Chapter 3 – Project Manager as a Leader

3.9. In-depth Look: The DiSC Method

In-depth Look

Another theory of personality typing is the DiSC method, which rates people’s personalities by testing a person’s preferences in word associations in the following four areas:

  • D personalities:  are confident, results-oriented
  • I personalities:  are open, want to build relationships, influence other people
  • S personalities:  are dependable people, cooperative, sincere
  • C personalities: want quality, things to be accurate, like experts, and being competent (What is DiSC?, n.d., para. 3)

Understanding the differences among people is a critical leadership skill. This includes understanding how people process information, how different experiences influence the way people perceive the environment, and how people develop filters that allow certain information to be incorporated while other information is excluded. The more complex the project, the more important the understanding of how people process information, make decisions and deal with conflict. There are many personality-type tests that have been developed and explore different aspects of people’s personalities. It might be prudent to explore the different tests available and utilize those that are most beneficial for your team.

The theory presumes that everyone exhibits these behaviours constantly at varying degrees. For example, A could have an innate preference for Dominance behaviours while B displays more Conscientiousness behaviours. In order to utilize the DISC model effectively, it is crucial to understand each of the categories and how they relate to one another.

The DISC model is based on four basic behavioural styles. Each style is represented by a letter of the alphabet:

D – Dominance (D)

I – Influence (I)

S – Steadiness (S)

C – Conscientiousness (C)

DISC Model Includes: D- results oriented, innovative, competitive and direct. I - people oriented, enthusiastic, optimistic and creative. C - accurate, cautious, precise and analytical. Lastly S - sincere, dependable, loyal and modest
Figure 3‑1: “DISC Profile” by Suzan Last CC BY 4.0

These four traits are at heart of the model and refer to the different motivational characteristics that are inherent in us all. It is increasingly being used in a range of contexts, including education and parenting, organizational behaviour, and team dynamics.

  • Dominance: People who are dominant tend to be decisive, assertive, confident, and competitive. They like to have control over situations and are comfortable making decisions.  High dominant traits are associated with directness, assertiveness, independence, and problem-solving skills (Bradberry, 2007).
  • Influence: People who are influential tend to be persuasive, sociable, and energetic. They enjoy being around people and thrive on social interaction.
  • Steadiness: People who are steady tend to be loyal, patient, and thorough in their approach to tasks. They’re good listeners and can be counted on for their dependability in both work and personal matters.
  • Conscientiousness: People who are conscientious tend to be organized, detail-oriented, and thorough in their approach to tasks. They seek orderliness in all aspects of their lives — both at work and home—and orderliness in other people’s behaviour.

People have different behaviour, but this difference is not inborn. These differences can be observed, and they are caused by different life experiences. While personality is fixed, behaviour is both flexible and adaptable (DiSC Methodology, 2019)

In theory, we all fall somewhere on each of the four behaviours represented by the letters in the acronym. In practice, one or two of these behaviours tend to be more dominant than the others. It is often helpful to understand which behaviours tend to be most dominant when dealing with people, whether you’re trying to get a point across, decide together, or simply get along better with another person.

There are three key processes involved in using this model:

  1. Identifying your own dominant characteristics;
  2. Identifying others’ dominant characteristics;
  3. Understanding how these characteristics interact with one another within a group setting.

Identifying your own dominant characteristics

The first step in the process of using this model is to identify your own dominant characteristics. The best way to do this is to carry out a DISC assessment that will give you a general overview of your top three dominant characteristics as well as the second and third most likely ones. It’s important to remember that no one person is purely one characteristic but rather has all four. However, it is possible to have different combinations of characteristics that make up your overall behavioural profile.

Identifying others’ dominant characteristics

To understand others’ behaviour, it is important to first identify their predominant character trait. This can be done by observing how they respond in given situations and what they say they would like versus what they actually do. You can also ask them directly about their thoughts or feelings on a subject. Their responses will give you a better idea of how best to approach them in various situations. If you are lucky enough to know someone well enough, you may even be able to find out what their childhood was like, which can help you understand why certain behaviour patterns develop.

How these characteristics interact with one another within a group setting

Within a group setting, the DISC model’s characteristics can interact with one another in a variety of ways. For example, within a group setting that has a bunch of “D”s, the group will be full of people who might receive high scores on Dominance characteristic but low scores on the “I” characteristic. This kind of group setting will be very task-oriented and goal-driven and will not spend much time socializing or getting to know each other better. Alternatively, in a group setting that has a lot of “S”s, we could have a lot of socializing and not much time spent on tasks. This is because the “S”s is more likely to be friendly and less likely to push for goals. Finally, in a group, including both “D”s and “I”s, we would probably see both task-oriented and socialization—in fact, it would probably be an ideal mix because everyone would get their say during discussions while also having equal opportunities to contribute to the achievement of group goals.

It is important to remember that no one person is purely one characteristic but rather has all four. It is possible to have different combinations of characteristics that make up your overall behavioural profile.

  • A D/I person will be dominant but also open to suggestions from others.
  • A D/S person will be domineering and closed-minded.
  • An I/S person will listen to what other people have to say but may not be very confident in decision-making. They may even feel pressure from the group to make particular decisions.
  • An I/C person is more likely to make decisions on their own but will listen to the opinions of others.

Questions to consider when carrying out a DISC profile assessment.

When trying to find out someone’s DISC personality, there are a few questions you should always ask:

  1. Do they have a tendency to be Dominant or submissive?
  2. Do they respond to criticism by attacking the criticism or the person or by taking it in and making changes?
  3. How do they feel about Evaluating things quickly or methodically?
  4. And finally, when they’re under stress, do they become Stressed-out and act without thinking, or does their behaviour become more Assertive and focused on finding new solutions?

Strengths of the DISC Theory

A strength of the DISC Personality System/model instrument is there are measurements in several areas of personality/human behaviour. It looks at each personality type, such as likes/dislikes, strengths, and challenges.  It also looks at how the types make decisions, their motivations, and evaluate and influence others, and contributes to the team. According to Profile Assessments (n.d.) “DISC is the leading personality assessment tool, used by over 40 million people. It promotes increased communication skills for individuals, teams, and leaders”.

Also, the DISC model is reliable and valid because the research/study was both quantitative and qualitative and was concentrated on human behaviour, empirical research, and a theoretical framework. Its findings were based on the study of the personality traits of a group of people.

“DISC Assessment is used by 75% of Fortune 500 companies due to the accuracy of the test result” (Beedu, 2021).

In summary, the DISC model is a  tool that helps people to understand themselves and make adjustments allowing them to adapt their behaviour to others. It improves communication, improves misunderstanding, and increases effectiveness in teams. Teams are more cooperative, productive and perform better.

There are limitations to the DISC Model. Due to the many variations of the test, and not all of them have been vetted, this can lead to inaccurate results.

Also, there has been no large-scale correlation study to show that test results match real-world job performance making it more of an assumption than factual.

If the right information is not provided or chosen by the candidate, the results may be misleading, and the results will be wrong because they do not reflect the personality of the candidate.

“The test is in a multiple-choice format where the options are already given, and you have to choose the option that is nearest to your response. It sometimes feels very limiting to the person answering the questionnaire” (Bhasin, 2020.)

In summary, although the DISC model is able to measure individual/personality traits, the model doesn’t predict or explain the success or failure of a person based on the results of his/her DISC assessment. It measures common tendencies but not skills and does not predict success.

Contribution the theory has made to HR:

Significant contribution of Human Resources officials to any organization is to determine and analyze human potential. DISC theory enables Human Resources Specialists in many ways. It is most helpful during recruitment processes. The different ways in which each candidate reacts to new challenges will help the HR team to analyze the individual “fit” for the organization and its strategies. DISC theory is being used by organizations because of it is practical and a seamless application. The tool’s four basic components make it simple to learn and apply, especially for users with minimal familiarity with psychometric testing and little time to commit to and research a comprehensive model of behaviour and personality. To maximize the value of DISC insights, DISC should be used on the selected applicants prior to the face-to-face interview. The tool’s insights can assist to facilitate the dialogue, particularly in areas such as the candidate’s preferred working style, strengths, and areas for improvement. The effective application of the DISC instrument enables the discovery of certain behavioural tendencies that would not have been apparent until the individual was already on the job (Isenhour, 2018).

This theory also helps in assessing interpersonal communication skills. This is a very important aspect for any HR, for working relationships within the organization and to stick people together. DISC also helps in keeping the training costs down as it enables to select the right candidates; therefore, the company’s budget stays intact (Pyron, n.d.). Human Resources can understand and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, and this will help in planning processes ahead in a non-judgemental manner. The main advantage of DISC is that it helps Human Resources Specialists understand if a candidate matches the needs and requirements of the corporate culture. To some extent, it will also allow the HR team to provide any needed attention and rightful opportunities to the employees or their teammates (DISC Reports, n.d.). The DISC behaviour model can help individuals understand their natural leadership style and how to modify it for better management results.

Class of 2022 Contributions:  Mabel Korsah, Tanaaya Sharma, Jane frances Nwokoro, Charmaine Perez

Human Resources Contribution to Project Management through Personality Tests

Trained Human Resources Specialists can determine roles each individual adopts in the project team. The testing can help teams learn from each other, reach outcomes and identify leaders in the groups.  Human Resources is provided with informative insights about how the potential team members will impact the team, how people will work with each other, how they will solve problems individually and together, and manage their emotions while working on the project.



In relation to the DISC method, which of the personal preferences do you think related to you best? Why?