"Interpersonal skills of a Project Manager"

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Essential for any program or portfolio, where there is a more or less uninterruptible flow of projects that starts and ends, are the capabilities of the persons who lead the projects, the project managers.

Companies often emphasize on project managers educational background and experience as project manager when recruiting. Experience as a project manager and an education that matches the projects technical aspects does not necessarily mean that the candidate is the right person. Even a track record of many completed projects are not a guarantee that the project manager will not wreck the organization or be the cause of losing customers.



The project managers perform through others such as stakeholders, project team, own organization therefore apart from technical and conceptual skill Project Managers must possess Interpersonal skills.

This article will address interpersonal skills of a project manager and psychometric test for personality types to match these skills.

Interpersonal skills

The aptitude is enabling a person to be able to carry on effective relationships with others such as an ability to cooperate, communicate thought and feeling, assuming appropriate social responsibilities or exhibit adequate flexibility.[1]

Seen from a program or portfolio management perspective a project manager must be able to lead and implement projects within the person's competence area including ensuring project team members feel properly treated and remain in the organization, furthermore, the project manager must be able to interact with customers in a way that the customer perceives added value.

The (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition[2]describes the essential interpersonal skills as behavioral competencies that are valuable assets when developing the project team. If used appropriately, interpersonal skills allow project managers to capitalize on the strengths of all team members.

Essential interpersonal skills

  • Leadership
  • Teambuilding
  • Motivation
  • Communication
  • Influencing
  • Decision-making
  • Political and cultural awareness
  • Negotiation
  • Trust building
  • Conflict management
  • Coaching.


Leadership is the ability to envision a direction and lead a group of people towards a common goal and realize the result through others. The key elements of leadership are respect for others and a sincere belief that people attend their job with the purpose of doing their best every day.


Team building is creating a goal for a group of individuals and make them work together as a group to achieve the objective. In addition to creating goals, the project manager must set the scene for the group; who got the roles, what the responsibilities are, how to communicate internally and externality, how to handle problems, create an environment of trust and mutual respect. Most of all team building is about creating an identity for the team and a collective understanding of purpose.


Motivation is to give positive stimulus that aligns a person's intrinsic motivation such as desires to explore new things, to seek boundaries for one's capabilities, to obtain new knowledge. Some of the best motivators are; recognition for participation and achievement, give responsibility, the opportunity to personal growth, a possibility for advancement.


Communication with others is essential in projects. Project managers must; be able to effectively communicate at all levels from project sponsors to secretaries, communicate in a straightforward language and communicate concisely, build relationships based on trust and respect, actively listen to avoid misunderstandings and ensure a shared understanding of deliverables and common goals, promote cross-cultural understanding.


Influence is getting people to cooperate and work towards common goals by; fulfill commitments, lead by example, share and clarify how to make decisions, letting group members take part in decision-making when applicable, working for long-term collaboration, adjust own behavior according to different situations, influence instead of persuading persons.


Decision-making is an important skill to master, in projects, decisions are made daily and often without having the full picture of a problem. Project managers must be able to; focus on the project goals, analyze information, use and follow a decision-making process, involve team members in the decision-making process or make decisions single-handed.

Political and Cultural awareness

Political and cultural awareness are skills that often come into play as projects group members and stakeholders may come from different cultures and may originate from cultures with work and communications pattern that differs from own norms. A project manager must understand and embrace cultural diversity and be able to communicate and promote a mutual understanding and a set of standards in the group to achieve goals.


Negotiation is a process between parties, trying to seek common ground despite each party having own needs and aims, and agrees to a settlement where both sides leave the negotiation with a perceived sense of being a winner. Sometimes one of the sides leaves with a poorly negotiated result, the importance here is that the loser does not leave with a feeling of being exploited.

Trust building

Trust building is the process of building a willingness in others to put them self in risk based on the project managers action. To create an environment where persons trust each other requires that the project manager promote shared values, openness and align own actions with the collective values, encourage by recognition of achievements and showing appreciation.

Conflict Management

Conflict management is the ability to handle conflicts when they arise. Conflicts are near to inevitable, and the project manager must address them before they become crises and must be able to identify both verbal and non-verbal cues that indicate anger or frustration. The project manager must convene meetings with parties in conflict, contribute to solutions and formulate agreements, and enforce sanctions for noncompliance to agreements, and be willing to modify behavior.


Coaching is helping persons to a higher level of competencies by contributing with aids to let them recognize their potential. Training can be mean to enhance and develop team members performance in both technical and interpersonal manner.

These interpersonal skills described as personality traits in the psychology. Insight into the psychology of personality is necessary when testing for interpersonal qualities.

Personality traits

The traits described as a pattern of behavior that a person probability will show in a variety of situations. Therefore the different test is used to predict the likelihood of peoples behavioral pattern. The personality traits theories have two assumptions: personality characteristics are relatively stable over time, and characters show stability across situations.

Big Five

There is almost a consensus among psychologists that there are five major features which are descriptive of the personality structure, called the big five or by their acronym OCEAN:


Open to new experiences, willingness to consider new ideas, an active imagination, divergent thinking.
High score; unconventional and independent thinkers.
Low score; conventional, prefer familiar to new.


The degree of control and self-discipline.
High score; organized and plan for events in life, determined.
Low score; careless, distracted from goals, undertaking.


Degree of sociability.
High score; very sociable, energetic, optimistic, friendly, assertive.
Low score; Introverts, reserved, in-depended does not follow socially, even paced.


Social interaction.
High score; helpful, trusting sympathetic, soft-hearted.
Low score; suspicious, unhelpful, skeptic, uncooperative.


Emotional stability and personal adjustment.
High score; wide swings in moods, volatile in their emotions.
Low score; calm, well-adjusted, not prone to maladaptive emotional states.


Each of the big five factors consists of facets that are more specific personality attributes that clusters together and contribute to the category score. On the IPIP homepage which is "A Scientific Collaboratory for the Development of Advanced Measures of Personality and Other Individual Differences". The page includes more than 3000 items and 250 scales with offset in the International Personality Item Pool home page, it is possible to construct an own version of a personality test.[3]

Psychometric test

The personality test is one of the psychometric test recruiters uses when recruiting persons, the main types of test are:[4]

Ability test

Ability test is designed to measure specific abilities such as intelligence and talents; an example could be:
Is the sun for the day as the moon is for?
Given choices could be; (1) Dawn (2) Night (3) Nothing (4) Eastern (5) Summer.

Motivation and Attitude test

Motivation and attitude test are constructed to measure particular beliefs towards something, for instance, work, an example could be:
The work I do are for the company are;
(1) Very Important (2) Important (3) Moderately Important(4) Of Little Importance (5) Unimportant.

Personality test

A personality test is designed to measure psychological characteristics behavior and tendencies that are relatively consistent over time. An example of a character item question could be:
“I am good at helping people work well together the respondent is given choices like;
(1) Strongly agree (2) Agree (3) Neutral (4)Disagree (5) strongly disagree. Which together with other question looks for an underlying tendency towards leading.

Choosing a test

If trying to measure interpersonal skills, a psychometric test that measures personality would be the right to administer. The next step is to choose a test. There are several different tests to choose among; some tests are theory-based some are empiric and derives from analyzing data. The test is often selected based on test house advertise or recommendation from a professional network. Human relation departments rarely check a personality test for reliability and validity As an example, the HR department of Berkeley University of California uses Myers-Briggs® as a tool offered for personal development[5] despite psychologist disregard the Myers-Briggs® in contemporary research. Berkeley is in the top five list of best universities to study psychology[6]. Another university in the top five list University of Cambridge have developed a framework of Behavioural Attributes Framework[7]

Reliability and validity

When a test is claimed to reliable and valid it has been assessed in these areas:


There are two forms of reliability in psychometric testing; reliability over time (test-retest reliability) and Internal reliability (internal consistency)

Reliability over time

The basis for giving a Personality test is the belief that the personality of a person is consistently consistent over time if the test-retest reliability of a test is low then the foundation of the personality test disappears.

Internal reliability

Refers to whether all the characteristics of the test measure the same thing.


Is whether a test is measuring what it claims it is measuring.

Construct validity

Establish a clear relationship between measurements and the theoretical concept of the measured areas.

Convergent validity

The test are associated with what the test is supposed to measure,

Concurrent validity

Showing correlation with other known and accepted standard measures.

Discriminate validity

Not related to measures it should not measure.

Face validity

The test looks like it measures the concept it is designed to measure.

Predictive validity

The test can predict a behavior pattern in the future.

Content validity

The test is designed to cover all aspects of what it is constructed to measure.

Without training or study of psychometric test construction, it can be difficult to choose a test. First and foremost, it is important to decide on the purpose of allowing an applicant to complete a personality test. If the test alone is to form the basis of whether the applicant is to be employed, it is extremely important to make sure that the test is both reliable and valid, and that the result is supported by data from previous tests. If the test is given as a tool to initiate a conversation about the applicant's personality traits and it does not form the basis for the applicant to be employed, the reliability and validity are less significant.

Typical recruitment process

In a typical recruitment process a human resource department is normally interested in three things:

  1. Can the applicant do the job?
  2. Will the applicant do the job?
  3. Will the candidate fit in?

Companies receive numerous applications every year, and all the applications go through a human resource department, a recruiting officer will only spend minutes on a resume.

Application and a resume

Human resource departments, the department look at different things when receiving an application and a resume.


In an application recruiters look for: Are the focus on employer needs instead of on employee wants, a willingness to be flexible, an ability to be brief, a self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses, is the application written, so it reflects a part of the job, an argument that the candidate wants to serve the company.


In a resume, recruiters look for: Qualifications, relevant skills, job-relevant experience, education (degree if needed). Accomplishments; are they measurable, are industry relevant wording used.


It is difficult to evaluate if a candidate possesses the requested interpersonal characteristics from an application and a resume, it will not be appropriate to evaluate these properties based on applications, even if the applicant has stated and described that the skills are held, it should be tested by a combination of test and interview.

If the department is not used to systematically test for interpersonal skills the selection are often based on feelings instead of the test/interview combination. Human resource departments often use templates when interviewing candidates. A typical template could be built as the following, the questions in the template are representative for common job interview questions.[8]

Interview template

Introduction and CV

Please tell about yourself briefly.
Take us through your CV.
Tell about your current job.
Why do you want to leave?

Previous job

What did you achieve in your previous job?
How will you be remembered?
What did you like the most in your previous job?
What did you like the least in your previous job?
How did you handle these tasks?
What is the primary benefit from your experiences concerning this job?

The motivation for this job

Why did you apply for particular this job?
Tell us about this particular job (tasks, stakeholders, etc.)
What would you be good at - give examples?
What would challenge you - give examples?
What is your primary motivation concerning this particular job?
Do you have any specific expectations?

Knowledge of the Company

Why do you want to work for this company?
What do you know about this company and its company culture?
What do you know about our products?

Professional Qualifications

Why did you pick up your particular degree/education?
What is the primary benefit from your degree/education?
Tell about a difficult assignment - how did you solve it?
When has it been necessary to give up?

Personal Competencies

What characterizes the why you work - give example?
When do you prefer to be part of a team, and when working alone?
What is the worst that can happen to you in a work situation?

Additional competencies

Structure, Prioritizing, Take responsibility, Quality mindset, Communication/Collaboration, Take initiative, Robustness (deadlines), Flexible, Handle complex issues, Work under pressure, following rules/procedures.


What are your future job plans?
What type of job do you expect to get?

Interview conclusion

What do you do in our spare time (Hobbies, Activities, Family etc.)?
Is there anything you want us to ask that we not already asked?
Do you have any questions?
Are you still interested in the job/pipeline?


Human resources departments do not routinely test whether candidates possess interpersonal skills. Especially when recruiting project managers, it is a good idea to test if the person in addition to the professional qualities and motivation, that they have the desired interpersonal skills needed to lead a project group this may require enhanced collaboration with the human resources department. Partly to establish a test routine and a uniform data collection of test results and to compare test results with performance appraisals for already employed project managers, to establish a database for future recruitment. When selecting a test tool to test interpersonal characteristics, a personality test based on big five should be used. As the only set of personality traits that are a consensus among psychologists, and there is much research based on big five and IPIP.[9]Conversation templates and questionnaires should be designed using psychologists who specialize in developing personality testing to ensure that the specific properties are tested. Also recommended is situational judgment test, where the candidate is presented with different scenarios the applicant can encounter on the job and several potential actions based on the scenario.

When recruiting project managers, interpersonal skills are one of the most important characteristics that the project manager must possess, despite this, interpersonal skills are not something that is testing routinely. It is highly recommended to test for interpersonal properties, especially when hiring project managers

Further Reading

  1. The University of Cambridge, The Psychometric Centre: https://www.psychometrics.cam.ac.uk
  2. myPersonality Project: http://mypersonality.org/wiki/doku.php?id=start
  3. Similarminds test collection: http://similarminds.com/personality_tests_index.html
  4. Discover your psychological profil: https://discovermyprofile.com/?utm_source=centre


  1. Nugent, Pam M.S., "INTERPERSONAL SKILL," in PsychologyDictionary.org, May 11, 2013, https://psychologydictionary.org/interpersonal-skill/ (accessed October 1, 2017).
  2. A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide). -- Fifth edition. ISBN 978-1-935589-67-9
  3. International Personality Item Pool home page,http://ipip.ori.org/(accessed October 1, 2017).
  4. The psychometric test chapter is adapted from, Personality, Individual Differences, and intelligence, John Maltby; Liz Day; Ann Macaskill, 2007, ISBN 978-0-13-129760-9
  5. https://hr.berkeley.edu/development/career-development/self-assessment/personality-type (accessed September 22, 2017)
  6. https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2017/psychology (accessed September 22, 2017)
  7. https://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/hr/policy/behavioural/framework.html (accessed September 22, 2017)
  8. Common job interview question, https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/top-10-interview-questions-prep,
  9. International Personality Item Pool, http://ipip.ori.org/newPublications.htm
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