Youthwork and Personality types

Over the last few weeks, on my youthwork management module we have delved back into the personality styles, and management behaviour theories such as Myers Briggs, or Belbins team roles. Usually these are offered in relation well, to teams, roles within teams or how people act in different situations such as organisations, with associated questionaires and elements of contextual adaption of the person in the role.

In a conversation with a friend of mine, someone very interested in Psychology, we discussed the limitations of some of these popular identifiers, and he suggested the NEO-PIR test, one id not heard of.  Further details of this are here (wiki)

The NEO-PIR test was brought about as 5 main characteristics were identified in every persons personality to some degree or another; these are; Emotional, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion and Openness to experience. Within each of the 5 personality types contain facets, these are on the wikipedia page linked above.

The Crucial aspect of this test is that it measures personality types, not just personality styles, as generally personality is fairly fixed to a limited degree and can be plotted between the five aspects above. .

This got me thinking- if personality is relatively fixed- how might the type of working with young people that seek to improve their attributes – such as confidence, resilience or problem solving  claim to be able to do this – if the young person scores low on having these as a natural personality trait? (a trait, not a style)

The question is- in what way might any work with young people claim to make improvements of young people when aspects of personality may be more fixed that movable?

However, the trick might be to attempt to uncover the dormant strength of the personality of the young person, or to discover the areas where they are ‘high’ in to appeal to the problem at hand. The changes that a young person may be able to make in terms of personality might be small with a considerable amount of effort put in, yet a more effective method would be to discover with a young person their known personality strengths and discover how these might be utilised in the pursuit of overcoming a difficulty.

Maybe this challenges all the courses that young people are on which claim to ‘improve their confidence, or resilience’ when in fact it would be difficult to prove this from a personality trait perspective. How a young person might have utilised dormant confidence (a combination of conscientious/emotional) might be closer to the reality.

How much does youthwork take a young persons personality traits into account?  In doing so, might it enable youthwork to be better equipped in being able to meet needs and encourage the gifts of young people in the future.

Yes on one hand some forms of working with young people might be able to help young people with ‘soft skills’ but in what way do proponents of this see to make claims of what could be regarded as personality change, strong claims!

On an different perspective, I wonder what kind of personality type is the average youthworker? High neurosis and borderline emotional probably. Though i wonder whether different practices of youthwork encourage a different personality type.

If you’re reading this and have done a psychology A level you’ll know more than me on the subject, and im not claiming any kind of expertise at all, in dipping my toe in the water of thinking about personality types there may be questions that are raised as a result, yes more thinking required…

Youthwork and personality type.. any thoughts?


Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust ( and Communities Together Durham ( and am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

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