The Impact of Project Managers' Personality on Project Success in NGOs

The Mediating Role of Transformational Leadership

Muhammad Mubbashar Hassan, Capital University of Science & Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan

Sajid Bashir, Capital University of Science & Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan

Syed Moqaddas Abbas, Capital University of Science & Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan

This study examined the extent to which project managers’ personality determines project success through the mediating mechanism of transformational leadership. The context of the study was nongovernmental projects that focused on education and health. Data were collected from 170 project managers who were engaged in 10 different programs in various areas of Pakistan. Based on the post-positivism approach and a specific deductive design, the results of the study indicated that Extraversion, Agree-ableness, and Openness to Experience were direct positive predictors of project success, whereas transformational leadership acted as a mediator of these relations. One of the personality dimensions (i.e., Conscientiousness) had only an indirect effect on project success through transformational leadership. No relation was found between Neuroticism and project success. The theoretical and practical implications for project management are also discussed.

KEYWORDS: Big Five personality traits; project success; transformational leadership; NGOs; Pakistan


Over the last few decades, project success has been the main focus of the project management literature (Prabhakar, 2009). Researchers’ renewed interest in this domain can be attributed to the fact that despite high failure rates, more and more organizations are switching to project-based structures (Flyvbjerg, Garbuio, & Lovallo, 2009; Jugdev & Müller, 2005; Meredith & Mantel Jr., 2011; Zwikael & Smyrk, 2012), meaning that 30% of the world economy relies on project-based systems (Turner, Müller, & Dulewicz, 2009). Even when organizations are not entirely project-based per se, they do have temporary organizations within them in the forms of assignments, task forces, programs, and so forth (Bakker, 2010).

Various factors contribute to project success, including project managers’ characteristics, the compositions of project teams, project size, top management support, organizational structure, and external environmental factors (Belassi & Tukel, 1996). However, an important problem in the extant project management literature is its limited focus on the psychological factors that contribute to project success. One such factor to which an abundance of literature in other types of organizations has been devoted is personality, which has been shown to have multiple organizational outcomes, such as job performance (Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001; Blickle et al., 2013; Morgeson, Reider, & Campion, 2005; Rothmann & Coetzer, 2003), organizational commitment (Kumar & Bakhshi, 2010), learning in the workplace (Hassan, Bashir, & Mussel, 2015), and job satisfaction (Judge & Bono, 2001; Judge, Heller, & Mount, 2002). Nevertheless, the predictive power of project managers’ personality vis-à-vis project success has yet to be thoroughly tested, barring the few exploratory studies that have used the Big Five personality traits (David Strang, 2011; Thal Jr. & Beding-field, 2010) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality types (Cohen, Ornoy, & Keren, 2013; Creasy & Anantatmula, 2013; Madter, Bower, & Aritua, 2012). Lately, the type taxonomy of personality has lost its weight compared with the trait approach due to pitfalls in the scoring of the former. Thus, researchers now tend to prefer trait measures over type measures (Asendorpf, 2003; Bess & Harvey, 2002; Furnham & Crump, 2005; McCrae, Terracciano, Costa, & Ozer, 2006; Pittenger, 2004).

Despite the significance of personality–job fit for ensuring project success (Dvir, Sadeh, & Malach-Pines, 2006; Turner & Müller, 2006), coupled with the fact that project failure is usually caused by a lack of proper leadership skills (Dey, 2009; Sric'a, 2008), it is surprising to note that the role of dispositional tendencies of individuals in the leading roles of project-based organizations (i.e., project managers) have not been given their due attention in the project management literature (Turner & Müller, 2005). Several research studies have suggested that project managers’ personal attributes, leadership performance, and leadership styles contribute to the success of different types of projects at different stages (Müller & Turner, 2007, 2010; Nixon, Harrington, & Parker, 2012; O'Donnell, 2010; Yang, Huang, & Wu, 2011). Peterson, Walumbwa, Byron, and Myrowitz (2009) studied the effect of leaders’ psychological traits on firm performance. Similarly, Deinert, Homan, Boer, Voelpel, and Gutermann (2015) explored the influence of leaders’ personality dispositions on their performance. In the context of software projects, Wang (2009) posited a theoretical framework to study the impact of leaders’ Big Five personality traits on project success, with a mediating influence of project managers’ leadership (transformational, transactional, and technical) styles. In our view, therefore, the primary role of leadership styles is to explain the relation between personality traits and project success. Our supposition is also based on empirical evidence that leadership style has the ability to mediate the relations between individual differences and managerial performance (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Hickmann, 2012).

In order to advance the literature on project success, it is important to comprehensively study whether the Big Five personality traits (i.e., Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience) play roles as basic predictors of project success (Thal Jr. & Bedingfield, 2010). Many personality traits have been found to predict different leadership styles, including transformational leadership (Bono & Judge, 2004; De Hoogh, Den Hartog, & Koopman, 2005; Judge & Bono, 2000; Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002; Kalshoven, Den Hartog, & De Hoogh, 2011; Lim & Ployhart, 2004), and subsequently, leadership competencies and styles have been found to contribute to individual, team, and organizational performance (Geoghegan & Dulewicz, 2008; Limsila & Ogunlana, 2008; Wang, Oh, Courtright, & Colbert, 2011). This study, therefore, adds to the literature by demonstrating how the Big Five personality traits predict project success through transformational leadership, while also extensively evaluating how the Big Five personality traits also predict project success directly.

The targeted sector for this study is nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which play an important role in the development of countries (Banks & Hulme, 2012; Banks, Hulme, & Edwards, 2015). These organizations function largely under project-based structures. Furthermore, because all NGOs are not able to invest in the training and development of their project-based staff due to resource constraints (USAID, 2014), ensuring personality-job fit in these organizations is of utmost significance. Ironically, the competencies of project managers, including leadership, have not been extensively deliberated in the context of NGOs in general (Brière, Proulx, Flores, & Laporte, 2015) despite sizeable rates of failure in development projects (Golini, Kalchschmidt, & Landoni, 2015). In Pakistan, too, the personalities of key leaders of the NGOs vis-à-vis leadership challenges have been understudied (Afaq, 2013; Bhattacharya, 2014; Gondal, 2012) despite the fact that this sector contributes approximately half a percentage point of the revenue in the national gross domestic product, and the education sector alone retains about 71% of the total estimated nonprofit employment (Bukhari, Jabeen, & Jadoon, 2014). This omission is serious because Pakistan, with a population of approximately 200 million, is currently witnessing an expansion of project-based organizations that is moving at a fast pace. This expansion of project-based organizations can be attributed to the fact that, due to corruption and mismanagement in public-sector bureaucracy, a number of donor agencies now prefer to provide direct funding to the NGOs for social uplift rather than providing aid to government agencies in Pakistan.

Theory and Hypotheses

Big Five Personality Traits and Project Success

Digman (1990) presented the concept of a five-factor model of personality, which was later operationalized by McCrae and John (1992) as the Big Five personality traits, commonly known as Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. These personality traits have wide-ranging predictive powers. Because the dispositional factors of project team leaders and members significantly impact leadership performance, team performance, and team effectiveness, the dispositional factors studied through the Big Five personality traits may also impact project success, which is highly dependent upon teamwork (Bradley & Hebert, 1997; Cruz, da Silva, & Capretz, 2015; Halfhill, Sundstrom, Lahner, Calderone, & Nielsen, 2005; Soomro et al., 2016). Trait activation theory (Tett & Burnett, 2003; Tett & Guterman, 2000) also supports the notion that personality traits have the capacity to predict and influence performance outcomes in respective contexts.

The first personality trait of Extraversion represents sociability, enthusiasm, assertiveness, and dominance (McCrae & Costa, 1987; McCrae & John, 1992). Thus, we expected that Extraversion would be related to dominance in a team. Even though, in some rare findings, introverts have been found to contribute to successful team performance (Bradley & Hebert, 1997), typically, managers high in Extraversion are more interactive and have the propensity to achieve their goals through their teams (Peterson, Smith, Martorana, & Owens, 2003). Extraversion has therefore been found to positively influence team performance (Li, Zhou, Zhao, Zhang, & Zhang, 2015). People high in Extraversion have also been found to exhibit creative performance (Chiang, Hsu, & Shih, 2015). Deinert et al. (2015) reported the significant impact of Extraversion on leader performance, too. In the domain of project mangement, Extraversion was found to positively impact project performance directly as well as indirectly through team building (Salaria & Jamil, 2015). Thus, we hypothesized that Extraversion correlates positively with project success (Hypothesis 1).

Agreeableness is a personality trait that encompasses warmth, a preference for cooperation over competition, and the trust and acceptance of others (McCrae & Costa, 1987; McCrae & John, 1992). Managers high in Agree-ableness thus promote group cohesion among their teams by encouraging them to work together and build consensus (Barrick, Stewart, Neubert, & Mount, 1998; Peterson et al., 2003). Halfhill et al. (2005) reported that Agreeableness is helpful in building collaborative work environments. The cooperative nature of managers high in Agreeableness leads to success in professions in which teamwork is relevant (Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, & Barrick, 1999). Accordingly, the positive effect of Agreeableness on team performance has been found in the literature (Bell, 2007; Neuman, Wagner, & Christiansen, 1999; Peeters, Tuijl, Rutte, & Reymen, 2006). Aga, Noorder-haven, and Vallejo (2016) suggested that team performance can be extended to the context of projects, too. Leaders possessing the trait of Agreeableness were also found to perform better in general (Deinert et al., 2015). Therefore, we hypothesized that Agreeableness correlates positively with project success (Hypothesis 2).

Conscientiousness represents the ability to plan ahead, responsibility, persistence, and goal-directed behavior (McCrae & Costa, 1987; McCrae & John, 1992). Managers high in Conscientiousness have a greater sense of control over their environments, which enables the other team members to have control over their environments as well (Peterson et al., 2003). Bell (2007), Peeters et al. (2006), and Neuman et al. (1999) all reported a positive effect of Conscientiousness on team performance, and these findings have recently been supplemented by Li et al. (2015), who found the positive relation between leaders’ Extraversion and team performance. Leader performance was also found to be positively associated with high levels of Conscientiousness (Deinert et al., 2015). In the project management domain, leaders’ Conscientiousness was found to be a significant predictor of project performance in environments where incremental innovation was required (Aronson, Reilly, & Lynn, 2006, 2008). Thal Jr. and Bedingfield (2010) also suggested that project managers high in Conscientiousness would be more successful. In view of the foregoing findings, we hypothesized that Conscientiousness correlates positively with project success (Hypothesis 3).

Neuroticism encompasses anxiety, hostility, depression, self-consciousness, recklessness, and susceptibility (McCrae & Costa, 1987; McCrae & John, 1992). Managers high in this trait have a poor self-image, characterized by low self-esteem and low self-efficacy (Judge et al., 2002). In contrast, emotional stability usually goes along with positive organizational outcomes, for example, it leads to positive team performance (Halfhill et al., 2005). Higher levels of Neuroticism have understandably been found to be negatively associated with leader performance (Deinert et al., 2015) and team performance (Li et al., 2015). Thus, such people are expected to have a negative impact on project success. Accordingly, we hypothesized that Neuroticism correlates negatively with project success (Hypothesis 4).

Openness to Experience involves creativity, imagination, and innovation (McCrae & Costa, 1987; McCrae & John, 1992). Managers high in this trait would potentially come up with ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ solutions for their team's problems. Generally, this personality trait is not a strong predictor of performance in normal settings; however, Openness to Experience has been found to be a positive predictor of leader performance as well as team performance (Bell, 2007; Deinert et al., 2015; Neuman et al., 1999). Aronson et al. (2006) reported that leaders’ Openness eventually leads to project performance where radical innovation is required. Thal Jr. and Bedingfield (2010) also reported that project managers who score high in Openness are more successful. Thus, we hypothesized that Openness to Experience correlates positively with project success (Hypothesis 5).

Transformational Leadership as a Mediator Between the Big Five Personality Traits and Project Success

Dispositional tendencies have been found to have a direct impact on leader emergence, leadership style, and effectiveness (Bono & Judge, 2004; Judge, Bono et al., 2002; Kalshoven et al., 2011; Shih et al., 2009). More specifically, the Big Five personality traits have been shown to impact transformational leadership (Deinert et al., 2015; Phipps & Prieto, 2011). For example, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Conscientiousness have been found to positively predict transformational leadership, whereas Agreeableness has been found to have either a positive or a negative impact on transformational leadership depending on the context (Judge & Bono, 2000; Zopiatis & Constanti, 2012). According to Bono and Judge (2004), four of the Big Five personality traits have some facets that are applicable to a transformational leader, that is, affiliation and agency (Extraversion), charisma and idealized influence (Agreeableness), sense of direction (Conscientiousness), and creative expression and emotional responsiveness (Openness to Experience). Neuroticism, however, is a personality trait that has generally been found not to predict transformational leadership as its opposite emotional stability contribute to transformational leadership (Leban & Zulauf, 2004).

In Westerveld's (2003) The Project Excellence Msodel®, the element of leadership plays a prominent role in predicting project success. In fact, leadership is a palpable determinant of the success or failure of a project (Nixon et al., 2012; Odusami, Iyagba, & Omirin, 2003; Qubaisi, Elanain, Badri, & Ajmal, 2015; Turner & Müller, 2005) as it has also been found to impact leadership effectiveness, team innovation, as well as project team effectiveness (Badri-Harun, Zainol, Amar, & Shaari, 2016; Fung, 2015; Li, Mitchell, & Boyle, 2016). Muller, Geraldi, and Turner (2012) established that emotional and managerial leadership impact project success, whereas the complexity of the project acts as a moderator. Of the different leadership styles, transformational leadership has shown the strongest association with project success (Khan, Sang, & Iqbal, 2015). In their study, Elkins and Keller (2003) reported that transformational leadership was a significant predictor of project success in R&D projects. It has also been found to significantly positively predict the success of IT projects and virtual project teams (Arnold, 2008; Thite, 2000). In fact, this style of leadership predicts project success equally across various industries (Leban & Zulauf, 2004; Prabhakar, 2005). Tyssen, Wald, and Heidenreich (2014) are of the view that project success is ensured by transformational leaders who are able to garner their followers’ commitment, which also reduces turnover intentions (Nuhn & Wald, 2016). In a recent study, project success in NGOs was also predicted by transformational leadership (Aga et al., 2016).

This study proposes transformational leadership as a potential variable to explaining the primary relation between managers’ personality and project success. Wang (2009) developed a conceptual model whereby leadership performance explained the relations between personality traits and project success. In another study, transformational leadership has been found to explain the path between leaders’ psychological traits and firm performance (Peterson et al., 2009). Cavazotte et al. (2012) also found that transformational leadership mediated the relations between Conscientiousness and managerial performance.

Further, in a recent study, Deinert et al. (2015) reported the indirect effects of transformational leadership on the relations between personality traits and leader performance. Therefore, we supposed that transformational leadership would have the capacity to account for the relations between the Big Five personality traits and project success, so we hypothesized that transformational leadership mediates the relations between each of the Big Five personality traits and project success (Hypothesis 6).


Population and Sample

According to estimates, there are approximately 100,000 registered and unregistered NGOs in Pakistan, whereas registered NGOs number more than 56,000. Of the total NGOs, 90% are in Punjab and Sindh, whereas only 5% each are in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Baluchistan provinces (Naviwala, 2010). The sector engages in diverse activities, including education, healthcare, vocational centers, and infrastructure development. Nearly half (46%) of Pakistan's nonprofit organizations cite education as their main activity. The second largest component in the nonprofit sector consists of organizations that are engaged in advocacy (18%). Organizations that provide social services represent 8% of the total, whereas about 5% of these organizations report religious activities as their main service. A relatively small share (6%) work in the healthcare sector and the remainder are engaged in miscellaneous activities (Asian Development Bank, 2009; Ghaus-Pasha, Jamal, & Iqbal, 2002).

For the current study, data were obtained from seven NGOs operating in Punjab and Sindh (including indigenous and international NGOs) involved in 10 development programs in the areas of education and healthcare. These programs include the development and enhancement of infrastructure for schools; the provision of healthcare facilities, including the development of facilities and free medical checkups for underprivileged people; teacher training; and the provision of books and uniforms to needy students. There were 35 projects under these programs. The independent variables (i.e., the project members’ personality traits) as well as the mediating variable (i.e., their leadership style) were self-reported by the key members of the projects who had a direct impact on the projects’ success, including the process leaders, team leaders, and alike. Auxiliary staff was excluded from this group.

The data on project success had been obtained from two important stakeholders (i.e., the project managers themselves as well as the clients to whom the ultimate results were delivered). So, the unity of analysis was individual (i.e., project managers and clients). This approach is in line with the contemporary project success literature. Stuckenbruck (1986) posited that project success data can come from a number of sources, including managers, customers, employees, and so forth. The success of a project can be illusionary at times where projects deemed a complete failure prove to be an astounding success with the passage of time and vice versa. Such outcomes depend upon perceptions of success and the satisfaction of key stakeholders (Jugdev & Müller, 2005). Keeping this in mind, the data on project success were collected longitudinally (i.e., at 2- to 3-month intervals) from both groups. Initially, project success data were obtained immediately after the completion of the project from the project managers (T1) and then from the ultimate clients after the project had been operationalized and had been running for three months consecutively (T2). This goes beyond the current measurement trends of this factor and explores whether the project success remained valid even after the delivered project had started running and delivering (or failing) on the desired criteria. Two hundred project managers were approached for data collection; however, 170 (48% female) complete responses were received. For reporting purposes, the data on project success obtained from both sources (i.e., project managers and clients) were combined and reported as averages. On a standalone basis (for each source, separately), the same results emerged. Similarity in results when testing against the two dependent variables (whose data were collected from different populations) are indicative that no threat of common method variance exists.

The average age of respondents was 33 years, and the average length of work experience was six years. All of the project managers were Pakistani nationals and university graduates.


Predeveloped instruments in the English language were used in this study. In Pakistan, English is taught as a compulsory subject beginning in primary school. Instruction at the university level is also conducted in English. Because all of the respondents were university graduates, they should not have had any problems understanding the questionnaires. Details of the measurement of each variable are described in the following section.

Variable Instrument Data Source Time 1 Time 2
Personality Big Five Inventory (BFI) by John and Srivastava (1999) Project managers X
Project success Turner and Müller (2005) Project managers and project clients X
Leadership style Bass and Avolio (1990) Project managers X
Table 1: Measures, data source(s), and schedule.

Project managers’ personality traits. Personality was measured with the Big Five Inventory (BFI) developed by John and Srivastava (1999). This scale contains 44 items in total, where 8 items each measure Neuroticism (N) and Extraversion (E), 9 items each measure Conscientiousness (C) and Agreeableness (A), and 10 items measure Openness to Experience (O). The internal consistency reliabilities of the measures in the present study were α = 0.79, 0.70, 0.78, 0.72, and 0.65, respectively.

Project success. Our ultimate outcome, project success, was measured with the 10-item scale developed by Turner and Müller (2005). The internal reliability of this measure was α = 0.70.

Project managers’ leadership style (Transformational). Transformational leadership, our mediating variable, was measured with the Bass multifactor leadership questionnaire (12 items). The internal reliability of this measure was α = 0.78.

Since measures of personality, leadership style, and project success (time 1) were self-report and data were cross-sectional (except for project success, i.e., time 2), Harman's single factor test was thus conducted to account for common method variance (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003; Podsakoff & Organ, 1986). This method suggests that common method variance is present in the data if a single factor accounts for the majority of variance explained from the exploratory factor analysis. For this purpose, all the variables were entered into Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) and the number of factor was fixed to 1. It was observed that a single factor did not account for the majority of variance (17.366%) that suggests one factor is not sufficient to explain the major amount of total variance. Hence, it shows absence of Common Method Variance (CMV). The results of Harman's test do not preclude the likelihood of CMV thus CMV is not a problem in the current data.


Table 2 represents the descriptive statistics for the data. The total number of respondents were 170 represented as N in the table, whereas the mean values depict the average responses of respondents for all variables on a Likert-type scale. Skewness and kurtosis values were tested in order to check whether the data meet the assumption of normality for parametric tests for data analyses (correlation and regression). Skewness involves the symmetry of distribution of the variable about its mean, whereas kurtosis involves the peakedness of probability distribution of a variable. A data value that falls within an acceptable range of skewness and kurtosis tends to satisfy the assumption of normality.

It is observed that the absolute value of skewness for all variables is less than three times the standard error of that variable, and the skewness values for all the variables also lie in the acceptable range of −1 to +1. Hence, the data do not have a skewness problem. Moreover, Table 2 shows that the absolute value of kurtosis for all variables is less than three times the standard error of respective variable except for two variables—Conscientiousness and Openness—to experience. However, the differences of these variables are slight (0.49 and 0.13, respectively) and also all the kurtosis values lie within the acceptable threshold values of −2.2 and +2.2 (Sposito, Hand, & Skarpness, 1983). The current data, therefore, do not have a normality problem and hence the parametric analyses of correlation and regression can be carried out.


Table 2: Descriptive statistics.

The demographic variables consisted of age, gender, and work experience. Gender was coded 0 = male and 1 = female. Age was reported in years, and work experience was also reported in the number of years the participant had been managing projects. Most of the Big Five personality traits were not found to be significantly correlated with any of the demographic characteristics; however, Openness to Experience was significantly correlated with work experience, and Neuroticism was significantly correlated with gender.

Results were considered significant at p ≤ 0.05. As shown in Table 3, Project success, the dependent variable, was significantly positively related to Extraversion (r = 0.36, p < 0.01), Agreeableness (r = .034, p < 0.01), Conscientiousness (r = 0.21, p < 0.01), and Openness to Experience (r = 0.38, p < 0.01) but was not correlated with Neuroticism (r = −0.03, p = 0.61). Transformational leadership, the mediating variable, was significantly positively correlated with Extraversion (r = 0.32, p < 0.01), Agreeableness (r = 0.22, p < 0.01), Conscientiousness (r = 0.37, p < 0.01), Openness to Experience (r = 0.52, p < 0.01), and project success (r = 0.68, p < 0.01), whereas it was not correlated with Neuroticism (r = 0.06, p = 0.39).

Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1. Age
2. Gender −0.06
3. Work experience −0.05   0.12
4. Extraversion −0.04 −0.09 −0.03
5. Agreeableness −0.02 −0.01   0.08 0.42**
6. Conscientiousness   0.02 −0.08 −0.12 0.42** 0.56**
7. Neuroticism −0.06 −0.21**   0.04 −0.18* 0.44** −0.31**
8. Openness to Experience −0.05   0.03 −0.18* 0.28** 0.20**   0.26** −0.04
9. Transformational leadership −0.06 −0.13 −0.11 0.32** 0.22**   0.37**   0.06 0.52**
10. Project success −0.03 −0.03 −0.01 0.36** 0.19**   0.21** −0.03 0.38** 0.68**
*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01
Table 3: Bivariate correlations for all study variables.

Table 4 presents the results for the hypothesized relations between the independent and dependent variables. The overall model for predicting project success was significant (F = 7.390, p < 0.01). The analyses controlled for the effects of the demographic variables (i.e., age, gender, and work experience).

The results of the regression analysis showed that Extraversion (β = 0.21, p < 0.01), Agreeableness (β = 0.28, p < 0.01), and Openness to Experience (β = 0.29, p < 0.01) significantly positively predicted the success of the projects, thus supporting Hypotheses 1, 2, and 5. Conscientiousness was not a statistically significant predictor of project success (β = −0.07, p = 0.38) despite having a significant bivariate correlation with project success. Neuroticism was another trait that did not predict project success (β = 0.11, p = 0.14), but it also did not have a significant bivariate correlation with project success as shown in Table 2. Hypotheses 3 and 4 were therefore not supported.

Predictors Project Success
β R2 Adj R2 ΔR2
Step 1
Control variables 0.003   –0.015 0.003
Step 2
Extraversion 0.211**
Agreeableness 0.287**
Conscientiousness –0.076      
Neuroticism 0.118    
Openness to Experience 0.297**
0.269 0.232 0.266**
Note: Table values are standardized beta weights.
*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01
Table 4: Results of the regression analysis for predicting project success.

We conducted a mediational analysis by applying the bootstrapping method presented by Preacher and Hayes (2008). Bootstrapping is a non-parametric method that generates an estimate of the indirect effect, including a 95% confidence interval. When zero is not in the 95% confidence interval, one can conclude that the indirect effect is significantly different from zero at p < 0.05 (two-tailed). The bootstrapping method allows researchers to avoid the shortcomings of the earlier stepwise approach for testing mediation (Hayes, 2013). Furthermore, better estimates can be drawn with the bootstrapping method because of its resampling with replacement approach. With 95% confidence intervals, 5,000 bootstrapped resamples were used for this analysis. The mediation analyses (using Model 4 of the PROCESS Macro for SPSS) were run separately for each independent variable to check for the indirect effects of transformational leadership.


Table 5: Effects of transformational leadership as a mediator (M) between the Big Five personality traits (IVs) and project success (DV).

Table 5 presents the direct effects, total effects, and bootstrapped results for the indirect effects of the Big Five personality dimensions on project success. The true indirect effects via transformational leadership on the relations between the other four personality traits (Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience) fell between 0.10 and 0.38, 0.35 and 0.24, 0.12 and 0.29, and 0.24 and 0.45, respectively. For these results, zero was not present in the 95% confidence intervals, so the effects of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience on project success were mediated by transformational leadership.

From Table 5, it can also be construed that the true indirect effect via transformational leadership on the relation between Neuroticism and project success fell between −0.03 and 0.08, with zero present in the 95% confidence interval. Accordingly, the effect of Neuroticism on project success was not mediated by transformation leadership. Thus, Hypothesis 6 was partially supported.


This study provided some important findings for researchers as well as for practitioners in terms of the relations between personality traits (including transformational leadership) and project success. Out of the Big Five personality traits, Openness to Experience was the strongest predictor of project success. In problematic situations, leaders and managers need more creative solutions and outside-the-box thinking, which might have helped produce the current results. Agreeableness was the second strongest predictor of project success. This finding can be explained by the fact that managers high in Agreeableness are kind and considerate to the employees who work with them. The employees, in turn, put forth their maximum efforts and reciprocate the positivity by maintaining high performance standards, which result in a successful project. The elements of trust and trustworthiness are also catalysts for high performance as suggested in previous researches by Mayer and Gavin (2005) and Dirks (1999). Finally, Extraversion significantly positively predicted project success. Extraverted managers are those who are outgoing, social, and communicative with their subordinates. These qualities foster an environment in which issues are openly discussed and solutions are sought together. Such an environment can lead to the success of the workgroup, because high value is placed on social capital, and these close relationships lead to the higher performance of the whole unit. These findings complement earlier work on such relationships (Bevilacqua, Ciarapica, Germani, Mazzuto, & Paciarotti, 2014; Peslak, 2006; Ucol-Ganiron, 2012).

Surprisingly, Conscientiousness, which is usually the most significant predictor of individual and organizational performance, did not predict project success directly in this study. This unusual finding may be credited to the nature of working environment at a project-based organization. A project-based environment is oftentimes more dynamic and fast-paced as compared to a normal organization. To achieve the ambitious results, the employees working in such pressure conditions need more autonomy and sometimes a detour from the prescribed rules and procedures. In such scenarios, a manager who is high in conscientiousness may him or herself become a hurdle in his or her own project's success. Conscientious individuals are meticulous in everything they do as well as strong followers of norms and rules. Although these qualities are desirable for most working environments, they can become a hurdle in achieving the desired results because employees might feel that they are being monitored very closely and not being trusted enough.

Such an approach may lead workers to withdraw their efforts, thus leading to the weak performance of the entire organization. George and Zhou (2001) asserted that managers’ Conscientiousness leads to lower creativity in employees, especially when the subordinates are high on Conscientiousness as well. This finding can also be examined in the context that Conscientiousness might not be the best predictor of managerial performance in all occupational settings (Robertson, Baron, Gibbons, MacIver, & Nyfield, 2000). Neuroticism also did not negatively affect the project's success, a finding that is contrary to the expectation. Its bivariate correlation with project success was also insignificant as shown in Table 3. The insignificant relation between Neuroticism and leader performance was also reported in some earlier works (Bartone, Snook, & Tremble Jr., 2002; McCormack & Mellor, 2002).

The mediating role of transformational leadership was established for four personality traits (Extraversion, Agree-ableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience) in predicting project success. The current results show that the effects of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience on project success are due in part to transformational leadership. The predictability of performance/ success by transformational leadership supplements the general finding for the developmental sector that transformational leadership enhances employee performance (Sheraz, Zaheer, & Nadeem, 2012). It is interesting that Conscientiousness, which did not directly predict project success (see Table 4), indirectly affected project success through transformational leadership. The correlation in Table 3 between Conscientiousness and project success is most likely due to the mediation of transformational leadership. These findings on the mediating effect of transformational leadership on the relations between four personality traits and project success cement the theoretical argument of Hassan, Asad, and Hoshino (2016) that personality traits predict leadership styles, which eventually leads to leaders’ effectiveness.

Transformational leadership was not found to mediate the relation between Neuroticism and project success. One possible reason could be that, as shown in Table 3, transformational leadership was not significantly correlated with Neuroticism or project success, and the characteristics of a neurotic person are not supposed to be present in a transformational leader.

Conclusion and Implications

The current study contributes to the extant literature by establishing that personality dispositions in the forms of the Big Five personality traits significantly impact project success. In addition, transformational leadership is a variable that can be viewed as offering a substantial explanatory path between the Big Five personality traits and project success. Table 6 elucidates the result of each hypothesis:

The significance of these findings can be examined in the context of the Culp and Smith (2001) study, which elucidated that the chances of the success of a project can be enhanced by understanding and capitalizing on different behavioral styles related to psychological types.

Regarding practical implications, these findings are food for thought for the recruitment of the right types of project managers/team members, as such choices are critical for ensuring the ultimate success of a project (Arendse, 2013). Our findings have special significance for the promotors, sponsors, and donors of the NGOs. Personality-job fit needs to be ensured to provide barriers against the ever-increasing failure of projects. In addition to the implications for hiring processes, these findings also provide directions for personnel development. Training managers need to ensure that they inculcate the right type of “state” for igniting the specific behavioral tendencies that can ensure effective project management. Appropriate training programs may enhance the behavioral tendencies of project managers, and these tendencies might become useful for the effectiveness of projects. For instance, creating a state of motivation can add to the effectiveness of a project (Peterson, 2007).

S. No Hypothesis Supported Not Supported
1 Extraversion correlates positively with project success
2 Agreeableness correlates positively with project success
3 Conscientiousness correlates positively with project success
4 Neuroticism correlates negatively with project success
5 Openness to Experience correlates positively with project success
6 Transformational leadership mediates the relations between each of the Big Five personality traits and project success
(Except for Neuroticism)
Table 6: Summary of hypotheses results.

Limitations and Future Directions

Despite the significance of the findings of this study there are certain limitations, as the sample was comprised of managers of projects that came from the NGO sector of Pakistan. Furthermore, within the NGO sector, the subsectors of education and healthcare were the focus. Therefore, the theoretical generalizability of this study's findings needs to be strengthened by including more subsectors and by conducting the same study in multiple countries and cultures as the project management literature is quite new for NGOs (Golini et al., 2015). An important demographic characteristic that could affect our results is the nationality of project managers, because we can expect variations in the personality dispositions and leadership styles of project managers if they belong to different nations, ethnicities, or contexts. However, in our study, all the managers were from Pakistan. This limitation is an outcome of the prevailing law and order and security issues in Pakistan. People from developed countries are reluctant to travel to this country because of terrorist attacks on foreign nationals. Thus, even international donor agencies hire project managers from Pakistan to manage their projects. Although the issue of CMV variance did not exist in our data, ideally transformational leadership should be measured through peer and subordinates’ rather than as a self-report. Finally, other personality taxonomies and dispositions should also be evaluated for their possible effects on project success.


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Muhammad Mubbashar Hassan is a PhD Scholar at Capital University of Science & Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan. His research areas include individual and organizational level outcomes of personality dispositions, organizational justice, organizational citizenship behavior, and organizational behavior at large. He has been practicing human resource management and development for the past 13 years. He can be contacted at

Sajid Bashir, PhD, is an Associate Professor/Head of Department, Management Sciences Department at Capital University of Science & Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan. His research areas include individual and organizational level outcomes of personality dispositions, employee attitudes, social stigma in the workplace, whistleblowing, union commitment, health, and safety. Professor Bashir has written many high-impact factor publications, which have appeared in journals, including Learning and Individual Differences, The American Review of Public Administration, Journal of Health Psychology, Current Issues in Tourism, International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, and International Journal of Hospitality Management. He has also been awarded outstanding researcher award by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) in 2013. He can be contacted at

Syed Moqaddas Abbas completed his MS in HR from Capital University of Science & Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan. His areas of interest include project management, organizational justice, organizational citizenship behavior, training and development, leadership, and organizational behavior at large. He has been practicing human resource management and development for the last eight years. He can be contacted at

Project Management Journal, Vol. 48, No. 2, 74–87
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