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Why a greater emphasis on emotional intelligence could be a game changer

Blog posted by: Nick Jago – Senior Associate, Ontoit (integrated advisory and project management), 22 July 2019.

Group of project managers in office listening to emotionally intelligent collagues speaking and presenting

I firmly believe that emotional intelligence (EI) and communication are integral to the development of project management and key to shaping its future.

So, it doesn’t surprise me that they are recognized in this year’s AXELOS PPM benchmark report 2019 as “specific skills that project managers are going to need.”

Positive impact

So why this shift in priorities? Not so long ago, EI was viewed as a “soft skill” that didn’t warrant much attention in traditional project management courses. It certainly wasn’t one of the core components of the Masters I completed ten years ago.

I think it’s partly because the way we manage people has evolved significantly over recent years. Just as relevant, however, are the benefits that we now know can be delivered by an emotionally intelligent team.

Put simply, people with high EI intentionally act to make sure others feel valued, listened to and involved. This builds trust and creates a collaborative culture where both the team and stakeholders are positively engaged with the project; as a project manager, that’s when you achieve a better outcome.

Of course it’s no guarantee, but a happy and motivated team will greatly increase the chance of success. After all, if you bring people with you, it’s much easier to deliver your product.

Looked at in this way, the role becomes less focused on tightly-managed processes and more about project leadership: a direction and definition which should benefit the profession in the long-term, once we choose to embrace it. It’s still important to govern your projects with methods such as PRINCE2® – this provides the framework from within which you can exercise your EI capability.

Stronger skills

From active listening and an open mindset, to giving and receiving feedback, there are many core skills which can benefit from stronger EI. These then translate well to many day-to-day project management scenarios, such as:

  • Workshop facilitation: You will be able to engage and get value from the whole group, not just the loudest people. It’s not easy to make everyone feel part of the decision-making process, but those with high EI are more likely to succeed.
  • Negotiations: The whole point of a negotiation is to reach a mutually-beneficial outcome. A result which two people with high EI are more likely to achieve through an open and honest discourse. 
  • Performance assessments: A manager with high EI will be able to read how the individual reacts to whatever information they have to share and then tailor their approach in a way that is both encouraging and inspiring.

Improving EI

The complex nature of EI means it’s not a straightforward skill to learn. Everyone is an individual, with a distinct personality, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Although it may not come naturally to some, for me the starting point should always be improving self-awareness. When you are in control of how you feel and how others make you feel, that’s good self-awareness. It’s then not a huge jump to transpose this understanding and look at how your actions impact on others. After that, it’s a question of practice; the more you work on your EI, the better you’ll become.

Red Nick Jago's previous AXELOS blog post, Finding the humour in project management.


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