Personal styles in project management

Projects are delivered through the efforts of people, but people are complex and interact with team members and stakeholders in often unpredictable ways. This in turn can impact the performance of the project. It is therefore puzzling why the so called ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ aspects are treated separately.

It is important that project leaders understand the impact they have on the feelings of others (through firstly understanding better themselves) and the impact they and others have on the project (although equally, if not more so, for programmes).

This increased awareness allows project leaders to deal more easily with conflict, engage with stakeholders, adapt project management to suit the project and manage the processes more effectively. So how do we achieve this?


Personal style

We use multiple inventories to provide an insight to - and common language for - the discussion of preferences and impact on projects. The most immediately usable is the iMA Colour Styles tool which provides a framework to interpret the style of others and build engagement strategies using two distinctions: assertiveness and openness.

By defining preferred style along these axes, iMA defines four colour styles (referred to as High as we are a mixture of all styles). Each has their own characteristics, behaviours and preferences. If you want to give this a try, complete your profile now at It only takes two minutes and will allow you to gain the maximum value from this article.



Relationships and stakeholders

Considering a key stakeholder, how do you believe your respective styles impact your ability to communicate and build a trusting relationship?

It’s important to understand a person’s intention and motivations as this allows us to relate more effectively to them and their actions – and therefore build better relationships.

For example, when other colour styles are working with High Greens they may feel that they cannot provide sufficient information or engage with them easily to influence their opinion or decisions.

Strong relationships with stakeholders are often a defining characteristic of successful projects. The project leader must understand the stakeholder’s motivation.

This is in turn impacted by the stakeholder’s role on the project and the culture of the organisation they work in. Understanding how each stakeholder views success is critical – both in terms of what is delivered and in the way it is achieved. For example, if the project leader is a High Red and the project sponsor a High Blue, it would be important for the project leader to understand that they may appear pushy and insensitive to the sponsor if delivery of outcomes is all that is focused on during conversations.



Considering the iMA colour style of your team members, what impact does this have on how the project is managed? [Why not ask them to complete the inventory and discuss as a team?]

iMA can help team members to better understand the likely dynamics, diversity of approach and strengths and weaknesses (from their perspective) of others. This provides an objective and impersonal way for team members to discuss the impact of their style on the team and ultimately the performance of the project.

We often find teams biased towards a particular pair - so they might be above and below the line or left or right, or as an extreme to a single colour style. This is not surprising as people tend to like people like themselves. Therefore leaders are unconsciously biased towards recruiting people like themselves. This impacts not only diversity but also the decision making process and decisions made - often negatively.


Adapting the style of project management to suit

The project leader should identify the type of project (defined through factors such as complexity, pace
and capability of the team) before considering the appropriate style of project management (as defined
by the lifecycle, roles, controls, etc.).

Is the style of project management adopted on your project a motivator or de-motivator for the team?

On a recent client assignment, we were working with a team charged with delivering a project that was key to the organisation’s future. The current style of project management was having a detrimental effect on relationships and, in turn, performance. Using iMA, we helped the project office manager (High Red) identify the need to adopt a less systematic and inflexible approach to project management by understanding the motivations of the team. The bulk of the team had a High Green / Yellow and did not feel that they were sufficiently involved or that the style was flexible enough.


Impact on process – risk management as an example

Planning for future eventualities, including the identification and management of risk (as either a threat or opportunity), is a core skill. There are an infinite number of variations in the way people perceive a risk and assess its impact and probability before identifying appropriate courses of action. It is therefore critical that the project leader appreciates these differences and implements a process that engages the different team members and uses this diversity.

For example, if risk is managed by an iMA High Green then the identification, recording, assessment and ongoing management could potentially be done in a far more structured and thought-through manner than if another colour style had the responsibility. We have found the following questions helpful for individuals and teams to reflect on, as the responses are generally different for each iMA colour style.

  1. Why do it and what value does it add?
  2. Who should be involved and should they be involved as a one-off or continuously?
  3. How should it be carried out? Should formalised techniques and processes be used?
  4. When is it best to plan – early or a little later?
  5. What level of detail is appropriate? How should it be presented?

For each process you can consider your strengths (and how to best make use of them), weaknesses (considering them as overdone or misapplied strengths) and best means of development.

Can you identify how your colour style influences the way in which you deal with risk and other processes such as planning?

Gaining an insight into your personal style and that of others can have a positive impact on project performance. Invest some time in working on this and we can guarantee that you will reap the rewards in the short and long term. Good luck!


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