Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers: The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results

Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers: The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results
Publisher: AMACOM
Published: 6/6/2013
As if the project manager’s job was not hard enough--having to be not a jack of all trades but a master of them!--all the technical expertise he has learned can be completely nullified if he doesn’t have good people skills to navigate appropriately through all the obstacles each project is certain to bring.

Book Summary - Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers by Anthony Mersino

Key Insights

Projects need leaders that can manage a team of people that may not be used to working together. Emotional intelligence is essential in working with people effectively.

Before you’re able to manage the others, you have to be able to manage yourself. That means having the self-awareness and emotional intelligence to lead yourself where you need to go. Emotional intelligence is your capability to understand and manage your emotions.

From a team perspective, relationships are critical to getting the work done effectively. Project management has moved away from the hierarchical structure of the team leader announcing what will be done. You can encourage the development of team members and move into a more agile workflow.

What you’ll learn

  • What emotional intelligence is
  • How to lead yourself
  • How to foster an agile project team
  • How to manage relationships in the project environment

Who this is for

  • Project managers
  • Team leaders
  • Project team members

Key Points

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to manage your own emotions.

The first step in emotional intelligence is understanding your own emotions. You have to be able to perceive and name what you’re feeling.

A starting place is the acronym SASHET. This stands for sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, and tender. While these emotions don’t include every possible feeling you could have, they cover the big categories.

Each of the emotions in SASHET has other emotions that fall under them. There are variations of feeling sad, with some deeper and darker than others. But the idea of feeling sad and understanding that it is affecting you is the beginning of emotional intelligence.

Once you understand your emotions, you can begin to manage them. You know that a certain emotion may take away your focus. But if you manage that emotion, you’re able to keep it from taking over. The management is critical to emotional intelligence because you don’t allow the emotions to detract from the goals.

You can improve your emotional self-awareness.

Leading yourself with emotional intelligence first requires self-awareness. This is not a trait you’re born with that is genetically determined. You can work to become better at emotional self-awareness.

Start with a journal. Keep track of what you’re feeling and how often you feel it. Have someone with whom you can safely share those feelings. Also, use that person to get some feedback about the expressions you have during each of those emotional states. When you have negative feelings, try to identify what caused them.

You also have to think about the emotional habits you’ve learned that may feel normal for you. Maybe you don’t register emotional changes, but you experience physical symptoms. For example, you think you’ve handled a dispute or frustration calmly. But if you pay attention to your body, you’ll have a flush and a rapid heartbeat that indicates anger.

Once you recognize your emotions, what triggers them, and how they manifest, you have to start becoming aware of what you do with them. Some people respond to emotions like fear with jokes or respond to anger with passive-aggressive commentary.

Use an honest self-assessment to ask yourself what you’re doing and why. If you need help, look to people you trust to give you feedback. Remember that the people who love you can often see things you’re not aware of.

Project managers can’t let their emotions control the team environment.

The self-management component of emotional intelligence is critical in managing project teams. If the manager is letting negativity take root, it can disrupt an otherwise collaborative environment. On the flip side, positivity and enthusiasm can also be contagious, boosting team morale.

For example, negative emotions taking over can result in screaming, storming out, or sabotaging the work to get revenge. This creates a toxic work environment for everyone. If these emotions can be contained and processed, the work need not be affected.

So, how do you improve the management of your emotions? Building off the self-awareness and self-assessment, you start to understand your triggers. Figure out how to avoid those or redirect yourself when they come up.

Position yourself to handle emotional triggers better.

The acronym HALT can be used to remember the things that make us more likely to explode. If you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, any bad feeling may get magnified. So, try to address these needs as they come up and before you get emotionally triggered.

Identify the warning signs of emotional issues. These can be physical symptoms or something else that you’ve become aware of. Take a step back and allow yourself some time to feel those things without taking it out on others.

By caring for your emotional needs and not just suppressing them, and by taking care of physical needs before they interfere with your emotions, you can give yourself more power to handle bad emotions.

Turn your emotional intelligence into empathy for others.

The nature of project management is that each project is a temporary undertaking. So, when one project is finished and another one starts, you may have an entirely new team of people and personalities.

You need strong relationships with all of your stakeholders to get the job done well. The bonds come from social awareness and relationship management. These are extensions of the self-awareness and self-management components of emotional intelligence.

Social awareness means you can understand others’ emotions. You are able to empathize but also see and respect boundaries. Basically, you need to read people’s feelings and needs without overstepping.

Empathy is the most challenging piece to learn, but you can work on your listening and observation skills. Before you react, listen to what your project team member is saying. Take account of the non-verbal cues as well. Be aware of your own personal biases that allow you to jump to conclusions and challenge them. Try to wait to draw any conclusions until you’ve heard someone out.

Identify the interpersonal relationships that can affect the work.

Contextualizing social awareness is the concept of organizational awareness. You may think you understand someone, but they are a product of their environment.

There may be office politics or other interpersonal conflicts or alliances. Observing and understanding these issues can help you understand what you’re dealing with on your team. Also, each organization has its own culture and what is considered acceptable. You may need to titrate your expectations and adjust your own behavior accordingly.

Take what you know about the people in each team to manage relationships.

Relationship management comes from what you do with insights. For example, an effective leader is able to redirect potential personal drama. Understanding what is acceptable in an organization, you can work with your team to set ground rules and boundaries for communication.

You have to communicate effectively with your team, which means providing feedback in the appropriate way. Encouraging development and growth in your staff while pointing out where things came up short is essential for project success.

Telling the truth is harder than you might think. It isn’t just brutal honesty and leaving other people to clean up the mess. Maybe you are frustrated and want to yell, but you have to find a way to express yourself productively.

Without striking the right balance, your relationships with team members and other stakeholders may falter. To be an effective project manager you need to use that emotional intelligence for the benefit of the project.

Create a positive team environment.

The best use of your emotional intelligence in project teams is to create a positive environment. You identify the goals and the path to those goals. Then you empower your team with motivation and support them with clear communication.

It won’t all be sunshine and rainbows. Everyone will have challenging days and they need to be able to express what is going on and what they need without harming the project team and its goals. Use your awareness of your staff to read emotional states and try to head off trouble.

Conflict is not always avoidable. To resolve conflict with emotional intelligence, take into account the feelings behind the conflict. If you include those in thinking through a resolution, everyone can feel good about the solution. Resentment following conflict is detrimental so you have to think about how people are feeling.

Work towards being an inspirational leader that allows her team to flourish.

The traditional top-down project management style is fading. Agile projects are all about letting the team do what it does best. Your job as a leader is to facilitate that and not create any unnecessary obstacles.

How do you do that? Be an inspirational leader. You motivate and focus on the big goals and the vision for the project. Highlight and celebrate achievements and be willing to pitch in wherever you’re most needed. If you lead by example as a team player, you show your team respect and commitment. You will be rewarded with a positive work environment.

You can use the feelings and emotions and channel them into the project in a positive way. This is especially important in complex projects, which have been shown to need greater emotional intelligence. Virtual teams add to this need, requiring you to be even more adept at reading people and controlling how you convey emotions.

Moving past the inspirational leader is the resonant leader. This is where your emotional intelligence can shine.

The Main Take-away

Emotional intelligence is an essential tool for project managers to lead project teams effectively in agile projects.

Be self-aware about your emotions and learn to control them. Use your understanding of emotion to become socially and organizationally aware. Take this understanding to manage your team more effectively. Emotional intelligence about yourself, your team, and other stakeholders will allow you to be an inspirational and resonant leader.

About the Author

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago. His firm focuses on agile training for teams and has developed expertise in team dynamics and the challenges organizations face.

They offer standard courses through a partnership with Northwestern University and personalized coaching for organizations looking to improve. Mersino focuses on the value of transparency and a positive organizational culture. He believes that addressing organizational challenges first will pay off in productivity.

Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers is his first book. He has since also written a book on managing agile projects. Mersino is also versed in scrum and lean principles for projects and performance improvement.


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