristics and skill sets of the four types of project leader.[16]







Vision oriented

Mission oriented

Goal oriented

Objective oriented


Solution seeker

Conflict mediator

Solution enforcer

Conflict solver




Hard driving




Free form



Skill Sets:


Focus long range

Focus on participation

Focus short range

Focus on solutions


Evokes dedication

Obtains willing effort

Gets early results

Harmonizes effort


Leads by example

Develops commitment

Uses partnerships

Reinforces commitment


Takes major decisions

Reaches closure

Makes most decisions

Implements decisions

Note: These words and phrases have been taken from the larger word sets that represent each cell as presented in Appendices A and B of the fourth Paper in our series: "Dominant Personality Traits Suited to Running Projects Successfully - And What Type Are You?"

Table 4: Project Leader Types, Characteristics, and Skill Sets
The Nature of Project Work  The Nature of Project Work

12.Kliem, Ralph L. and Harris B. Anderson, Teambuilding Styles and Their Impact on Project Management Results, PMI Journal 27(1), 1996, pp. 41-50.
13. Ibid., p41.
14. Ibid., p50.
15. Wideman, R.M., Dominant Personality Traits Suited to Running Projects Successfully, and What Type are You?, Project Management Institute Seminar/Symposium, Long Beach, CA, 1998.
16. Ibid., abstracted from Tables A and B
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