Using DISC assessment for project team management

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Written by Tobias Rydahl


Project managers are considered to be responsible for what a team produce and the end result or outcome of a project. In order for project managers to succeed and reach objective goals it is crucial to make the best use of their team and their resources. Many resources are wasted due to poor communication, little or no understanding of the individual team member or lacking knowledge about group dynamics. Several tools and techniques seek to improve teams to enhance overall team performance which in general leads to better projects [1]. One of the tools used by many organisations to help managers understand their employees is the DISC tool [2]. In 1928 the psychologist William Moulton Marston published his book Emotions of Normal People, which contains the initial theory behind the DISC analysis. The theory was later translated into the DISC analysis that is broadly known today. The DISC analysis focuses on four primary emotions: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness, which mirrors the four main behavioural responses of Marston’s theory. The DISC analysis can help project managers understand behavioural responses and improve motivation, productivity, team cohesiveness, negotiation skills, effective and efficient communication. Furthermore, usage of the tool can reduce stress and staff turnover rates if used proper. The aim of this article is to describe the main theory of the four primary emotions and appertaining behavioural responses of Marston’s theory. Furthermore, the article will describe why and how project managers should use the DISC tool to enhance team environment as well as the limitations of the tool.


Historical background

The theory of the DISC tool originates from the book Emotions of Normal People by psychologist William Moulton Marston. The book was published in 1928 and describes what Marston called four “primary emotions” – emotions that was translated into four behavioural styles: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S) and Conscientiousness (C) [3]. Marston’s work was during half a century further developed, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s where psychologist John Geier created the Personal Profile System, the model became available for general use [4]. Geier’s system was later translated into the DISC assessment and the patterns of his original model is still used in the DISC models of today. [5]

Introduction to the DISC model

Figure 1: DISC dimensions [6]

The DISC model is a simple, yet powerful tool used to characterize different types of behavioural styles. The tool is used within a wide range of industries to develop needs such as leadership development, management training, sales training, conflict management and team building [5]. The DISC-analysis is a questionnaire containing questions based on various situations and the respondent must choose how he or she would behave in those certain situations. Based on the answers an assessment report is generated that describes traits, behavioural style and other characteristics of the person taking the test. DISC assessments are offered through different providers but can generally be used by everyone to help them understand their personality, help them to better understand their colleagues and provide tips and guidance for improving their relationships [5]. Specialized assessments are also offered to sales professionals, managers, leaders et cetera [5].

The DISC model describes four basic behavioural styles: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S) and Conscientiousness (C). Each behavioural style is characterized by traits that makes the behavioural profile unique. A finer analysis can also be made by segmenting the four quadrants into twelve smaller behavioural styles, that let the quadrants merge into each other. Eg. a person is able to obtain a DI or an ID style if answers indicate their behavioural style to be somewhere in between Dominance (D) and Influence (I). [5] This article will only discuss the four primary behavioural styles.

Vertical Dimension

The DISC model is a two-dimensional model containing a vertical and horizontal dimension. The vertical dimension separates the upper half and lower half of the circle. The upper half consists of behavioural styles D and I and is described as the fast-paced styles. People in the upper half are often described as bold, outspoken, active, assertive and dynamic and tend to perceive themselves as more powerful than their environment. People with these traits tend to try to change their circumstances rather than adapt to the current circumstances.

The lower half consists of behavioural styles S and C who tend to be more moderate-paced. People with these traits are often described as reflective, cautious, calm, methodical and thoughtful. These people tend to see themselves as less powerful than the environment and would rather adapt to the current circumstances than change them. [6] [5]

Horizontal Dimension

The second dimension of the model is the horizontal dimension that differs between sceptical and accepting behavioural styles. People who fall to the left in the DISC model tend to be questioning, logical, reserved and challenging. Those styles have a more antagonistic approach towards their environment and possess a vetted approach towards society.

Behavioural styles that fall to the right in the DISC model tend to be more people-focused, empathizing, respective agreeable and warmer. Those who fall to the right see their environment as being more aligned with their own interests and possess a more friendly perception of their surroundings. [6] [5]

What DISC is (and what it is not)

  • The DISC analysis is not a personality test, it only shows behavioural traits. Humans are complex and dynamic creatures, and behave differently according to the situation and setting which cannot be foreseen from a 20 minute test.
  • DISC-analysis should only be used as a reference to explore behavioural tendencies.
  • In a DISC-analysis there are no right or wrong answers. All traits are equal and is only meant as a guideline to provide beneficial and valuable information about the different behavioural styles.
  • In a DISC-assessment people feature traits from each of the four quadrants but with one being the dominant. In general, the DISC-analysis shows that people within one quadrant tend to show more of those behavioural traits than an average person.
  • Work style is also affected by other factors such as educational level, maturity and life experience. The DISC-analysis doesn't take this into account. [5]

Four behavioural styles

Dominance (D)

Figure 2: DISC styles [6]

People with dominance as their behavioural style are described as competitive and prefer to get started with tasks right away. They often find it easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission which support their fast-paced mindset. Their communication style is direct and their lack of patience shows when group members are not fully focused on the task. Due to their extroverted approach they are confident with being the leader and they are very result oriented. D’s have a tendency to display a more aggressive behaviour and don’t find others beliefs or preferences as valuable as their own. D’s also tend to seek justice and certainly dislike when others take advantage of them. [7] [5]

Influence (I)

Influence styled people are very outgoing and are quicker to seek out social opportunities than the average person. They are often described as risk takers and feel free when unbounded from constraints. They are very charismatic and use their verbal skill to interact and influence others to a greater good. Due to their love for unboundedness they are great at creating ideas, but tend to be better starters than finishers. They believe in the best in all people, thus it can be shocking when other take advantage of them. They love fun and don’t mind being the center of attention. Due to their optimistic mindset they don’t like to let people down, thus they sometimes promise more than what they are capable of doing. [7] [5]

Steadiness (S)

The steadiness behavioural-styled person is very faithful and tend to put others needs above their own. They are very loyal and people usually find it very comfortable to open up themselves and share thoughts with S’s. They prefer to think before they speak and due to their reserved approach towards conversations, they may not contribute a lot to a discussion unless there is made room for them to speak up. In groups they focus on others well-being and they don’t like to show their own emotions. S’s like to be recognised for the work they are doing but don’t like public accolades as they don’t like to be the center of attention. On teams they are very adaptive and possess a great amount of patience. They are very stable workers and prefer a slower-paced and predictable environment. [7] [5]

Conscientiousness (C)

People with a conscientiousness behavioural style are described as being very analytical in their way of thinking and they are very observant to the attention of details. C’s gets the job done from start to finish but tend to be slow starters due to the amount of planning and questioning to get everything right from the start. C’s are information seeking persons and usually don’t speak before they have had a chance to think. They want to understand and play by the rules and procedures of their surroundings and expect others to so as well. They tend to be sceptical towards emotion and their beliefs rely on a reflective and logical approach, thus uses the same approach when making decisions. C’s tend to be reserved, like privacy and thrive in a quiet environment. [7] [5]

DISC assessment in project management

Projects can be characterized as smaller temporary organizations, which aim to achieve a desired result depending on company goals. Projects are often managed by a project manager, who is the head of the temporary team that together must create the results. A project manager must plan, delegate, monitor and control that work is carried out according to the plan [8]. For this to happen effectively, it is necessary for the project manager to be able to communicate this in an effective way. Teams consist of employees with different backgrounds and abilities and when these are forced to work together towards a common goal, situations that cause strains on the project and the project organisation can arise. In PRINCE2 success of a project is defined by the project managers ability to establish an effective management team structure and approach for communication from the beginning and throughout the life cycle of the project. Furthermore, the project manager can structure and create balance on their team by gaining knowledge on the different personalities within the team and how those affect each other [8].

Establishing the right team is not always an easy task. If project managers get to identify their own team it is important that they achieve the right balance among team members. As an example, imagine a team that only consists of idea people. This would increase the risk of not reaching the finish line of the project. On the other hand, a team of employees that only focuses on details would maybe find it difficult to find new and creative solutions and thereby not reach the full potential of the project. [8] Also in projects where the project manager doesn't get to identify their team, knowledge about team members and group dynamics is crucial in order to release the full potential of the team. This will not only result in a better use of resources but also create more successful projects. DISC assessments can be used to teach managers and colleagues how to recognise, respect and engage with each other if used properly and in consequence lead to increased motivation, less stressed and more effective employees.

The DISC theory suggests that employees should be treated according to their behavioural style. This will enhance team communication and lead to more receptive and positive employees which is crucial in order to create an engaged team.

Knowledge about team members is not only crucial to project managers, but to every manager who engage a team and has daily contact with employees. The most frequent reason for people to resign their job is due to a breakdown in the relationship with their manager [9]. This suggests that managers should prioritize understanding their employees and their behaviour. [10]

Even when projects have ended the DISC tool will still stay relevant to many project managers. The relevance of the tool is underlined by the fact that it is used in thousands of organization around the world spanning from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies [2]. Project managers will throughout their carriere stumble across different personality tests, but due to the simplicity of the DISC tool managers can always use the knowledge from their experience with DISC theory to get a quicker understanding of people they work with.

Four steps of behavioural modification

In order for DISC assessment to become an effective tool project managers must understand how to use the knowledge gained from understanding different behavioural styles. The process of a behavioural modification in communication and understanding of others can be described in four steps.

  1. The project manager must understand the different DISC behavioural styles. Project managers must understand key qualities of each style, what motivates and what each style dislike in terms of communication, types of tasks, work environment et cetera. Furthermore, it is important that the project manager understands how to communicate and how to empower different behavioural styles.
  2. When the project manager is fully aware of the different traits of each behavioural style, the manager needs to identify their own style. This makes the manager capable of understanding their own behaviour and what traits that might seem offensive or misaligned with other behavioural styles.
  3. The manager must now identify behavioural styles of employees within their team. When the manager understand their team the manager can work on improving self-awareness to make adjustments in the approach to the team and the individuals.
  4. The project manager can now begin to modify their language and behaviour towards every single one of their employees to enhance communication, assign the right tasks to the right employees, improve effectiveness and motivate employees based on their individual behavioural style. [11]
Figure 3: Four steps of behavioural modification [11]

Managing different behavioural styles

Dominance profile (D) [7] [5]

Motivation and fear

Employees with a dominant behavioural style are motivated by results. Project managers need to be aware that D's are assigned to valuable task where their contribution is clearly shown. Significance is another key word as D’s wants to be seen, heard and recognized for their work. Too little recognition or other taking credit for work done by D's is feared by D's. They also dislike being controlled too much which suggests that they should be assigned to tasks that are open and unbounded.

Communicating with D

When communicating with D’s managers should always be direct, straight forward and honest. D’s easily get bored when presented too many details. Instead managers should pick out what is most important and quickly get to the bottom line of the conclusion.

Empowering D

D’s are empowered by being in a highly challenging and fast paced environment. Managers should make sure that the task that are assigned to D's are likewise. Managers should provide tasks to D's that have broad objectives and open boundaries so the D’s can find their own way to the finish line. However, D’s do need clear boundaries of their responsibility.

Influence profile (I) [7] [5]

Motivation and fear

I's are motivated by managers that let them investigate new opportunities where they can express themselves and use their many thoughts to create new ideas and possibilities. Managers should be aware that I’s react strongly to rejections. Furthermore, I’s fears to be limited or boxed in meaning that managers should be aware of both stimulating I’s with the right kind of tasks and create a social environment around them.

Communicating with I

When managers communicate with I’s they should focus on possibilities and solutions rather than obstacles. Due to I’s enthusiastic behaviour, they prefer the use of stories rather than being communicated statistics and facts. When surrounded by I’s, managers should communicate with enthusiasm and positivity.

Empowering I

To empower I’s managers must create a fun and collaborative environment so the I’s don’t get bored. To many repetitive task will bore I’s meaning managers should create a flexible work structure that will help empowering I’s.

Steadiness profile (S) [7] [5]

Motivation and fear

The steadiness behavioural style is motivated by stability and providing support to those in need. Managers need to have this in mind as S’s should be placed in roles where their help is appreciated by others. They are also motivated by working together with others and managers should focus on creating harmony’s in groups where S’s are present. Furthermore, they are motivated by continuity, thus managers should create a slow-paced environment to those. S’s dislike too many changes and conflicts and thrives doing well-defined tasks.

Communicating with S

Managers should focus on making a personal connection when communicating with S’s as well as allowing them to think before they speak. Generally, conversations with S’s should be kept quiet and peaceful. When communicating in larger groups managers need to create spaces for S’s to enter conversations.

Empowering S

To empower a S styled person, managers need to create a stable and harmonious environment. Changes should be introduced slowly and use forewarnings as fast changes can seem intimidating. When managing S’s managers need to provide clear expectations to what is expected by the S’s as well as offer encouragement and affirmation.

Conscientiousness profile (C) [7] [5]

Motivation and fear

Employees with a conscientiousness behavioural style are motivated by working systematically and by using their expertise to solve tasks. Managers need to provide tasks to C’s where they can immerse in finding effective and accurate solutions that requires them to use their logical thinking. C’s have a fear of failing which means that managers should be supportive in helping C’s reach their goals.

Communicating with C

When communicating with C’s managers must use a practical and factual approach. C’s prefer to process their thoughts before making decisions or speaking, suggesting managers must ensure they have time to do that. Proper and thoroughly preparation is important and managers should do the same when communicating with C’s.

Empowering C

To empower a C styled person, managers must provide clear information and consistent procedures. Before moving ahead and making decisions managers should allow C’s to take the time necessary to gather relevant information.

Limitations and criticism

  • The DISC tool is heavily used in some sectors. Even though there are different providers of DISC assessments all tests are very similar, making it easy for candidates to pick the preferred answers to the questions. [12]
  • Due to the simplicity of the test it is easy to pick the answers that makes the respondent appear how they would like to appear. [12]
  • Respondents are forced to choose adjectives that weight for only one or two of the four behavioural styles. This means that it is impossible to get a high score on all four styles and similar it is impossible to get a low score on all four behavioural styles. [12]
  • The composition of the model is rather outdated in terms of being a personality test due to the two dimensional design of the model, suggesting that DISC doesn't reflect the personality of the individual. Furthermore, the model has received criticism from psychologists and people working in Human Resource due to the above. [12]
  • Tests of behavioural traits are in general narrow-minded as humans are complex beings and reflected by emotions, social abilities and dynamic environments. [13]

Annotated bibliography

  • Mark Scullard & Dabney Baum, (2015), Everything DiSC Manual, Wiley
- Official manual that explains the general theory of DISC and offers insight to statistics of reliability and validity of DiSC from Everything DiSC by Wiley.
  • Jason Hedge, (2013), The Essential DISC Training Workbook: Companion to the DISC Profile Assessment, Disc-U.Org
- DISC Training book that helps the respondent to increase their knowledge of their behavioural style and a guidance on how to act in different settings according to your behavioural style.
  • Carolyne Crowe, February 2015, "Using personality profiles for team management", In Practice, Volume 37, Issue 2 p. 99-101
- Accredited DISC trainer explaining how managers can use DISC profiling in practice to manage a team.
  • William Moulton Marston, (1928), Emotions of Normal People, Kegan Paul Trench Trubner And Company
- Comprehensive treatise by William M. Marston who is by many considered to be the founder of the DISC theory. The book describes the psychological founding of Marstons work that relates to the traits captured by the DISC theory of today.


  1. Project Management Institute, Inc., (2017), Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition), Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Personality Profile Solutions, LLC, What is DiSC®?, Retrieved 25 February 2021,
  3. Marston, W. M., (1928), Emotions of Normal People, Kegan Paul Trench Trubner And Company
  4. Center for Internal Change, DiSC History, Retrieved 21 February 2021,
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 M. Scullard & D. Baum, (2015), Everything DiSC Manual, Wiley
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Everything DiSC, About Everything DiSC: Theory and Research, Retrieved 21 February 2021,'
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 J. Hedge, (2013), The Essential DISC Training Workbook: Companion to the DISC Profile Assessment, Disc-U.Org
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Nigel Bennett, et al., Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, 6th Edition (2017), TSO
  9. J. Robison, (2008), Turning Around Employee Turnover, Retrieved 21 February 2021,
  10. C. Crowe, (February 2015), "Using personality profiles for team management", In Practice, Volume 37, Issue 2 p. 99-101,
  11. 11.0 11.1 C. Bowser, (2018), Managing Your Team More Effectively Using DISC Leadership Tools, Retrieved 21 February 2021,
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Sales Team Focus Ltd, Shortcomings of DISC Profiling, Retrieved 21 February 2021,
  13. Deviate Consulting, Limitations of the DISC Test, Retrieved 21 February 2021,
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