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  • Gonçalo Vaz

Why Being an Emotionally Intelligent Project Manager is Important

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

With deadlines looming, expenses piling up, last minute troubleshooting and changes, and long hours in the office, how could you not hit the wall of overwhelm? The stress may start like a dripping faucet - a miscommunication here, a smart comment there, and all CAPS email thread takeover begins. Suddenly, you have a tsunami of complaints and concerns regarding your project. You are about erupt like a volcano, if you have not done already done so. The stress and eruption can be prevented or lessened by honing your skills in emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is commonly referred to as the “soft skills” or “street smarts” or “common sense”. If you have worked with people, you have probably noticed that common sense is not that common. The soft skills are the hardest to master, after all, we are dealing with people and people are complex. People come with diverse backgrounds, education, and experiences. They all have different approaches to conversations and managing their work. You may have noticed that not everyone works the way you do.

Emotional intelligence is often confused with cognitive intelligence. Cognitive intelligence (IQ) is the ability to concentrate, plan, and organize materials and to take information, interpret it, and integrate it into practice. Whereas, emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize and manage our own emotions as well as perceive the impact of our emotions on our relationships with others. Your IQ is pretty much set by the age of 16. EQ, on the other hand, continues to evolve as you get older. With age, you gain more knowledge. You are exposed to new situations and experiences and learn valuable lessons. EQ tends to plateau as you reach old age and IQ starts to wane.

Emotional intelligence plays a critical role in the success of any project. The level of emotional intelligence of a project manager will determine team dynamics, function, and performance. An emotionally intelligent project manager can inspire, motivate, and guide their team. They can support the team members and navigate challenges that arise while keeping their emotions in check. While the project manager role is very important, the importance of the role should not “inflate” their ego or make the project self-serving.

Develop Your Self- Awareness

As a project manager, you must become aware of your own emotions and how your emotions influence your thinking, your judgment, and how you relate to others. There may be situations where you need to deal with sensitive subject matter. Your emotions affect how you think, feel, the decisions you make, and the actions your take. You may need to talk about how your emotions have been triggered or how the other person’s emotions are impacting the team. Being able to talk about feelings, is not always easy or straight to the point. It cannot be avoided.

Many of the decisions you make require you to take facts, figures, and evidence into account. Most decisions involve one’s personal core values, past lessons, and the potential impact your decision will have on others. Your ability to manage your mood and emotions will set the stage for how your team works together or not.

Manage One’s Self

Your ability to manage and cope with changing political, social, economic landscape, and competing demands is imperative. When you believe you cannot cope with what you have in front of you, guess what? You will not cope. As your stress tolerance is eroded, you magnify negative outcomes and spiral into despair. Having a little bit of stress is not a bad thing, it creates a bit of tension for you to pay attention to details, double check work, and note deadlines and activities, thus, improving performance. However, when you are under too much stress, your ability to make decisions, deal with conflict, and negotiate compromises can be impaired. Relationships can be damaged. Lessons fail to be learned, therefore, repeating themselves causing more stress. When stress becomes unmanageable, your body responds by going into “fight, flight or freeze mode”. Your brain wants to keep you safe. Rational decision making goes out the window when emotions are high.

You are leading by example. Learn to recognize what causes you stress. Is it the excessive demands? Overworked? Role ambiguity of team members? Consider delegating your work to others who are more skilled than you in certain areas. Clearly define roles and responsibilities from the onset. Choose healthy ways to deal with stress. Manage your emotions by minimizing any negative thinking that comes up. Avoid blaming yourself for things you had no control over. Be consistent with your behavior, even though you think no one is watching or noticing – they are.

Sometimes, the most effective way of managing stress is to distract yourself by counting to ten or giving yourself time to let your emotions settle down. If you need to discuss a sensitive subject, you need to make sure you and the other person are calm instead of in the heat of the moment.

Motivate Yourself

As a project manager, you want to engage, inspire, and motivate your team by having be a part of vision. They want to know that the work they do matters. When you’re the leader, it can be lonely. There are often when the person looking back at you in the mirror in the morning is the only one there to motivate you.

Seek to learn from others every day. Set goals and challenge yourself. Be open to change and remind yourself that change is progress. Foster collaboration within your team. When you see you team collaborating and functioning as unit and getting results, it can be very rewarding. Communicate regularly. Give and receive feedback regularly. Reflect on the feedback and how you feel. See yourself as giving your best each day.

Expand Your Interpersonal Skills

The way you interact with others with determine how well you will function with your team. You need to be able to be present, listen without judgment, and test assumptions. Do not start thinking about what you are going to say while another person is thinking; you may miss some very important information. When we come from a place of judgment, we close ourselves off from learning from our team members and stakeholders. An emotionally intelligent project manager needs to be able to draw others out and engage in finding solutions and offering new ideas. You will want to communicate with your team regularly to avoid or clarify any miscommunication. This connection establishes trust and respect. By checking in with your team members regularly, you are designing accountability and commitment to the team and your stakeholders. Use collaborative language “we”, “us”, or “together.”

Being able to control yourself in an emotionally intelligent way involves the ability to separate your emotions from the situation, gather facts and information, seek to understand, and make effective decisions. Do what you say you are going to do. Help others to see you are leading in partnership to meet commitments and hold each other accountable to deliver quality work.



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