Project Managers Are They Born Or Made Management Essay

Can a person be born to undertake a specific role in life or are they moulded by both training and their experiences in life. This paper examines whether Project Managers have the innate skills to be a success or if they like many other professionals require training to become proficient in their chosen career. This paper will also examine whether there are particular personality traits that are required in order to be a successful Project Manager. With this information, organisations would then be in a better position to ascertain whether particular individuals are either suited or not to the role of a Project Manager and thereby ensuring that their Project Managers can bring projects to a successful conclusion.


Dittman et al.,2004 use the Apollo 13 incident to illustrate the skills of a Project Manager. Gene Krantz, was the flight director of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. With systems failing, a lack of power and a dwindling supply of oxygen he led his team to discover solutions against almost impossible odds. Krantz exhibited the characteristics and personality traits of a “superstar” Project Manager by leading his team to achieve a common goal of ensuring the safe return of the aircraft and the lives of the astronauts and in this instance the team could easily have resigned themselves to their fate or made an error in judgement (Dittman et al.,2004). However the team and its project leader relied on both their training and their instincts to ensure the safe return of the aircraft. It can be seen from this instance that the team leader instilled the thought into all of his team members that failure was not an option. This is an extreme example of the skills required of a Project Manager, but it asks the question were Gene Krantz’s actions the product of training and experience or were they innate in his personality.

With the rapid advances currently being made in information technology there has now become an increased need for Project Managers within the IT industry. The scale and number of projects has increased thereby increasing the risk associated with these projects. With this in mind the choosing of project managers with the required skills to ensure the successful completion of projects has become critical and organisations have recognized that the choosing of the right individual to lead a project can have a significant bearing on the success of the organisation. As can be seen above in the Apollo 13 example the role of the project leader was crucial to the success of the project.

This paper will look at the necessary skills required to be an effective manager and whether these skills are inherent or whether they can be taught (Dittman et al.,2004).

1.0 Leadership Styles

Studies have shown that there are primarily six main schools of leadership theory (Dulewicz & Higgs, 2003;Handy, 1982; Partington, 2003) and these are as follows:

1. The Trait school

2. The Behavioural or Style school

3. The Contingency school

4. The Visionary or Charismatic school

5. The Emotional Intelligence School

6. The Competency school.

1.1 The Trait School

This approach was popular up to the 1940s with the main idea being that effective leaders share common traits. This school of thought assumes that leaders are born, not made. The supporters of this school in attempting to identify the traits of effective leaders have focused on the following three main areas:

• Abilities: hard management skills such as Time Management, Forecasting and Procurement

• Personality: such as self-confidence and emotional variables

• Physical appearance: Project Manager’s appearance and physical size

Through his work at Henley Management College, Turner (1999) identified seven traits of effective project managers:

• Problem-solving ability

• Results orientation

• Energy and initiative

• Self-confidence

• Perspective

• Communication

• Negotiating ability.

Turner’s identification of the above traits concentrate on the softer skills of Project Management with only the trait of Problem Solving being one that could possibly be taught and the others being skills of a nature more specific to an individual.

1.2 The Behavioural or Style School

The behavioural or style school became popular from the 1940s to the 1960s. This school assumed that effective leaders would adopt certain styles or behaviours. This school’s theory assumed, that effective leaders can be made and that the parameters include the following:

1. Concern for people or relationships

2. Concern for production

3. Use of authority

4. Involvement of the team in decision-making (formulating decisions)

5. Involvement of the team in decision-taking (choosing options)

6. Flexibility versus the application of rules.

Parameter Blake and

1.3 The Contingency School

The contingency school came into being during the 1960s and 1970s (Fiedler, 1967; House, 1971; Krech, et al., 1962; Robbins, 1997). Rather than seeking all encompassing theories of leadership that would apply in all situations, contingency theories suggested that what made an effective leader would depend on the situation that the leaders found themselves in. The supporters of this school had a tendency to follow similar patterns:

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1. An assessment of the characteristics of the leader

2. An evaluation of the situation in terms of certain key contingency variables

3. The seeking of a match between the leader and the situation.

One contingency theory that has proven popular is path-goal theory (House, 1971). The idea is the leader must help the team find the path to their goals and help them in that process.

This theory identifies four distinct leadership behaviours:

• Directive leaders

• Supportive leaders

• Participative leaders

• Achievement-oriented leaders.

These must then be matched to environmental and subordinate contingency factors:

• Environmental factors:

– Task structure

– Formal authority system

– Work group.

• Subordinate factors:

– Locus of control

– Experience

– Perceived ability.

1.4 The Visionary or Charismatic School

During the 1980s and 1990s, the visionary or charismatic school arose from the study of successful business leaders who were leading their organizations through change. Bass (1990) identified two types of leadership, transactional and transformational:

Transactional leadership:

This form of leadership rewards followers for meeting performance targets and managing by exception by taking action when tasks have not been undertaken in accordance with what was predicted

1.4.2 Transformational leadership:

A Project Manager who displays this form of leadership would be charismatic, visionary and would engender pride, respect and trust. They would also provide motivation by creating high expectations, providing intellectual stimulation and challenging their team members with fresh ideas and approaches. They would also give consideration to individuals by showing them respect and paying personal attention to them.

From a project management perspective, Keegan and den Hartog (2004) believed that a project manager’s leadership style needed to be more transformational than transactional, but did not find any evidence to confirm this. What they were able to conclude was that although there is a significant correlation between the manager’s leadership style and employees’ commitment and motivation, there does not exist a similar correlation for project managers.

1.4 The Emotional Intelligence School

The emotional intelligence school has flourished since the late 1990s, and espouses the view that the leader’s emotional intelligence has a greater impact on his or her success and the performance of his or her team than does the leader’s intellectual capability (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002).

They identified six leadership styles:

• Visionary

• Democratic

• Coaching

• Pacesetting

• Affiliative

• Commanding.

Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee (2002) say that the first four of these styles will engender a sense of teamwork, and usually lead to better performance in appropriate circumstances. They also stated that the last two styles can encourage dissonance, so these last two styles need to be used with care. Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, as well as other authors, have shown a clear correlation between the emotional intelligence and leadership style of managers and the performance of their organizations.

1.5 The Competency School

The competency school of the 1990s has placed an emphasis on the competencies of effective leaders and seeks to identify them. This according to Turner et al. 2005 when taken at face value may appear to be a return to the trait approach. However, they also state that competencies can be learned, so leaders can be made, not just born. Further, different combinations of competencies can lead to different styles of leadership which can be appropriate in different circumstances thereby producing transactional leaders in situations of low complexity and transformational leaders in situations of high complexity (Turner et al., 2005).

2.0 Skills of a Project Manager

A good project manager should have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their job. A project manager can be defined as the person responsible for working with the project sponsor, the project team, and the other people involved in a project to meet project goals (Schwalbe, 2004). To become an IT project manager requires knowledge in the core skills such as time management, risk management, scope management, cost budgeting, and knowledge of IT systems (Dittman et al., 2004). They also stated that a project manager must have skills in addition to the basics of project management to succeed and that the skills required are the soft skills that have to do with getting things that you want done and adjudicating issues between people, managers, egos and agendas. It’s basically how to get a job done without annoying people (Melymuka, 2000). These soft skills can include basic leadership and team building abilities that are needed for the team to complete the designated project and the basic business skills that are necessary for a project manager to be successful in the IT world (Dittman et al., 2004). They also concluded that these could include the ability to communicate into measurable results, utilize financial skills to keep the project cost effective, and identify and predict trends in the project.

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The ability to communicate effectively is a pre-requisite in project management and it is essential for project managers to have the capacity to listen and understand the people on their project team as well as the customers of their project and by doing so, expectations and feedback can be easily passed on to the team and it will be easier to solve problems and complete tasks within the project (Dittman et al., 2004).. Dennis Johnson, an Assistant vice President at USAA stated that “A project manager needs the ability to question without alienating – to listen and watch people’s body language and really see what’s happening” (Melymuka, 2000) and this skill will enable a project manager to step away from a project and view issues from a different perspective. This subsequently enables a project manager to better communicate his ideas and plans with the team and also with his superiors within the organization.

Relationship management is a skill that is important to have While managing projects a project manager should be capable of working with all levels within the organization and relationship management is an important skill to either inherently have or to learn. Relationship management can also include identifying the unique characteristics and abilities of each individual on the team and determine the most effective way to utilize them throughout the project (Dittman et al., 2004). A project manager will also need to know how to mobilize and coach the people on their team and establish trust within the project team. “The project manager and the team must develop a level of trust and comfort with each other in single-minded pursuit of project goals” (Kharbanda, 2003). This is based on the premise that project managers should be able to build and sustain relationships within their project team and throughout all levels of their organization.

There are many skills a project manager may have that are argued to be ingrained in the human spirit, the largest of these being the ability to influence others (Dittman et al., 2004). Linda Pittinger, CEO of People3, states “It’s hard to find people who can influence others and create win-win situations (Melymuka, 2000). The project manager needs to have the ability to sell the value of the project to other people within the organization and must be able to persuade and influence team members to get their job done well and on time must also have the confidence, credibility, and commitment to overcome the obstacles when faced with the task of running an IT project (Dittman et al., 2004). Without the ability to influence people particularly those who may not be in full support of the project, a project manager will be more likely to fail.

The ability to make decisions can be either learned or innate and it has been said that the best decision makers are the most experienced decision makers (Dittman et al., 2004).. “As a manager and leader, every step you take required decision making skills. What makes it more challenging is the pressure to make the right decision is often very high” (Canterucci, 2003). When faced with having to make the correct decision a Project Manager may often have to base this decision on past experience or pure instinct. Should a project manager be new to the field of project management they will not have accrued sufficient experience to make the correct decision but they will have the ability to judge based on their instinct if those instincts are of a project manager with those innate skills.

As can be seen above many of the skills required to be an effective project manager are the softer skills of management and that to a large extent these skills can not generally be taught as they rely on the individual’s personality. These softer skills however can be honed through time and experience so to some extent there is a degree of learning.

3.0 Personalities of a Project Manager

In order to be an effective project manager a person’s character and personality traits will play a key role. Dittman et al. 2004 asked the question “Within an IT project management program, can people be really prepared for the trials and tribulations of dealing with people while managing a project?”

The use of personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, can assess whether an individual will make a good project manager. By undertaking these assessments, an individual can analyze their personality and connect their personality type with a particular type of career. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is incredibly popular for doing just this. “The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an assessment technique that gives the participant 4 individual letters that are designed to match their personality type. This classification is set out below:

Extrovert v. Introvert,

Sensing v. Intuitive,

Thinking v. Feeling,

and Judging v. Perceiving.

The research database shows that leaders mostly fall into the ENTJ category (extrovert, intuitive, thinking, and judging). “ENTJ’s are especially well-suited to be leaders and organization builders. They have the ability to clearly identify problems and innovative solutions for the short and long term well-being of an organization”(BSM Consulting, 2000).

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A project manager would generally fall into the category of ESTJ. “They are good at a lot of different things, because they put forth a tremendous amount of effort towards doing things the right way. They will be happiest in leadership positions, however, because they have a natural drive to be in charge. They are best suited for jobs which require creating order and structure” (BSM Consulting, 2000).

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is another technique that can also be used to determine personal characteristics and aid people “gain new understanding of their traits, motivations, and behaviours” (AdvisorTeam, 2003). The temperament sorter is an assessment to analyze one specific aspect of one’s personality: temperament. “Temperament is a set of inclinations that each of us is born with, it’s a predisposition to certain attitudes and actions” (AdvisorTeam, 2003).

The four temperaments that people will fall into are artisans, guardians, idealists, and rationals. These groupings have the following characteristics:

1 Artisans value freedom and spontaneity. They want to be without constraint, at liberty to act on their impulses, play and create.

Guardians value belonging to a group or community. They maintain stability through responsible, conservative, traditional behaviour.

Idealists value personal growth, authenticity, and integrity. They yearn to develop themselves fully as individuals and to facilitate growth in others.

Rationals value competence and intelligence. They strive to learn, know, predict, and control the resources in their environment.

It has been shown through research that project managers and leaders will most likely fall into the category of either Rational or Guardian (Dittman et al., 2004). A Rational tends to be pragmatic and organized. “Their organizational and coordinating skills tends to be highly developed, which means that they are likely to be good at systematizing, ordering priorities, generalizing, summarizing, and at demonstrating their ideas” (Prometheus Nemesis, 1998).

Guardians tend to be very specific in their communication and reliable when it comes to completing tasks. They also are very cooperative with implementing goals and good at supervision and protecting their subordinates. The Supervisor Guardian is the type of that most fits the personality of the project manager. Supervisor Guardians “go by experience, not speculation and experimentation, and certainly not fantasy. They keep their feet firmly on the ground and make sure that those under their supervision do the same” (Prometheus Nemesis, 1998).

The personality assessments described above are good tools to examine an individual’s personality type and compare it to that of the typical project manager career. Each assessment can be used separately or they can be used in conjunction to get the best results. Using these evaluations, it can be shown whether a person has the requisite skills to be a good project manager, and decisions can be made whether to put them in that role, whether they would need further training to be successful in the project manager role, or whether they would be best placed in a different career altogether.

4.0 Conclusion

As can be seen an individual’s personality can be measured or assessed using the techniques detailed above. These techniques enable organisations to eliminate individuals rather than select individuals as project managers. The methodology behind these techniques would indicate that project managers are born rather than made as the characteristics used to describe individuals are those of an innate nature rather than a derived or coached one.

However on the other side of the equation the technical skills required by a Project Manager can be learned and need not necessarily be inherent in the individual. So it could also be concluded that a project manager can be made through learning alone.

The leadership style theories above look at the science or art of project management depending on the school to which an individual ascribes to. If an individual is of the viewpoint that Project Managers are born with the innate capabilities to be a project manager then Project Managers have to be viewed as artists. However if the conclusion is that project managers can be taught and trained then they should possibly be viewed as scientists. These can be viewed as two conflicting views with those of a scientific inclination believing that project managers are made and those of a more artistic inclination believing that they are born.

From the research undertaken above there is no definitive answer to this question. In the case of Project Management, where there are so many human variables there can be no comprehensive training course that will detail a case study for every given scenario. This would indicate that Project Managers can be and are made but that the best and most effective Project Managers are born.

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