Big five personality traits (OCEAN model)

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Developed by Amalie Nygaard Müller



Figure 1: The Big Five personality trait factors.

A project is by the Project Management Institute (PMI) [1] defined as a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. Despite every project being unique, most projects include management practices such as balancing the iron triangle, assessing risk and engaging with stakeholders. Another common thing for projects is that it involves human resources and that no amount of scheduling or control will be able to help the project succeed if the wrong people are involved [2]. People are at the centre of every project and part of every process from initiation till closing, and hence crucial to the success of a project. A core management practice within any given project is, therefore, the understanding, design and development of a project team.

When assembling a team it is not enough to look into the professional and technical competencies. It is also important to focus on the dynamics and diversity of the team, to ensure a good working environment and interaction between team members. As described in the PRINCE2 method [3], knowledge of people’s personality profiles and how different personality types affect each other can help the project manager design balanced project teams that work effectively. Knowledge of personality profiles can further enhance the project managers understanding of how to effectively motivate and communicate with the individual team members.

Through time multiple different theories and concepts regarding personality assessment have been developed. The most acknowledge theory in psychology, currently, are the Big Five, also known as the OCEAN model [4]. The Big Five is a psychological framework and theory that through five factors; openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, assesses a large variety of the traits and characteristics that together encapsulates what is commonly acknowledged as a personality. Each trait represents a continuum and the theory, therefore, contrary many other theories that are based on binary variables, does not place people in boxes, but gives an overview of a person’s personality and also makes it possible to measure individual differences hereof.

The Big Idea

Why is personality research of relevance to Management?

The term personality is by the American Psychological Association (APA) described as “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving” [5]. It is part of how we act and react as human beings on the things we encounter and the challenges we face. An understanding of personality can therefore lead to an understanding of a personas appearance in life, whether it is with regard to social relations or job performance.

Personality becomes interesting from a management perspective as knowledge of personality traits and types can be used as a tool for improving human resource handling. It is relevant when hiring new people for a vacant position, in all levels of an organization. It can be used by managers, also at all levels of an organization, to gain an understanding of their employees patterns, strengths and weaknesses and give them insights into how they best support, develop and lead their employees. It can be of help in team design situations, making sure the right people are put together, so a dynamic team that work efficiently together and co-creates a pleasurable work environment are established. It can moreover be used as a self-knowledge tool to identify where ones leadership skills are lacking or how to play to ones strengths and knowing when to delegate. In general when personality knowledge are utilized efficiently, it can help enhance job performance of the individual, team and organization. Assessing personality can be used in both project, programme and portfolio management, as all levels posses a human resource perspective. This article however reviews the OCEAN model with regards to project management, as knowledge of personality is particular relevant for team design and development.

Personality research through time – a search for taxonomy

Figure 2: Graphic Illustration of the historical development from Allport and Odbert's search through the English Dictionary till the personality trait taxonomy used today.

Personality has been investigated since the beginning of time, and a multitude of theories, explanations and definitions have been presented and developed each era by big thinkers. From ancient Greece philosophers to Freud, Jung and Maslow, all investigating the abstract subject from different angles and with different perspectives on the concept personality [4][6]. Each of these theories has contributed to the reflection upon and understanding of personality, but the accumulation of traits and measuring scales through the years became so plentiful that communication and systematic accumulated findings between researchers became near impossible, and a need for a common vocabulary in psychology research and a common descriptive model or taxonomy, therefore, emerged [7].

In the search for a common taxonomy especially three researchers paved the way. In 1936 Allport and Odbert conducted a search through an English dictionary and found 18.000 terms that could be used to describe a personality. This was sorted into four categories, respectively, personality traits, temporary states, moods and activities, evaluative judgments of personal conduct and reputation and physical characteristics. This lexical research became the foundation for further personality taxonomy research, and particularly the personality traits category has become a focal point in taxonomy research [Srivastava]. The third researcher with an enormous impact on taxonomy research is Raymond Cattell that revolutionized the personality trait taxonomy research field by reducing Allport and Odberts 4500 items in the personality traits category to a mere 35, inspiring other researchers to further and drastically revise and reduce the number of traits and clustering hereof [7].

The most acknowledged personality trait taxonomy today, the Big Five, also has its origin from Cattell’s work. Several researchers were involved in its discovery and clarification, however, the most recognized psychological researchers presenting such a Big Five model, to date, is Goldberg with a lexical approach, and Costa and McCrae with a validation of the theory in praxis, in the form of a measurement system [7].

The Big Five (OCEAN)

The Big Five has its name from the broadness it possesses. Each factor has carefully been chosen to give the least amount of factors, covering the most facets and traits within a personality description. Each factor is representing a facet of traits, and each trait a spectrum, thereby representing both the stated and reversed terms used to describe the broader factor. The five factors are as follows:

  • Openness to Experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

As can be seen, the models second name OCEAN is an acronym for the five factors.

Openness to Experience is a factor that describes people’s creativity and curiosity in life. The spectrum covers traits such as imagination, spontaneity and originality. It describes a person’s approach to new experiences, whether they like and get excited about the unknown and new, or they prefer a more routine pervaded existence. The creativity perspective can be seen from many different angles and covers both creativity within the arts and science. People who score high on the Openness to experience factor tend to have an open, independent and innovative mind and a sensitive temper. They embrace differences and let themselves be vulnerable to the new and unknown. They therefore typically thrive in agile environments, with a fast paste in changes, and where they can take part in the idea generation. On the opposite end of the spectre, people who score low on Openness to experience tend to be more conventional, prefers the known and familiar way of life and possess a down-to-earth mentality. They typically have a more practical way of thinking and handling tasks and thrive better in permanent settings, where they can build a routine [4][8].

Conscientiousness covers traits and characteristics such as self-discipline, control and planning. The factor concerns it self with a persons drive and ambition in life, whether a person is driven by goals or impulses, the ability to control and inhibit those impulses and level of responsibility toward one self and society. A person that scores high on the conscientiousness spectrum often possess a high level of self control and discipline and are capable of planning and executing their life accordingly. They will have a tendency to be scrupulous and careful but at the same time determined to reach their goals. On the other end of the spectrum a person low on the conscientiousness factor will have a tendency to be dis-organised and controlled by their impulses. A dislike towards structure and planning breeds a propensity to procrastinate task, and possess a more careless behaviour [4][8].

Extraversion, also called extroversion, is a known psychology term from the extrovert/introvert classification of people. The factor contains a lot of the traits and characteristics associated with these two terms. It covers a persons desire to interact with their surrounding environment. Whether it is a stimulating or energy-draining experience to engage in social arrangements or whether a person enjoys or loathe being the centre of attention. A person that scores high on the extraversion will often be characterized as gregarious, talkative and outgoing. They seek interaction with other people and stimulus from outer sources. They typically contribute positively to a social environment with their energy and are good at creating a feeling of unity. Low scorings on extraversion will typically describe people that are reserved and cautious. They will generally be perceived as thoughtful and will gain energy from shorter periods of solitude. They concern themselves with thoughts and feelings within themselves rather than the outer things and are often the more quiet and listening ones in a company, which however should not be mistaken for lack of commitment [4][8].

Agreeableness describes how a person interacts with other people, and how others typically perceive them. It covers terms like likeable, benevolence and selfishness. It describes whether a person is gentle in their appearance, their degree of humbleness and their willingness to trust or be trusted by other people. It reflects how helpful they are towards others, if they possess true altruism or if they have a more defensive nature. A person with a high score on the agreeableness spectrum will be characterized as humble, well-liked and helpful. They will have a low degree of selfishness and put others before themselves. They will be patient and trusting towards others, and therefore also often in possession of a strong social support foundation. Further, they will have a cooperative mindset, and be flexible with their surroundings. People with low scores on the agreeableness spectre will contrary be suspicious and distrustful towards others and will have low relationship satisfaction. They will be characterized as selfish and with no care for fulfilling social obligations, or aligning with established norms [4][8].

Neuroticism is a factor concerning a person’s emotional stability and temper. It covers traits like anxiety, fear and jealousy and is part of describing a persons' level of self-esteem. A person scoring high on neuroticism can be characterized as anxious and insecure. They prone towards sadness and will often be perceived as emotionally unstable and moody, and with a lack of confidence. People with a low score on the neuroticism spectre will however be characterized as confident and self-satisfied. They will often be more adventurous and at the same time poised and calm [4][8].

OCEAN as a measurement TOOL

Figure 3: Illustration of the NEO PI-R and BFI questionnaire, determining the position on the five factors' spectrum based on questionnaire relating to the six facets of each factor. Inspired by the scale from Simply Psychology[9], and table 4.1 from John and Srivastava[7] that lists Costa and McCrae's NEO PI-R Facets

Several researchers have based on the theoretical descriptive model developed questionnaires and scales to measure and interpret personality traits and correlations between behaviour and personality. Among others are the following OCEAN measurement tools[10]:

  • NEO Personality Inventory Revised (NEO PI-R)
  • NEO Five-factor Inventory (NEO FFI)
  • International Personality Item Pool (IPIP)
  • Big Five Inventory (BFI)
  • Big Five Aspects Scale (BFAS)
  • 100 Trait-Descriptive Adjectives (TDA)

All tests assess personality with regards to the OCEAN factors but are done in different ways with regards to the amount and appearance of question items. They vary from long sentence questions in the NEO test to single adjectives in the TDA measurement. Further, some of the tests are commercial and others created for non-commercial research purposes. The best validated big five measures in questionnaire tradition is the NEO questionnaires, but for research settings where time is of the essence the BFI is also frequently used [7].

NEO PI-R is developed by Costa and McCrae and is a 240-item questionnaire. Each item is a sentence that is rated using the Likert scale, a scale from 1 to 5 where one is equal to strongly disagree and five to strongly agree. The items fall under the five OCEAN factors, but the factors are further categorized into six facets each, giving a total of 30 facets. The NEO PI-R is developed so the questionnaire can be assessed in two forms; a self-report called the S-form and an observer-report called the R-from. Giving the opportunity to get both an internal and an external perspective of a person’s personality and a comparison here off [7][10].

The other frequently used measuring tool is called the big five inventory (BFI), and was developed by the trio John, Donahue and Kentle [7]. The questionnaire consists of 44 short phrased questions and is also assessed with the Likert scale, where some phrases however are judged with a reverse scale score. In total there are 8-10 items under each of the five factors, and like the NEO measurement system, the factors are further divided into 6 facets each, to a total of 30 facets, and is represented and measured by one or two items each [7][10]. The BFI measurement system is less time consuming, but also less exhaustive than the NEO PI-R test, so depending on the usage purposes and what is weighted the highest one can pick and choose between the different measuring systems. For more information on how the two measurements systems are validated or where to find more information on the remaining listed measurement systems, see the annotated bibliography.


The OCEAN model is in principle applicable at any time and for everyone, but from a project management perspective the results from an OCEAN questionnaire stands out as especially relevant when designing and progressing with a project team. People are crucial to the success of a project as the organization rely on the project team to deliver on the established project goals. A project manager should therefore according to the PMI standards "invest suitable effort in acquiring, managing, motivating, and empowering the project team" [11].

In the acquiring process it is naturally important to ensure that the hired candidates has the capabilities needed for the vacant positions in the project team. However it is just as important to consider the dynamic in the team when hiring candidates, what role they would resemble in the team, and how chosen candidates complement each other in temperament, as teams that obtain emotional intelligence are more effective, and also more likely to have a lower turnover in staff [11].

Belbin's Team Roles is a theory that identifies 9 team roles, and how to assemble a dynamic team. Work systems are however becoming more complex and are demanding more flexible work roles[12]. OCEAN can complement Belbin’s team roles as it gives a greater insight into peoples personality traits in a more general context, and can provide a greater overview of a persons’ social, thinking and action role spectrum. For the acquiring process a prediction of job performance are also favourable. OCEAN has been used in several such prediction studies, where it has been found that conscientiousness is a strong predictor for general work performance, and where the other factors and facets have been found to relate to more specific aspects of job performance. Neuroticism and Agreeableness have for example been found to be a predictor for teamwork abilities and extraversion a predictor for leadership[7]. As mentioned work systems are becoming more complex and in addition work roles more flexible. Behaviour in the form of adaptivity, proactivity and proficiency, therefore, becomes highly prominent in these agile workplaces[13]. In a study by Neal et al. [12] the OCEAN model are being used to explore the Big Five’s relation to the three forms of behaviour in the context of individuals, teams and organizations, and if some factors are linked more closely to the performance on the different levels in an organization than others. Currently the studies are not yet conclusive, but it was found that conscientiousness correlates positively with all nine dimensions, supporting that this factor is a strong predictor for job performance. More over Neuroticism were found to correlate negatively with all nine dimensions, indicating that a high score on neuroticism is equal to an inferior job performance[12].

The process of managing, motivating and empowering a project team require knowledge of the individual personalities within a team, as preferences for how to be motivated and supported by a leader, is highly individual. Empowering a team is about realizing peoples strengths and weaknesses and managing the project accordingly, so the team members can feel the satisfaction of contributing to and creating results, and that their role is of importance for progression. A project manager can use the OCEAN model to obtain knowledge about strengths and weaknesses. In terms of motivation and support methods, the facets of the OCEAN factors provides an overview of a persons discipline, order, self-consciousness, excitement seeking, straightforwardness and so forth, that can help guide a manager towards whether a person has a need for fixed boundaries and micromanagement or they thrive in a setting where they have room to manoeuvre and manage themselves. If they get motivated or stressed by open challenges, and to which degree they need confirmation and praise for their work performance.


OCEAN is a very versatile tool that can be of use to project management in multiple ways. The studies on the Big Five’s relation to the prediction of job performance however is still under heavy debate. The context of the studies has been very narrow with regard to the socio-economic types involved and the field of work. The sample sizes of the studies can moreover be criticized for being small and in combination with narrow field contexts, it can be questioned how universal the findings are. Furthermore, the empirical data is based on self-assessments, which can give biased results, as the way a person views themselves typically not is in complete alignment with how they are perceived by the world and a future employee.

Annotated Bibliography

  • John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research (Vol. 2, pp. 102-138). New York: Guilford Press

This book chapter/article provides the reader with a detailed description of how the Big Five personality traits model came to life, and people who were of importance to the development. It describes how the model manages itself in cross-cultural and cross-language studies. Finally, it goes into detail about 3 personality questionnaires that are based on the Big Five, respectively the TDA, NEO PI-R and the BFI, and provides a comparison of the three measurement systems.

  • Neal, A., Yeo, G., Koy, A., Xiao, T. (2012). Predicting the form and direction of work role performance from the Big 5 model of personality traits. Journal of Organizational Behavior, J. Organiz. Behav. 33, 175-192

This research article examines the prediction of work role performances form and direction from the Big Five personality traits model. The form and direction of work role performance are classified into 9 dimensions, created by cross-classifying three forms of behaviour; proactivity, adaptivity and proficiency with three organizational levels; individual, team and organization. The paper goes through the authors' hypothesis, how they gathered the empirical data and the results of their research.

  • Srivastava, S. (2021). Measuring the Big Five Personality Factors.

This source is an informal webpage created by Sanjay Srivastava who is a co-author of the first listed bibliography item. The webpage provides a brief overview of the Big Five, but mostly it lists different methods for measuring the Big Five, what the different measurement tools provide and the difference between them. The webpage also refers to sites and articles where more information can be found on the listed measurement tools.


  1. Project Management Institute, Inc.. (2017). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition), Part II, Chapter 1. Retrieved from
  2. Project Management: Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, 6th Edition (2017), Chapter 3. Retrieved from
  3. Project Management: Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, 6th Edition (2017), Chapter 7. Retrieved from
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Ackerman, C. (2021, January 29). Big Five Personality Traits: The OCEAN Model Explained.
  5. APA. (2017). Personality. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from
  6. Kavirayani K. Historical perspectives on personality – The past and current concept: The search is not yet over. Arch Med Health Sci 2018;6:180-6
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research (Vol. 2, pp. 102-138). New York: Guilford Press.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Roccas, S., Sagiv, L., Schwartz, S. H., & Knafo, A. (2002). The Big Five personality factors and personal values. Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 789-801. doi:10.1177/0146167202289008
  9. Lim, A (2020, June 15). The big five personality traits. Simply Psychology.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Srivastava, S. (2021). Measuring the Big Five Personality Factors. Retrieved [27.02.21] from
  11. 11.0 11.1 Project Management Institute, Inc.. (2017). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition), Part I, Chapter 9. Retrieved from
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Neal, A., Yeo, G., Koy, A., Xiao, T. (2012). Predicting the form and direction of work role performance from the Big 5 model of personality traits. Journal of Organizational Behavior, J. Organiz. Behav. 33, 175-192. DOI:10.1002/job.742
  13. Griffin, M. A., Neal, A., & Parker, S. K. (2007). A New Model of Work Role Performance: Positive Behavior in Uncertain and Interdependent Contexts. Academy of Management Journal, 50(2), 327–347.
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