Currently, organizations face a globalized, digitalized, and multicultural world, intensely competitive and evolving at a fast pace. Under such a context, we witness a project-oriented trend and the growing importance of projects and project management (PM). Project management is crucial for competitive advantage and success [1
]. However, as organizations define more of their activities as projects, projects continue to fail [2
]. The maturation of the project management discipline, together with limited project budgets, shorter project deadlines, and the increasing risk of costly project failure, has led to companies and academia investigating and identifying the sources of project success [3
Among other factors, project success seems correlated with the project management competencies, which has been the object of a substantial volume of research found in the literature [4
]. Project management is an evolving discipline where its participants are more interested in the competencies of its project managers and teams [8
]. Consequently, there has been a demand for standard individual competencies, such as the “Project management competency development framework” [9
] and the “APM competence framework” [10
]. Such standards, coupled with published research, suggest extensive lists of competencies [2
], forming a fragmented body of knowledge [11
] as concerns this topic. Not only have many competencies been described, but they are also not equally important in different industries and project types [3
]. Project managers and project teams cannot hold such a wide range of competences [12
], which makes it reasonable to try and understand which the most important in each circumstance are and to identify correlations among them.
Holding the traditional project management technical competences is not sufficient to achieve success on projects anymore. Organizations are showing a growing interest in the so-called transferable skills, which have deserved the focus of project management research in recent years, namely skills in leadership, strategic or business management [13
], problem-solving [15
], communication [16
], negotiation [17
] and teamwork [18
]. That has been a driver not only to rethinking project management [19
], but also the training of project practitioners [20
], which is still primarily focused on traditional technical skills and techniques. Already a while ago, Jaafari [21
] noticed that the literature had identified a gap between education and the real world of project management, with education perceived unable to portray the challenges of projects relevantly [4
To narrow this gap between theory and practice, an update on project management education and training becomes critical, not only in higher education institutions (HEIs) and in companies. To be effective, however, not only should we identify the knowledge and skills to include in that update, but also the characteristics of the current students, which belong to Generation Z, who will soon arrive at the labor market. These young people are seen as creative, efficient users of technology, multitaskers, and individualistic. They prefer challenges, customized work, and can create global perspectives [22
]. Despite some are already entering the workforce, in the years to come, they will be the new workforce to integrate multidisciplinary and multigenerational project teams. Education should provide key competences, especially as modern project management requires a wide range of competences and approaches [23
]. Therefore, it is prudent to consider adopting educational and training resources, strategies, and methods to upgrade project management education. The intention would be to fill the referred gap and fit the Generation Z profile, namely mitigate its weaknesses and boost its strengths to be effective project team members.
This work intends to explore Generation Z students’ traits. It considers the extent to which these individuals are aware of their characteristics and their strengths and weaknesses related to project management activities. Furthermore, since certain personality traits can foster the development of specific competencies [24
], many of which are relevant for project management, it aims at exploring the association between their profile and project management soft skills. Specifically, we will address the following research topics:
What is the level of awareness of Generation Z about their traits?
What are the strengths and weaknesses perceived by Generation Z as potential members of a project team?
What is the association between the Generation Z personality traits and project management soft skills competencies?
The answers to these questions should allow us to discuss any gaps and to point possible considerations for project management education and training. We also intend to enhance the practical implications of our results, presenting some reflections about whether Gen Zers traits fit the competencies sought by organizations.
In the following sections, we present a literature review on project management competencies and Generation Z characteristics. Then, we describe an empirical study based on a convenient sample of 211 Generation Z students, aimed at providing answers to the above-listed research questions.
We used descriptive statistics (means—M, standard deviation—SD) for personality, resilience and emotional intelligence to characterize these Generation Z students. Considering the emotional intelligence dimensions, empathy and emotional contagion (M = 6.00; SD = 0.86), sensitivity to others’ emotions (M = 5.73; SD = 1.05) and self-encouragement (M = 5.49; SD = 1.01) were the variables participants reported the highest means. However, on average, they revealed less attention to one’s emotions (M = 4.94; SD = 1.19), understanding of the causes of one’s emotions (M = 4.76; SD = 1.23) and, with the lowest score, less emotional self-control (M = 4.34; SD = 1.29) (Table 4
The students self-reported a medium to high levels of resilience (M = 5.18; SD = 0.68). Having into account the big five dimensions to draw the Generation Z personality traits, the sample reveals low to medium levels of neuroticism (M = 2.11; SD = 0.50) and medium levels of conscientiousness (M = 2.73; SD = 0.59) and agreeableness (M = 2.63; SD = 0.51; Table 4
The association between these dimensions was further explored (Table 5
). resilience presents a high positive correlation with the global measure of emotional intelligence (r = 0.562). With this large positive effect, the more resilient students reported having higher emotional intelligence. Particularly, the most resilient students seem to be the most capable of developing their self-encouragement (r = 0.545—large effect-r ≥ 0.50), i.e., their ability to self-motivate and encourage themselves and to be goal-oriented. However, based on the sample, resilience presented a moderate positive effect associated with the understanding of the causes of one’s emotions (r = 0.490), understanding of one’s emotions (r = 0.351), emotional self-control (r = 0.324), as well as a small positive effect with emotional maturity (r = 0.282) and empathy and emotional contagion (r = 0.261).
Three of the five personality dimensions presented a positive association with a large positive effect on the global measure of emotional intelligence (agreeableness: r = 0.507; conscientiousness: r = 0.533; extroversion: r = 0.541). Therefore, students who show greater extroversion, agreeableness, and consciousness tend to achieve higher emotional and intelligence levels. Openness to experience showed a medium effect size association (r = 0.373) with emotional intelligence.
Neuroticism significantly correlates negatively with several emotional intelligence dimensions, being associated with a large effect with emotional self-control (r = −0.529) and moderate effect with the understanding of the causes of one’s emotions (r = −0.450). Hence, students with a negative life perspective have more probability of losing control and block in strong pressure situations.
Extroversion shows a moderate positive level of association with self-encouragement (r = 0.465), understanding of the causes of one’s emotions (r = 0.403), empathy and emotional contagion (r = 0.359) and understanding of one’s emotions (r = 0.383).
Open to experience correlates significantly and positively with almost all emotional intelligence dimensions, except with understanding the causes of one’s emotions and emotional self-control. The more experience-oriented students are, the more attention they give to one’s emotions (r = 0.328).
Agreeableness presents a positive global correlation with all dimensions of emotional intelligence, except with emotional self-control. This adjective qualifies someone as an affable and affectionate person. More agreeable students are more sensitive to others’ emotions (r = 0.452) and more able to change to feel empathy and emotional contagious (r = 0.425).
Conscientiousness correlates positively with all emotional intelligence dimensions, except with emotional self-control. Note that most conscientious students are also the ones who can better encourage themselves (r = 0.741; large effect association).
Moreover, self-encouragement is the emotional intelligence dimension with the greatest number of significant correlations. It presents the highest positive r values, with conscientiousness and resilience, with a large effect on seeking courage and strengthening themselves to overcome obstacles.
Additionally, we tested gender differences to better understand the distribution of these dimensions in Generation Z. On the one hand, regarding emotional intelligence, females reported significantly higher means in attention to one’s emotions, sensitivity to others’ emotions and empathy, and emotional contagion. On the other hand, men reported significantly higher means of understanding the causes of one’s emotions and emotional self-control. Concerning personality, women reported significantly higher levels of neuroticism and agreeableness (Table 6
There were 207 valid open answers on strengths (4 blanks or do not know answers) and 177 valid answers on weaknesses (34 blanks or do not know answers) and 515 strengths versus 248 in weaknesses references.
Approximately 40% of the strengths’ references are related to the personality category. Within this category, the conscientiousness node stood out (34.7% in the personality category). The responsibility, dedication, commitment, persistence, and a continuous focus on fulfilling the objectives were strengths that these students perceived as advantageous in project teamwork. Twenty-eight percent of personality references were associated with agreeableness. Students were self-reported as oriented towards others, sociable, helpful, companions, with a good ability to relate to each other, knowing to respect others’ opinions. About 10% of the personality coding was grouped in openness to experience. Students considered openness to new ideas, creativity, open mind to discuss ideas and interest in new challenges as an important personality trait for project development (“I am open to thinking about new ideas”).
11.5% of the total strengths references were coded in the emotional intelligence category. The surveyed sample highlights (45.7% references of the emotional intelligence category) the understanding of the others’ attitudes and sensitivity to others’ emotions as an important quality in the teamwork project environment (“understanding the feelings of others”; “impact that my attitudes have on others”; “patience”). Even within this category, the participants featured the emotional self-control and empathy as strengths in the project team.
Despite its low frequency (approximately 5% of the strengths references), some strengths related to resilience and flexibility were identified, such as “if there is a problem, I won’t give up”, “I am flexible, and I adapt easily”, “ability to adapt well to different environments”. These characteristics are certainly reinforced by their self-report as optimistic “positive thinking”.
Most of the strengths identified by these students (42.7% of the total strengths references) were linked to skills perceived by students as their positive points in the project team. Communication was the most referred skill (30% references in the skills category), being frequently referred in a generic way, namely identifying themselves as communicative, able to promote and to facilitate the dialog.
Some students considered themselves organized, methodical, with good strengths related to management and planning (16.8% of the references in the skills category). Other outstanding strengths were grouped in teamwork skills (16.8%), namely team spirit and the pleasure of working in teams, cooperation, and mutual help.
Concerning the participants’ weaknesses that can hinder the project teamwork, about 33% of the weaknesses’ references were grouped in the personality category. Here, the most prominent weaknesses are related to the neuroticism trait, namely stress, anxiety, fear, nervousness, and some pessimism. Students showed (14.6% in the personality category) lack of confidence and low self-esteem (“I do not always have confidence in myself”) as an intrinsic feature that could compromise teamwork. These students also admitted arrogance, superiority, and stubbornness (15.8% in the personality references).
10% of the weaknesses’ references were related to a low level of emotional intelligence, namely the difficulty in dealing with criticism (“I cannot tolerate criticism very well”), considering their impulsiveness and panic as negative points for teamwork.
Just as with the strengths’ results, weaknesses related to PM skills are also significant (46.3% of the weaknesses references). Failures in the communication process were a concern, being highlighted difficulties about expressing the message, sharing problems, and little practice in speaking in public. These students reported problems with time management, the pace of individual work and the coordination of the team’s pace, revealing difficulty in managing deadlines, and experiencing some resistance to starting the work plan.
Leadership was perceived as an issue for some students, showing difficulties in setting their position (“I let my opinions and my voice be swallowed”). In addition, the lack of delegation capacity is assumed as a difficulty that does not benefit teamwork.
A synthesis of qualitative results is shown in Table 7
The qualitative approach was used to reinforce the previous quantitative results. The intention was to to check if the students’ choices using the Likert scale reflected what they felt and identify new aspects not anticipated by the research. By comparing quantitative and qualitative results, we can see there is a significant alignment regarding the self-report of the Generation Z profile, indicating that the students’ closed answers seem to represent their personality effectively. The high level of conscientiousness stood out, both in qualitative and quantitative results. Concerning emotional intelligence, the qualitative results also emphasized empathy, understanding other´s attitudes, and sensitivity to others as major strengths of Generation Z students. Weaknesses were also in line with the quantitative results, as students revealed more difficulties in emotional self-control, namely in the face of criticism and control of impulsiveness.
The lack of self-esteem and self-confidence raised concerns among the students (14.6% of weaknesses within the personality category). These topics are related to the psychological capital, which was not measured in the Likert scales we used. However, this could be a topic for future research regarding Generation Z.
5.1. Level of Awareness of Generation Z
The first objective of this study was to report the self-perception of Gen Zers profile and skills and to analyze their awareness level supported on the coherence of the results presented regarding the theoretical foundations. Considering the results obtained by the Big Five model, as shown in the Results section, our sample self-reported low levels of neuroticism. They are tendentially humorous persons, able to overcome feelings like anxiety, worry, fear, and guilt. Regarding gender, males self-assessed less neurotic than females, confirming the results of Pedroso-Lima et al. [87
], who performed a study of the kind in a Portuguese adult sample. The literature portrays this generation as optimistic, more realistic, and more conscious of job opportunities that promote well-being and psychological satisfaction [22
]. The sample self-reported medium to high levels of resilience, with the ability to adapt well to different environments, without giving up in the face of problems. The literature review supports the results on resilience, which attributes Generation Z a high level in this trait [67
The quantitative results point to medium levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness. As shown above, these two traits were highlighted by participants in open questions about strengths and weaknesses, asserting themselves as responsible and oriented towards others. Conscientiousness had the highest average in the Big five scale. It was, also, self-cited as a major strength among students, which is also in line with the literature stating that Generation Z is result-oriented [22
The results also show that these students are oriented to others. The quantitative results presented high means of empathy and emotional contagion and sensitivity to other´s emotion and medium levels of agreeableness. On the level of strengths, these students were self-reported as sociable, with a good relationship and respect for others’ opinions. There are also some gender differences, as women look more sensitive to other´s emotions, and men have a higher level of agreeableness. The medium level of the agreeableness trait reveals that Generation Z tends to be friendly and pleasant or affectionate towards others, including attitudes such as sympathy and generosity. In contrast, state of the art defends that Generation Z members have an individual driver, not enjoying teamwork, and even preferring Internet communication to face-to-face relationships [65
Previous publications concluded that Generation Z is known to prefer innovative and creative activities and customized work over repetitive and routine tasks [65
]. Openness to experience (medium score) was the dimension with the lowest average compared with extroversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Hence, it was not a distinguishing feature of this sample.
In summary, through the self-assessment results, Generation Z students are partially aware of their profiles, compared with theoretical considerations. In particular, students are well aware of their levels of resilience, optimism, and conscientiousness. Considering the theoretical foundations, we identified a lack of awareness of their individualism. The results displayed high agreeableness and empathy, and state of the art sees Generation Z members as individualistic [68
]. There was also a lack of awareness of their potential creativity, as the self-report did not underline openness to experience and interest in new challenges.
The discrepancy in the number of strengths and weaknesses references (with strengths more than doubling weaknesses), and the higher number of no valid answers in weaknesses, indicate that the way the students self-report their strengths and weaknesses (as project team elements) proved to be quite different. Likely, this reveals less awareness of the students’ weaknesses—or it may indicate more restraint in reporting their fragilities.
5.2. Association between the Generation Z Personality Traits and Skills with Project Management Competencies
Now we can focus on the correlation of the Generation Z student profile with the project management soft skills. A correlational analysis between emotional intelligence and resilience and personality (Big Five) was performed. Its eight dimensions could be related to project management competencies, as explained in the Methodology section. As seen in Section 2
, project management competencies frameworks and practices are dominantly focused on hard skills and soft skills must be reinforced. There are significant correlations between personality traits and specific important project management soft skills. The main association’s results are described in Table 8
Our sample self-reported a medium to high levels of resilience and medium levels of conscientiousness, considering them as strengths. These traits presented a significant positive correlation with a major of the emotional intelligence dimensions. These results are important to the project management research field, once these personality traits (highlighted in this Generation Z sample) were correlated with project manager’s success, boosting competencies like commitment and perseverance [40
]. The effect of resilience and conscientiousness is more substantial as regards self-encouragement. As such, in the face of uncertainty and risk, which are very common in projects, this generation could develop self-motivation and encouragement strategies towards progress. As results reported, self-encouragement is the dimension of emotional intelligence with the greatest number of significant correlations, having the highest positive “r value” with conscientiousness.
Working on a project means being involved in teams. Teamwork was identified by Alvarenga et al. [1
] as one of the 28 most important project management skills found in the literature (Table 1
). Our results point to average levels of ‘agreeableness’, revealing that the participants are oriented to others. A positive correlation between agreeableness and emotional intelligence was also shown. Hence, the more agreeable students are, the more sensitive they are to others’ emotions - and the more empathetically they respond to stimuli. This association could foster soft skills such as interpersonal relationships and the development of the others. Although several authors consider the Gen Zers to be individualistic in the literature, this predisposition towards others will undoubtedly facilitate their integration in project teams.
However, there is no relevant effect of the big five dimensions on emotional self-control; only neuroticism correlates negatively, and resilience has an average effect. Personality traits cannot be assured by emotional self-control, i.e., the strategy to control emotions without stress, but they are essential for teamwork and conflict management. Some students considered the lack of emotional self-control as a weakness in project teamwork (“panic in tension moments”; “difficulty dealing with stress”.) The participants confessed that stress, anxiety, fear, nervousness, and some pessimism could hinder the project teamwork.
Furthermore, the relation of the big five dimensions and emotional maturity (responsiveness to criticism) is relatively low for all dimensions. Although not very expressive, 3% of the weaknesses’ references assumed by the participants are related to reduced emotional maturity, showing difficulty in accepting criticism. Knowing how to deal with criticism and different opinions also seem relevant to project management, and these students have some awareness of it.
To date, results have shown that some Generation Z personality traits are associated with important soft skills in project management. Will these elements recognize that their personality traits have any impact on teamwork? A significant percentage of strengths (40%) and weaknesses references (33%) were grouped in personality traits, which means that students are aware of and give importance to their personality regarding the project teamwork environment.
5.3. Strengths and Weaknesses Highlighted by Generation Z in the Project Team Context
Because we intended to link the Generation Z student’s profile with project management, the open-answer questions were directly related to project teamwork. For such a purpose, we will next discuss some results about strengths and weaknesses perceived by Generation Z as project team elements. We found that most of the students’ strengths (42.7%) and weaknesses (46.3%) relate to PM skills with an impact on teamwork. Regarding strengths, students consider themselves to be good communicators, organized, methodical, and team spirit. The identification of communication as a Generation Z student’s strength reveals a promising aspect in project management since project management professionals consider communication one of the three most important project management competencies [1
]. It is also interesting to analyze the number of times that the ability to listen to others was mentioned (“ability to listen to others”; “wanting to listen to all the elements”). Only one participant mentioned concern about feedback in the communication process. However, other concerns were revealed, namely difficulties in expressing the message, inability to share problems, and little practice in speaking in public.
Some students admitted that their openness to new ideas, creativity, open mind for discussing ideas, and interest in new challenges are important strengths to project development (“I am open to thinking about new ideas”). Nevertheless, it was not a distinguishing feature in our sample.
Leadership is considered one of the most important competencies in the literature (e.g., [1
]), although there is no consensus regarding its correlation with project success [6
]. The qualitative analysis presents leadership as a weakness, the students showing difficulties in setting their role in the team, and problems in delegating tasks and responsibilities.
This sample also revealed weaknesses regarding time management, reflecting on the pace of individual and collective work and, therefore, more difficulties meeting deadlines. This problem may be related to their low ability to concentrate, and the need to get support and guidance to continue their activities, features assigned to Generation Z in the literature [2
5.4. The Generation Z Profile and Current Challenges of Project Management
Generation Z is arriving in the labor market, and it will soon be an important part of it. Hence, it is even more relevant to know which of the Generation Z´s skills and personality traits converge more with the current challenges of project management and identify the most significant gaps in this issue.
Considering the global market and fast-paced technological development, companies need to develop projects frequently, facing increasing complexity, risk, and uncertainty. Agility, flexibility, change management, and decision-making are necessary assets for effective project management. Some strengths related to decision-making and flexibility were identified in our study, such as “I am determined” and “I adapt myself quickly to the different types of environments surrounding me”. Currently, one expects project teams to solve problems quickly, overcome obstacles, and make decisions throughout the project life cycle. The conscientiousness and resilience traits of Generation Z will undoubtedly be an important added value to project success.
Given the project complexity, project members need to work as a team, not lonely. The project team should be efficient and performant. Soft skills like communication, a good interrelationship, empathy, respect, and sensitivity to others are mandatory. This sample results suggest good agreeableness and orientation to others, However, the literature partially portrays Generation Z as individualistic. Therefore, educational programs should promote discussion, engagement, and collaborative relationships.
The market competitiveness imposes differentiated and innovative products and processes, so creativity and openness to new ideas are welcome to projects. The students recognized these skills as strengths in teamwork, but in contrast with theoretical considerations, this trait was not evident in our sample. Such gaps should be further investigated in future studies.
This research contributed to the debate of the Generation Z features linked to soft skills in project management. We presented a detailed characterization of Generation Z, focusing on personality traits and highlighting strengths and weaknesses. As discussed in the literature review, there is a theoretical consensus about the Generation Z characteristics. That is partly due to the context of specific sociodemographic events, which conditioned the Gen Zers lifestyles, consumption habits, traits, work expectations, motivations, and education styles. However, to what extent are Gen Zers aware of their portray found in the literature? The participants self-reported a good level of awareness regarding their optimism, resilience, responsibility, and are result-oriented. However, they revealed a low level of recognition regarding individualism, less personal relationships, and less social skills. Among these, we can mention resilience and conscientiousness traits, with a significant association with self-encouragement, important to help project managers before uncertainty and risk. Furthermore, the agreeableness trait also had a significant effect on sensitivity to other’s emotions and empathy, which are linked to skills such as interpersonal relationships, teamwork, and teambuilding. However, there is no significant positive effect of the assessed Generation Z traits on emotional self-control. There is only a low effect on emotional maturity, which could unfold some difficulties of this generation regarding work under pressure.
The results presented have practical implications, both at the education and company level, since the self-reported Generation Z profile was linked with project management competencies, specifically with soft skills. The most highlighted traits and strengths are related to soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, development of the others, perseverance, commitment, communication, teamwork, and uncertainty. All of these are very important for project success, pointing to Generation Z as a promissory asset in the project management field. However, some important gaps are also identified. For one, the lack of awareness of some itself traits (such as individualism and less personal relationship), as well as concern about their weaknesses in the project team environment (such as the lack of leadership and confidence, low self-esteem, difficulty in dealing with criticism, impulsiveness, and panic, among others). In addition, some soft skills are not grounded in personality profiles, namely emotional self-control and emotional maturity.
These gaps should be an important input to upgrading the teaching and training of project management to prepare Generation Z students for a smoother transition from college to the workforce and, at the same time, increase the awareness of their motivations. HEIs may now have a unique opportunity to adapt their pedagogical strategies and provide students with teaching methods more suited to Gen Zers traits. These methods include hands-on projects, problem-based learning approaches, computer simulations, role-playing, and agile models. All these methods could be valid options to engage the youngsters better and encourage them to acquire and improve soft skills that fit project needs, such as communication and teamwork abilities. Adapting educational and training methods, both at college and companies, is necessary to meet not only the expectations of Gen Zers and to create a better connection with them, but also to provide them with competencies to match the needs of projects and their employers. Nevertheless, the extent to which these project management educational approaches are suited to provide potential project managers with the necessary soft skills needs further research.
The practical implications of this research suggest some reflections about whether the Gen Zers traits fit the currents project management field, regarding the increasing complexity, risk, uncertainty, innovation, and flexibility of projects.
Throughout school education, the groups are more homogeneous, and the interactions are mainly between elements from the same generation, with intergenerational contact restricted to the family and teachers. However, this scenario changes with the transition to the workplace, where the necessity to work with elements from different generations is real. In future research, we intended to debate the generational differences with an impact on project management and teamwork.
As many projects are now global, cultural diversity may be an important topic when considering approaches to project management education. Future research should address the influence the cultural context has on the effectiveness of alternative education and training methods to improve project management soft skills.
The originality of this research is justified by its contribution to linking Generation Z and PM soft skills. We took an original perspective, measuring self-perceived student traits with tools such as the Big Five personality model and resilience. The results’ originality is reinforced by the association of their personality traits to a set of project management soft skills.