Being able to project manage multiple clients in a way that gives equal balance to quality outputs and meeting immovable deadlines is clearly a highly valued, yet seemingly rare competency among client accounting managers in accounting and bookkeeping firms.
"How do I assess project management skills?" is one of the most frequently asked questions in our business, so we thought it was worthwhile to put together a guide for accounting firms to use for assessing project management skills in candidates and existing team members.
Interviews can potentially provide some of this information, but it is very hard in interviews to get the depth of understanding you're looking for, with a candidate who may or may not interview well, and who may or may not have prepared answers to the questions you're using. It's better and much easier to obtain this information from a personality assessment. Save your precious interview time to delve into areas of concern or strengths highlighted in the profile.
Some of the better personality assessments can quickly provide valuable insights into suitability for project management. Some, but not all. If the personality assessment you're using right now crams your candidate into a four-letter box, tells you whether they are red or green, or a duck or a pigeon, then it's going to be as useless at measuring suitability for project management as it is for making hiring or development decisions.
However, if you're using Big-5/OCEAN based assessments, or want to upgrade to them, you can use candidate personality profiles when hiring people who will need project management skills.
Here's a summary of each trait and why it's important for demonstrating project management capability. You'll also find these personality traits under the "Interacting" and "Coping" headings in most Big-5/OCEAN based questionnaires.
- Conscientiousness. In project management, the more conscientious the better. Conscientiousness is associated with valuing and adhering to established policies and processes, being consistent, prudent, dependable and prioritising delivering on what is promised.
- Self-discipline. Higher scorers in Self-Discipline are more likely to be planned, organized and meet or exceed quality standards expected by their employer, as well as expecting high standards of others.
- Social boldness. Managing multiple projects puts people in situations where they are unexpectedly the centre of attention, sometimes with demanding or unreasonable people. Higher scorers in Social Boldness enjoy the spotlight and readily rise to meet challenges when projects go astray.
- Assertion. Assertion, not aggression! Higher scorers in assertion initiate action, raise and address conflicts and generally strive to get things done.
- Affiliation. Good project managers don't do it all themselves. They are part of effective internal teams who collaborate to hit targets and build relationships with key people in their client's businesses who are critical in supplying the accounts and supporting information to make each project work.
- Less trusting. Ronald Reagan popularised the phrase, "Trust but verify" when project managing nuclear disarmament. The stakes aren't quite so high when project managing multiple clients accounts, but a good project manager needs to be able to juggle maintaining healthy relationships while completing some verification of the data and information provided by clients.
- Openness. Higher scorers in openness apply tact and diplomacy to their communications, so when they are verifying and checking their clients accounts, or conveying the need to hit deadlines with colleagues, their communications style maintains good relationships internally and externally.
- Emotional stability. High scorers tend to cope better with periods of pressure or emotionally challenging events. They remain consistent in their dealings with others regardless of what is happening in the background and take criticism constructively.
- Self-confidence. High scorers carry a degree of self-assurance to take on new challenges and expect success rather than failure.
- Calmness. High scorers expect inconveniences and interruptions in their working days and remain unflustered by them as they work towards goals or deadlines.
In our experience, those are the core behavioural traits associated with success in project management roles and you can explore whether people possess those traits via the long and time-consuming route of interviewing, or the shorter and targeted approach of using good personality questionnaires.
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About the Authors
Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.
Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.
Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers.