Personality Type and Project Management – with reference to MBTI

Having recently completed OPP’s Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Step 1 qualification, I was fascinated by Dr David Hillson’s letter1 in this months’ APM Project Magazine Inbox, and Patrick Bird’s article in the previous issue on ‘Type Setting’2, which prompted the letter.

Both the originating article and the responding letter refer to the ability to identify different character types, and the importance of understanding how these may then affect how people behave in projects.

Patrick Bird describes four character types:

  • Analytical types – who value facts, accuracy, time, competency and logic and are often risk averse.  They like some independence of action but will build relationships over time and, providing trust has been earned will be cooperative, dedicated and loyal.
  • Amiable types – whose priority is building relationships, and using personal opinions, understanding and mutual respect to reach decisions.  They will resist management by force and authority
  • Expressive types – motivated by recognition, approval and prestige, are excited by big ideas, and often don’t commit to specific plans. They tend to be risk takers and take more stock of the opinions of prominent or successful people than logic or fact.
  • Driver types – results oriented with a focus on efficiency or productivity rather than the development of relationships.  They are willing to accept risks but want to get to way the pros and cons and move quickly to decisions and results.

There are some parallels between these character types that Patrick Bird describes, and some of the personality types described by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator3.  The MBTI is based on the work of the Swiss Psychologist, Carl Jung, and is the result of 20+ years of research by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isobel Myers, 40,000+ articles, and further work by OPP and others.

Unlike Patrick Bird, MBTI describes 16 personality types, and also stresses that these reflect how people prefer to behave, not necessarily how people actually behave.  Over time, and with the influence of their environment, people will learn to develop their behaviour so that they may act differently to their preferred profile.  Although, as Patrick Bird rightly points out in his reply4 to Dr David Hillson, they may fall back to their preferred types under stress.  However, under extreme stress, people may also display some quite opposite behaviour to their usual preferences!

The MBTI’s broader interpretation of type may address some of Dr David Hillson’s concerns: people will display some of the characteristics of all 4 character types described by Patrick Bird – given that there are potentially 12 more types than these.  Likewise, it is wrong to put people into boxes in this way.  Just because people may have a natural preference to behave in certain ways, it does not mean they will always behave in those ways.  People will learn to behave differently and, with self-awareness (also sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence), will choose how they behave too.

Finally, as Patrick Bird also points out in his reply to Dr David Hillson, the important thing in project management, and indeed in any aspect of our working or private lives, is to recognize that what we do is not only about the tasks, but about understanding the people involved and the relationships between them.  The MBTI’s 16 personality types, and Patrick Bird’s 4 character types, can provide us with tools for increased personal awareness and positive understanding of the differences between people.  The importance, as with any tool, is to use them with awareness, flexibility and care!


  1. Dr David Hillson, “Type setting or type casting”, Project, March 2011, Inbox
  2. Patrick Bird, “Type setting”, Project, February 2011, pp.34-35
  3. Patrick Bird’s four ‘character types’ approximately relate to the following MBTI types respectively: ESTP, ISFP, ENFP, INTJ.  More experienced MBTI practitioners please feel free to add your own interpretations!
  4. Patrick Bird, “In reply”, Project, March 2011, Inbox
  5. OPP has published an entire booklet on project management: “Introduction to Type and Project Management”, by Jennifer Tucker, reference 6177, which I will be taking a look at, and possibly writing another blog on this topic.
  6. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting: enhancing team effectiveness using process improvement, knowledge management and change management.  Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting (, and about Elisabeth Goodman

2 thoughts on “Personality Type and Project Management – with reference to MBTI”

  1. I couldn’t locate the original post. But the correspondence between Patrick Bird’s classifications and MBTI is probably different to what is described here. MBTI defines 16 combinations of preferences (eg ESTP) based on I/E Introvert/Extavert, S/N Sensing/Intuition, T/F Thinking/Feeling, P/J Perceiving/Judging, but each 4-character type-code has a dominant function of either Sensing,Intuition, Thinking or Feeling, e.g. Preferences ESTP, ESFP, ISTJ, ISFJ are all characterised by dominant Sensing. While I haven’t seen Patrick’s full descriptions, his 4 types may correspond to the 4 dominant functions, e.g. Analytical – dominant Sensing. Aimiable – dominant Feeling, Expressive – dominant Intuition, Driver – dominant Judging.

    1. elisabethgoodman

      Mike thanks for your thoughts on this.

      As per one of my notes to my blog – my interpretation was like yours for the first 3 types described:
      – Analytical – dominant Sensing (I suggested ESTP)
      – Aimiable – dominant Feeling (perhaps ISFP)
      – Expressive – dominant Intuition (ENTP)

      for the 4th, I thought perhaps
      – Driver – dominant Thinking (INTJ)

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