Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers

The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results

 Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers

Author: Anthony Mersino, PMP
Pub Date: June 2013
Print Edition: $19.95
Print ISBN: 9780814432778
Page Count: 288
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814432785

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

My Growth in Emotional Intelligence

A Dangerous Situation

"Do you have any idea how dangerous it is not to be in touch with your feelings?" This question was posed to me in the summer of 2001 by Rich, a therapist who has since become my career coach and mentor. His words stopped me in my tracks. Dangerous? That was a curious word choice. What could be dangerous about not being in touch with my feelings? I was thirty-nine years old and had been a successful project manager (PM) for over seventeen years. I had a record of slow but steady career progression. I had been certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) since 1995. I owned my own project management consulting business and lived, taught, and even breathed project management. No one had ever asked me about feelings before. No one had ever mentioned that there might be danger involved. What could be dangerous? What was so important about feelings?

Rich's question resonated with me, but I wasn't sure why. It didn't feel dangerous to be out of touch with my emotions. However, I had a nagging sense that he saw or knew things that I didn't. On some level I recognized that the way I approached work wasn't always effective. Hard work did not always make the difference in the outcomes of the projects I managed. I wondered how others seemed to succeed with less effort. I also felt insecure about the lack of personal and professional relationships I had built, and I suspected that it was hurting me. As much as I wanted to deny that my career and relationship challenges might be related to my emotions, I began to sus-pect that Rich might be right.

The truth was that I wasn't aware of my feelings or emotions. I was about as emotionally aware as a small green soap dish. If I could have taken an emotional intelligence test at that time, I would have been considered the village idiot.

With Rich's help, I began to see a connection between my lack of emotional awareness and my limited success in project management. Up to that point, my project management career had been a bumpy road. While not quite a dead end street, my career path hadn't exactly taken a superhighway either. Lately that road didn't seem to be taking me anywhere. I had recently been passed over for a key promotion at Unisys. My career ladder had literally run out of rungs. Perhaps I had been promoted to my level of incompetence and was therefore living proof of the Peter Principle.

Eventually I found I could no longer ignore Rich's question about the danger, and I decided to do something about it. I knew I needed to make some changes. I was ready to make more of an investment in my emotions and relationships. Initially, it wasn't for personal reasons. It was all about ROI, my return on investment for improving my emotional intelligence. I believed that my career would benefit from it. And after spending most of the last five years working on my emotional intelligence, I am happy to report that my career has benefited significantly.

As I grew, I learned how my work relationships reflected my world view. Until then, my relationships with my project teams and other stakeholders were weak or nonexistent. That was largely the result of my project management style as a taskmaster. I was all business. Unfortunately, I placed a higher value on tasks, productivity, and outcomes than on relationships. I lacked empathy. I had a way of driving the people on my project teams that was hostile and irresponsible. My coworkers may have called me driven, but they would never have characterized me as a warm and fuzzy relationship person. At best people warmed up to me over time.

My big shift came when I began to recognize the value of emotions and relationships in the workplace. I became aware of feelings and learned to trust them as a source of information. I learned to recognize and acknowledge when I felt angry, scared, or happy. I also began to pay attention to what those around me were feeling and to consider that information when making decisions. By doing this, I was able to better manage my projects and to be a better leader of people.

I learned the importance of stakeholder relationships and invested in relationships with friends, coworkers, and other leaders. I learned how critical relationships and support were to achieving success on large projects. My relationships began to grow, along with my ability to lead others.

The results were nothing short of impressive. The investment and changes I made began to improve my effectiveness as a PM. Within a year of beginning my work on emotions and relationships, I was asked to lead a fast-moving project of twelve people. As I demonstrated success with this team, my responsibilities grew until I was managing seventy-five people across the United States and internationally. As I continued to learn and apply my skills in this area, I was able effectively to lead large teams, build strong relationships with project stakeholders, and achieve the goals of the projects I was managing.

Emotional Mastery for Project Managers

I am quite sure that many of you are thinking "of course, you idiot" when I talk about mastery of emotions leading to success as a PM. You were probably among the five million people who bought one of Daniel Goleman's books on emotional intelligence--and then actually read it. Yes, of course emotions play a role at work, no matter what your position. They are of special concern to those of us in project management and leadership. Emotions play a direct role in our success as PMs and leaders.

I was not one of the five million people who bought Goleman's first book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, when it came out in 1997. In fact, I wasn't even sure what emotional intelligence was when I first began working on my emotional awareness. It wasn't until I decided to include emotional intelligence as part of the curriculum for the project management course I taught at Northwestern University that I began to read the published materials on the topic. By then I had accepted the fact that I lacked emotional intelligence, proving, I suppose, that admitting I had a problem was the first step toward resolution. More than that, I had begun to grow, make changes, and experience greater success as a PM.

After my own powerful experience with emotional intelligence, I conducted research to see what experience other PMs had with emotional intelligence. In late 2005, I conducted a brief survey of over 100 PMs to determine their beliefs and attitudes about emotional intelligence. The results were interesting. Most of the PMs I surveyed thought that emotional intelligence was important to success as a PM and were interested in learning more. However, the survey also indicated that most PMs didn't know very much about emotional intelligence.

Since 2005, I've presented this topic at over forty different events attended by thousands of PMs. Most people identify readily with the topic. While there are some who are "naturals" at emotional intelligence, most of the people I spoke with wanted to know how they could learn more about emotions and emotional mastery.

Is this surprising? Not really. Sure, PMs understand basic project management techniques and the contents of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). They have also pursued PMP certification and become black-belt masters of project scheduling tools, such as MS Project, Artemis, or NIKU. In fact, those are prerequisites for success even as a junior PM; consider them entry criteria. But to advance your career, you will need strong interpersonal skills or soft skills--and emotional intelligence provides the framework for those skills. Do you see a connection between emotional intelligence and your own success as a PM? Are you trying to advance your career? Do you ever feel frustrated by lack of opportunity even though you have done all you can to improve your technical project man-agement skills? Perhaps you are doing things the hard way as I did, working harder to make up for soft skills.

You cannot make up for soft skills with hard work.

To advance as a PM requires understanding and mastery of emotional intelligence concepts. Yes, mastery of emotional intelligence. PMs who master emotional intelligence can develop their careers by delivering more consistently and by taking on larger and more important projects. In fact, success with large and complex projects depends largely on the level of emotional intelligence of the PM.

PMs who master emotional intelligence will set themselves apart from other PMs. They will be able to achieve more with the same team. They will excel in their careers. And they will feel more satisfied with themselves and their relationships with others.

PMs who master emotional intelligence will set

themselves apart from other PMs.

Project Management Is Competitive

Most PMs feel the need to set themselves apart from other PMs. If you feel under pressure to compete, you are not alone. Project management is a very competitive field. As an example, consider the growth in PMP certification as shown in Figure 1-1. PMs increasingly seek certification as a way to differentiate themselves from other PMs. PMP certification has skyrocketed as a result. When I achieved my PMP certification in 1995, I was number 4,410. By the end of 2006, shortly before the first edition of this book was published, the total number of certified PMs had exploded to 221,144. By the end of 2011, that number had more than doubled to 467,390, and it continues to grow steadily. In addition, the PMI has introduced five other project management certifications that allow PMs to further differentiate themselves.

PMP certification does not in itself make a PM more capable; it simply proves that you have the requisite project management experience and can pass the multiple-choice certification exam. To be truly effective, you need to be able to implement projects and work well with your team. Emotional intelligence will help you do that.

Emotional intelligence and certification are two very different things. However, the pursuit of PMP certification demonstrates that PMs are seeking every advantage they can get. Emotional intelligence can be just one more way of setting themselves apart. I believe that this will lead to an increased interest in developing and applying emotional intelligence to project management.

The Rules for Project Managers Have Changed

When I started in project management back in the late 1980s, the project triple constraints ruled. On time, on budget, and within scope was the PM's mantra. That may still be true, but I think that things have gotten a whole lot more complicated, and I think there are a lot more expectations of PMs today.

Have you heard the phrase "do more with less?" You are not alone. Not only do PMs need to manage the triple constraint, they need to do it with fewer resources. This could include project administrators or support people who directly aid the PM, but it might also include key resources needed for the team.

In addition to doing more with less, PMs are expected to be domain experts. The days of being a good PM who could lead any team are over; PMs today need to be SAP savvy, or have a Lean 6 Sigma black belt, or have CRM, CPA, or MSCE certification. I've seen ads for project management positions that require ITAR--and I don't even know what that is!

Finally, I believe there is more pressure on PMs to lead the way through change. All organizations are under pressure to change and innovate. One has only to look at what happened to Kodak or Sears as prime examples of what happens when you don't change fast enough. Both Kodak and Sears were once leaders in their industries. Now they are mere shells of their former selves because they didn't change as fast as their competitors. Organizations often use projects or programs to introduce or drive change. So PMs are usually the ones who come face to face with resistance and inertia and must be good at implementing change for their projects to be successful.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

The term emotional intelligence was actually coined by two psychologists, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, in 1990. I am a little surprised they didn't call it the Salomayer Principle or something similar. I bet if they had known that Daniel Goleman would come along in 1995 and use the term for the title of his best-selling book, they would certainly have used their own names. In any case, they simply called it emotional intelligence and gave it the following definition:

Emotional Intelligence: "the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and action."

--Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer2

While Salovey and Mayer continued their research work, in 1995 Goleman wrote Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. This was the right message at the right time, and soon Goleman was a best-selling author whose name became synonymous with emotional intelligence. Goleman has since gone on to write several more books on the topic. In a recent book, Goleman and coauthor Cary Cherniss state that emotional intelligence, at the most general level, refers to:

"the abilities to recognize and regulate emotions

in ourselves and in others"

Daniel Goleman and Gary Cherniss3

As a PM, I hold a pragmatic view of emotional intelligence, thinking of it as "knowing and managing our own emotions and those of others for improved performance." I am interested in the application of emotional intelligence to life in general, as well as specifically to the field of project management. In a project setting, the understanding and use of emotions helps us to have more enjoyable, predictable, and successful projects. That is what the remainder of this book is about.

Measuring Your Emotional Intelligence

Each of us has some level of emotional intelligence. The question is, how do we know what that level is? It would certainly be convenient if emotional intelligence were as easy to measure as height or weight. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Numerous different assessments of emotional intelligence are available. The instruments tend to differ in three areas: the person providing the assessment, the mechanism for measurement, and the underlying framework.

In terms of who provides the assessment, most of the available emotional intelligence assessments are self-reported. In other words, the individual being assessed completes the instrument himself or herself. For a more objective and complete view, there are also multirater instruments that can provide 360-degree reviews.

Emotional intelligence assessments also vary in how emotional intelligence is measured. Some are based on traits, and others on abilities. Examples of assessments that measure traits include answering questions about how individuals respond in various situations. The instruments that measure abilities might follow a photo or a short video with a series of related questions.

Finally, assessments vary in terms of the underlying framework of emotional intelligence competencies. As shown in Chapter 2, many researchers have developed their own frameworks for emotional intelligence. Some of the best known are Daniel Goleman, Peter Salovey, John Mayer, and Rueven Bar-On.

All of the assessments suffer from a question of validity. By validity, I mean the ability to consistently and reliably measure emotional intelligence in individuals. While the authors of each assessment instrument will tout the validity of what they are measuring, there are no validated instruments for measuring emotional intelligence. See Appendix F for a review of the more popular instruments available and their claims to validity.

Before we entirely give up the idea of measuring emotional intelligence, we should take a look at what some of the existing tools can tell us about ourselves. It is possible to get an idea of your level of emotional intelligence using a simple set of questions, such as those shown in Table 1-1. Though the outcome will be subjective, it will provide some information about your level of EQ. Take the mini self-assessment by reviewing each item and checking "Yes" or "No" as it applies to you.

To score the mini-assessment, count the total number of no responses and use Table 1-2 to interpret your results.

The Good News About Emotional Intelligence

The good news about emotional intelligence is that no matter where you are now, most experts agree that you can improve your level of emotional intelligence. In fact, experts agree that you can continue to improve your level over the course of your life. I know this to be true because I have done it. Over the last five years I have gone from "village idiot" to being aware of and managing emotions. Maybe "emotional genius" is in reach for me!

Here is more good news. Improvements in your emotional intelligence will help your career as a PM. No matter what your emotional starting point is, if you improve your level of emotional intelligence, you will do a better job of managing projects. The remainder of this book is going to tell you how to do just that. We are going to discuss in detail the various aspects of emotional intelligence; how they apply in the project management environment, and the specific activities and exercises you can use to help you improve your emotional intelligence. This will undoubtedly also help you to succeed as a PM.

Applying Emotional Intelligence to Project Management

My own experience has shown that emotional intelligence makes a big difference in terms of performance as a PM. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought there was a likely correlation between emotional intelligence and performance in project management. The PMI has commissioned at least two research studies to dig into this topic.

The first PMI study was conducted in 2005 and documented in the 2006 book, Choosing Appropriate Project Managers, by J. Rodney Turner and Ralf Mueller. It details research that Turner and Mueller conducted on four hundred projects around the world. They wanted to test the relationship between the success of a particular project and the PM's competency. They broke that competency down into IQ, emotional intelligence or EQ, and the PM's competency in managerial terms (MQ).

It wasn't a big surprise that their research showed a strong correlation between emotional intelligence and project success. It was a little surprising that little or no relationship existed between project success and IQ. In other words, emotional intelligence was more important than pure intelligence. Specifically, the competencies of self-awareness, conscientiousness, sensitivity, and communication were found to be significant for all types of projects. In Turner and Mueller's words, "Consistently with the general management literature we found that the emotional group of competencies, EQ, was the most significant for successful project outcomes." Turner and Mueller concluded that "project managers must be emotionally intelligent."

"Project managers must be emotionally intelligent."

--J. Rodney Turner, PhD, and Ralf Mueller, DBA

This was exciting, not just because it confirms what many of us already believed, but because it is one of the first studies to officially link the PM's emotional intelligence to the success of the project.

Turner and Mueller used their data from the 400 projects to further analyze what success looked like. They found that a core set of emotional competencies were required for all projects. Those core competencies include:

* Self-awareness

* Motivation

* Conscientiousness

* Interpersonal sensitivity

* Emotional resilience

* Influence

In case you are wondering about the title, Choosing Appropriate Project Managers, the point that Turner and Mueller were making is that certain emotional competencies are shown to be important to the success of various types of projects. Organizations should consider that information and choose their PMs based on those competencies.

The second PMI sponsored research was presented in the 2009 book, Emotional Intelligence and Projects, by Nicholas Clarke and Ranse Howell, which documents a research project carried out on 67 project managers. The project sought to identify relationships in the following areas:

1. Relationships between emotional intelligence abilities and specific project manager competencies identified as critical within project contexts.

2. Relationships between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership behaviors.

The research by Clarke and Howell built on the previous research by Ralph Mueller and J. Rodney Turner. Clarke and Howell studied the relationship of those emotional intelligence measures to competencies that previous research has shown to be important to success as a project manager: communications, teamwork, attentiveness, and managing conflict.

Another interesting aspect of this study was that the researchers attempted to control for personality, general intelligence level, and PM certification. I was a little puzzled at first by the control for personality. If my personality turns out to be ineffective, does this mean I cannot be a project manager? Not to worry--the control for personality is to try to isolate any characteristics that may be inherent and unchangeable from those characteristics, like EQ, that can be trained.

The bottom line from the Clarke and Howell research? Project managers interested in growing in their project management and leadership abilities should invest in emotional intelligence. Specifically they should develop their ability to use emotions to facilitate thinking, understand emotional meanings, in empathy, and in their overall level of emotional intelligence. These were shown to be linked to the PM competencies of teamwork, managing conflict, and attentiveness. These were also impacted by the personality traits of emotional stability and openness.

Based on my own discussions with PMs and surveys of PMs, I have come to believe that most PMs understand emotional intelligence at a conceptual level. The challenge is that they lack the tools to apply it to projects. After all, how do you apply emotional intelligence to project management? It wasn't immediately apparent to me. My research showed that it wasn't all that apparent to others either. The research says that it is important, but what has been missing is a practical guide to how to actually do it. This book is the first book of its kind to spell out in detail how to apply emotional intelligence to projects.

The starting point for applying emotional intelligence is when we acknowledge that project management is getting work done through others. As PMs, we are dependent on others for our success. To achieve anything significant, we need a team. Big, important projects generally require large, effective project teams as well as an effective PM. As a PM, I personally want to take on larger and more complex projects since I believe that is going to advance my career. That is where the application of emotional intelligence pays off big.

"Project management is getting work done through others."

Emotional intelligence can help PMs to:

1. Develop stakeholder relationships that support the project's success

2. Anticipate and avoid emotional breakdowns

3. Deal with difficult team members and manage conflict

4. Leverage emotional information to make better decisions

5. Communicate more effectively

6. Create a positive work environment and high team morale

7. Cast a vision for shared project objectives that will attract, inspire, and motivate the project team

Let's look at each of these benefits in more detail.

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