Geoff Trickey, Managing Director of Psychological Consultancy Ltd, has contributed a chapter featured in IGI Global’s Handbook of Research on Leveraging Risk and Uncertainties for Effective Project Management entitled “Getting to Grips with Behavioural Bias: How Projects Fail and What To Do About It”.  Geoff tackles whether the impressive progress achieved by technical advances in project management have been stalled by failure to make similar advances in addressing the human factors. The following interview was featured on IGI Global’s website on December 15th 2016.

Can you explain what you mean by human factors in project risk management?
The term ‘human factors’ has evolved over the years, with employees seen as the vulnerable party, the problem and, more recently, the solution. An entire new perspective on the likelihood of a project derailing due to the people involved is made possible when you can accurately assess their individual risk dispositions. Someone’s ‘risk personality’ is not simply about whether they are reckless or risk averse. It is about how they perceive, react to and manage risk, as well as how they make decisions. Being able to navigate these important individual differences in risk dispositions is a game changer for project management.

Why can’t project risks be eliminated by tightening controls and increasing oversight?
That’s a strategy that runs out of road. It can achieve a lot but, in its most authoritarian and forceful form, it creates a ‘them and us’ culture in which managers direct and doers simply follow with ‘blind obedience’. This approach erodes commitment and threatens to alienate the staff it is intended to influence.

Can you provide some examples?
In one heavy industry situation where we were running a Risk Type assessment project, overly zealous regimentation had certainly been a factor in generating resentment amongst the workforce. Compliance became an issue that generated cynicism and subversion rather than co-operation because it was perceived as a strategy for shifting responsibility for safety from management to the shop floor.

Staff disengagement therefore hinders effective team work and the realization of project goals.
Good working relationships can also be eroded when experience and expertise are discounted. Workforce morale is threatened when supervisory staff who have no on-the-job experience reprimand respected and experienced operators for making what are widely perceived as ‘common sense’ decisions.

What role do people’s risk dispositions play in effective project management?
They change the agenda. When you can provide insights into why people behave as they do, see things differently or are at odds with one another (or with the regulatory regime) you can turn dysfunction into dynamism. Insight and self-awareness enable personal responsibility. Mutual respect for what each individual brings to the table is empowering because there is strength in diversity. The last thing you want is for project team members to all be of one mind – it is a recipe for group think and multiple blind-spots. A diverse, self-aware team with members who complement (rather than clone) each other will be more resourceful and resilient in the face of challenges.

How can risk dispositions be measured?
Risk-taking is not a simple scale from cautious to reckless, as is often supposed. It derives from personality, which can now be robustly measured. The Risk Type Compass is a personality-based psychometric questionnaire. Its 360o spectrum of risk dispositions is segmented into eight different Risk Types, each characterised by its own set of advantages and potential disadvantages. This approach provides a coherent framework and a clear vocabulary for effective project management, enabling strengths to be leveraged, blind-spots to be uncovered and communication to be enhanced.

Are there good and bad Risk Types?
The significance of Risk Type is not so much in ‘what people do’ as ‘the way that they do it’. Does someone prepare obsessively or act on impulse, are they distraught by set-backs or excited by the challenge, easily bored or highly vigilant? Rather than a Risk Type being ‘good or bad’ the issue is whether someone’s natural risk disposition fits with the demands of the job. When people understand their own ‘biases’ they can usually moderate them, so most roles can be performed by many Risk Types. However, some roles are highly prescribed and ‘personality critical’ (air traffic controllers, for example) and most people would find them too challenging.

The point is, Risk Type doesn’t ‘choreograph’ the details of our behavior. We can all learn to manage our impulses to some extent if we are aware of what they are. By identifying our assets and challenges, the Risk Type Compass can be used to direct individuals towards the most likely routes to project success and promote personal responsibility.

Where do you see the future of effective project management?
By understanding Risk Type differences and appreciating both the positives and negatives of each Type, there is a real opportunity to both increase the likelihood of project success and maximize employee engagement. The stepping-stones to this Nirvana are: self-awareness; a culture of mutual respect for the risk dispositions of others; an appreciation of diversity; and recognition of experience and expertise. These aspirations will be effective for achieving project goals from the board room to the shop floor.

For more information about risk personality and how the Risk Type Compass can enhance project management, contact