What does an I/O Psychologist do?

In this article we would like to provide a comprehensive report of the Work, Organizational and Personnel (WOP) Psychologist, also known in US as I/O (Industrial-Organizational) Psychologist. This is a more technical way to present ourselves as professionals and display our main skills. The US O*Net Online database will help in this task.

Any WOP psychologist has the goal to apply the scientific study of human behaviour in a workplace, using psychological theories and principles in various organizational issues. Yes, that’s why the Evidence-Based Management, which aim to reduce the distance between research and day-to-day management, is such an important issue for ScienceForWork. WOP psychologists coordinate, train, supervise or manage the activities of others: we feel satisfied with our work when we’re able to improve the performance, satisfaction, health, safety and well-being of the employees belonging to the organization we are working for.

What are we good at?

Communicating with many professionals is very important for a WOP psychologist. However, you cannot relate to someone if you just speak your own language, right? So, this specialist should have both theoretical and practical knowledge of human resources management, administration and training. The real added value of a WOP psychologist, however, stands in his/her skills: they are widely and wisely used within the workplace to approach many organizational issues and problems. We define “skill” as the proficiency that is acquired or developed through training or experience. The industrial-organizational psychologist is…

  • An active listener: willing and able to give you full attention, take time to understand your point and ask questions. He shares this skill with counsellors and clinical psychologists;
  • A critical thinker: please underline at least twice the word “critical”! Being critical means to consider systematically alternative solutions, and to stress strengths and weaknesses of available options;
  • A problem solver: he’s conscious that a complex situation may present ambiguous or incomplete information. Thus, he will seek key information and will try to establish an order: more or less, this is what we call “sense-making” (see Edgar Schein’s work for more information);
  • A decision-maker: Working either alone or as a team, the WOP psychologist knows the social implications of taking decisions and how to involve the organizational actors around him;
  • A speaker: verbal communication (one-to-one and one-to-many) is a key skill of this figure. His main duty will be to convey information effectively, and he’s assertive and persuasive to some extent;
  • A system analyst: the psychologist looks at your organization as a whole breathing system; changing one single feature of it (i.e: conditions, operations or environment) may result in multiple different outcomes. Moreover, if he’s able to analyze, he can also identify measures of system performance and the actions needed to improve or correct it.


Our style of working

There are some common ways these psychologists perform their job. According to the O*Net Online Database, they are driven by some fundamental work styles. These are central aspects of their day-to-day activity. Psychologists will surely feel comfortable when working in accord with them. Generally, these favorite work styles refer to the way they organize duties and relate with clients and colleagues. We like:

  • To think analytically: this is a major issue for wannabe psychologists since university, as they systematically apply their skills (shown above), analytical thinking is a key asset of an industrial organizational psychologist;
  • Integrity and dependability: while analytical thinking is related to an ability, being honest, ethical and responsible can be related to the way you naturally behave. This is so important because the main concern of such professional is to manage, train, and support others and their activities. Moreover, as I/O psychologists are more and more involved in the HR department, they must embody this work style to perform effectively.
  • Leadership and cooperation: please focus on that! A WOP psychologist studied how to lead and cooperate since his first days, years before entering the world of work! He constantly demonstrates his willingness to help people, take charge and display solutions.
  • Flexibility: probably this particular work style doesn’t need presentation. However, we underline that flexibility consists in accepting (rather than avoiding) uncertainty and variety (of people, tasks and sources of information). This implies being ready for change, of course: the psychologist knows how to trigger change and what consequences are likely to happen in the workplace.

The fastest-growing occupation

Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics presented a report on the 20 fastest-growing occupation in the USA. The Industrial-Organizational psychologist is expected to have a growth rate of 53% between now and 2022 (source: abcnews). Within the same period, also the O*Net Database confirmed this trend, displaying a projected “much faster than average” growth rate in the US. What about Europe? What about BRICS countries? Unfortunately, out of the US these statistics are harder to find and do not seem sound as well. However, in a world where talent is becoming as important as tangible resources, talent experts increase their attractiveness.

This article was also a presentation of the profile of all the writers contributing to ScienceForWork: we are happy to present our profession to society and organizations. We also hope for further and stronger relations between organizations and WOP psychologists!

How could a I/O or WOP Psychologist help you and your company succeed? Let us know in the comment section.

Remember to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter, and share this articles with your networks clicking on the buttons below!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. Anaëlle D

    Thank you for this great summary and description of our skills 🙂
    Nevertheless, I am quite surprised by the fact that there is almost nothing about the capacity to assess people, which is one of the competency we do have and use for recruitment, selection, assessment and development centers.
    But again, a great summary we gave us here !

    • I agree with you: assessing people is a key professional competence and deserves to be mentioned with training, monitoring, supervising and so on. In this article I wanted to focus on general skills, abilities and work styles that can be applied to an ample set of hr issues and contexts.

  2. John Ludike

    So need to add business acumen and little cross cultural diversity etc. Overalll line management experi CE pre requisite before being considered for anything serious.

  3. Tara Goodlander

    I love how comprehensive yet brief this article is around I/O Psychologists, their work, and their impact. I do wonder if there is anything to add/edit/delete since this article’s origins of Dec 2014. Any possibilities of reviewing and updating anything?