Project Management Institute

Putting the right project manager on the right job--what competency assessment is all about!

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Studies have determined that a lack of project and program management skills is a major issue for many companies. Lost profits due to late, over budget, and failed projects have encouraged more business decision makers to look at project manager competency assessment programs. These in-depth assessments help executives make better, more informative decisions about project manager recruitment and training initiatives. Organizations need to develop a cadre of experienced, effective project managers. How do they do this and how do they know when they have achieved success?

The majority of project managers report that they don't know how or why they were assigned the project manager job. Most say that they just happened to be available to fill the need at the time. Unfortunately, many “accidental” project managers who take on this role do not possess the right skills, characteristics, and background to effectively manage organizational projects. An IT programmer or software developer, for instance, might be technically proficient, but he or she might lack the communication and management skills that are essential to perform well in the project manager role.

This paper will attempt to show how a full competency assessment gives organizational leaders a holistic view of an individual's current project management knowledge, skills, and potential to effectively fill a project manager role. There are several assessment tools in today's market place. Australia, the United Kingdom, and South Africa have been leaders in the competency movement. They have developed standards for project management as part of their national qualifications frameworks. Within the United States the competency movement is gaining momentum. The Project Management Institute (PMI) recently developed the Project Management Competency Development Framework (PMCD) and PM College® partnered with Caliper International to produce one of the first comprehensive competency assessment programs within the United States.

The results of a project management competency assessment arms an organization with diagnostic information, whereby they can determine which individual project managers have the highest potential to grow and excel. With the right project managers in place, projects are managed more effectively, increasing the probability for success and return on the project management investment

What is Competency?

Competency encompasses knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are causally related to superior job performance (Boyatzis, 1982). Project management competency is accompanied by a command of language and concepts of the project management profession. Competency is demonstrated by behaviors in the workplace. It can be measured against well-accepted standards. Lastly, competency can be increased via training and development.

The PMI PMCD Framework and the PM College Competency Assessment align with the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – 2000 Edition and current best practices. Both tools identify competencies in three dimensions: Knowledge (what individual project managers bring to a project through their knowledge and understanding of the profession); Potential/Attitude (Core personality characteristics); and Behavior/Performance (what individual PMs are able to demonstrate in their ability to manage projects).

Who should an organization assess?

There are several layers of project management participants, from team members to senior project executives. There are at least four pools of candidates that should be assessed:

  • Potential project managers, those with less than one year project manager experience
  • New project managers having 1-5 years project manager experience
  • Current project managers with 5 or more years project manager experience, and
  • Senior Project/Program Managers (10+ years and 3 or more simultaneous projects)

What are the main components of a Project Manager Competency Assessment?

There are three main components of a typical competency assessment, which include:

  • A Knowledge Assessment Profile (KAP) measuring the knowledge of the project manager based upon the nine areas identified in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).
  • A Project Management Profile measuring the candidate's project management potential. It is an assessment battery that provides competency-based reporting to the project management industry.
  • 360° Rating Tool measuring current job performance of the individual as rated by subordinates, peers, and supervisors.

Let's look at each component of a US-based competency assessment.

Knowledge Assessment:

Evaluating an individual's project management knowledge is the first step in assessing project manager competency. The knowledge assessment component tests the candidate's working knowledge of the language, concepts, and practices of the profession.

The Project Management Institute's (PMI®) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is the ISO-approved industry-standard baseline that should be used to measure knowledge.

According to the PMBOK Guide, project management knowledge encompasses nine different areas - integration, scope, cost, time, risk, procurement, quality, communication, and human resources.

(Professional Development Solutions, Inc, 2003)

Exhibit 1 (Professional Development Solutions, Inc, 2003)

Exhibit 1 is a sampling of questions within the Knowledge Area component of a Competency Assessment. The actual knowledge assessment consists of a set of questions administered via pencil and paper or electronically. Results are used to determine the candidate's project management knowledge.

(Professional Development Solutions, Inc, 2003)

Exhibit 2 (Professional Development Solutions, Inc, 2003)

Exhibit 2 is a sampling of the type of results from a Knowledge Assessment.

Potential/Attitude Component

The second component of a project manager competency assessment evaluates the individual's potential to perform as a project manager. In this portion of an assessment, individuals answer a series of questions that test their ability to think and solve problems in specific situations. Each question requires the candidate to determine how he or she would handle and resolve a scenario, conflict, or issue. The scenarios are designed to measure an individual's potential performance in areas such as :

  • Leadership
  • Interpersonal Communications
  • Problem Solving/Decision Making
  • Organizational/Time Management
  • Service and Motivation
Simple Map Example

Exhibit3 (Caliper International, Inc., 2003)

Exhibit 3 represents a sampling of questions on the second component, Profile/Attitude, of a Competency Assessment.

(Caliper International, Inc., 2003)

Exhibit 4 (Caliper International, Inc., 2003)

Exhibit 4 depicts the results of an Individual Profile Report.


The final component of a project manager competency assessment is an evaluation of an individual's behavior in a project environment.

One way to measure project manager behavior is to use a 360-degree feedback evaluation. This assessment tool needs to be completed by the individual, as well as several independent assessors; for example, a supervisor, peer, subordinate, and a client.

Individuals rate themselves on their competency in several key performance indicators. The independent assessors then rate the individuals on those same criteria. To see how the candidate's behavior competency measures up, his or her profile scores are compared to the feedback provided by the assessors.

A 360-degree assessment provides a holistic view of the individual's project manager behaviors. Additionally, it serves as a gauge for determining which behaviors are present or absent, how well the behaviors are displayed, and which behaviors demonstrate areas for potential growth. The information is then analyzed to identify the top three to five areas for growth opportunities.

The output of the 360-degree assessment is a chart describing the individual's Key Result Areas (KRAs). Significant KRAs are:

  • Understands, Defines and Articulates Scope in Project Charter
  • Develops Project Plan with Project Team
  • Facilitates and Obtains Buy-in From Key Stakeholders
  • Builds and Manages Project Team
  • Implements Project Plan
  • Serves as a Change Management Agent
  • Performs Project Close-Out Activities
(Caliper International, Inc., & Professional Development Solutions, Inc., 2003)

Exhibit 5 (Caliper International, Inc., & Professional Development Solutions, Inc., 2003)

Exhibit 5 shows a sample of the kinds of questions that might be asked of assessors in a 350-degree evaluation.

(Caliper International, Inc., & Professional Development Solutions, Inc., 2003)

Exhibit 6 (Caliper International, Inc., & Professional Development Solutions, Inc., 2003)

Exhibit 6 compares supervisor vs self ratings on a variety of KRAs.

So How Do All of These Results Help?

Understanding the interdependencies between project management knowledge, skills, and behavior will be helpful in guiding project management practitioners to their fullest potential.

A recent survey conducted at Meta Group's MetaMorphosis 2003 conference indicated that 77% of respondents believe lack of project and program management skills is a major IT issue. According to Meta, the “state of project management capability (as demonstrated by high project costs, poor schedule performance, and business irrelevance) is astoundingly abysmal….a fully trained and certified project manager will more likely be able to establish realistic project performance baseline measures, identify and escalate issues, negotiate corrective actions, and sensibly navigate political and cultural situations.” (Meta Group, Inc. 2003).

Current industry research from Gartner, Inc. has found that a deficient project management workforce is one of the leading culprits for an astounding $75 billion in losses each year. This leading industry analyst group reports that poor project manager competency accounts for 60% of project failures. (Gartner, Inc. 2002).

Organizations need to develop a cadre of experienced, effective project managers. With project manager competency assessments, executives can determine beforehand who has the best mix of traits and skills to be a superior project manager, or the potential to become one. Competency assessments also help executives identify candidates’ skill area strengths and weaknesses.

As a result:

  • Project managers are appropriately recruited.
  • Project manager training and development programs are more effective.
  • Projects are managed at a higher quality level.
  • More projects are delivered on time and within budget.
  • Project failure rates decline.
  • Time to market increases.
  • Profitability improves.

Successfully implementing projects depends on the people who manage them. Selecting the ‘right’ people to manage projects is the key to minimizing project failures, maximizing organizational efficiency, improving time to market, and increasing profits.

Boyatzis, Richard E. 1982. The competent manager: A model for effective performance. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Bigelow, D. & West, J. (2003, May) Competency assessment programs raise the bar on enterprise-wide project performance, CLO Magazine

Caliper International, Inc., & Professional Development Solutions, Inc., (2003) Project Manager Profile.

Caliper International, Inc., & Professional Development Solutions, Inc., (2003) 306 Rating tool.

Gartner, Inc. (2003, May 9) Comptency Assessment Programs, Chief Learning Officer. Retrieved from http:/// (May 9, 2003)

Global Performance Based Standards for Project Management Personnel, (February, 2003), Report from Working Session, Lille, France.

Meta Group News Analysis, (2003) “Lack of Project Management Skills Is a Major IT Issue for Many Organizations”, Retrieved on 9 July 2003 from:

Professional Development Solutions, Inc., (2003) PM Knowledge Assessment.

Project Management Institute, (200) Project Manager Competency Development Framework. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of PMI® Global Congress 2003 – North America
Baltimore, Maryland, USA ● 20-23 September 2003



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