The Human Side Of Project Management Education Essay

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Project Management requires many varieties of skills to handle the demands and pressures of this profession. If someone mentions Project Management, the first thing that comes to mind is project success and if someone is asked to define project success they define it in terms of the "triple constraints" - cost, schedule and performance. Recently other factors like quality, human resources, risk and customer satisfaction have been added to the definition of project success. But what is still neglected (and very important) is how the people who work on a project are managed to get the best performance possible. Human factors are of vital importance to the success of projects and Emotional Intelligence has recently become a key factor or one can say a necessary skill for project managers for successfully achieving project success.

Emotional Intelligence: Human Side of Project Management


For those of us following PMI guidelines and PMBOK rigorously, it may be difficult but at the same time attractive to think about a new angle to project management - something that can help us improve our personal performance.

We all manage and control our project constraints through defined strategies, standard tools and techniques, SMART deliverables, etc. With more than ever attention given to this field and researchers working hard to establish effective management skills, all hard skills needed to guide us through our projects are already known. Why is it then that so many projects fail? If tools and techniques are abundantly available and consistently applied, why our projects fail to deliver on the triple constraints? When asked for the reasons behind failure; most project managers narrow down failure reasons to 'human resources' (people). But we need to ask ourselves is it people or is it us hindering the achievement of project objectives.

Project Managers today face a very demanding time. The project teams today are a mix of different cultures, have different social and economical backgrounds and beliefs and are more politically aggressive than before. To add to this is the complexities introduced by the organizational structure - getting team members from departments within their own organization or contractors and sometimes for very short project durations. It becomes the job of project manager to ensure these varied team members function as a team and give their best to achieve the project's objectives. Most of the project managers have a tendency to concentrate more on deliverables - tasks, schedule, costs and sometimes risks too. But they hardly find time to concentrate on the people who work with them on the project. Interpersonal relationships are paramount in how well a project team performs. Project Managers have to understand the need to control and understand not only their own emotions but also the emotions of their team members. If left to thrive by themselves; emotions can destroy an entire project. This is where Emotional Intelligence and the Project Management profession cross paths and because the importance and use of Emotional Intelligence is generally downplayed, project managers are left struggling when dealing with teams.

What project managers need is a skill using which they can adjust to various (sometimes unimaginable) situations that can arise from within types of teams that exist today and also to the varied personalities of specific team members depending on their background and position on the project. We all understand the importance of cohesion and collaboration when it comes to executing the projects with teams. The implication of this importance is that the project manager not only needs himself/herself to gel well with the team but he or she should also be able to effectively build the team spirit. Thus project managers need to be aware of how being emotionally intelligent - which will help them understand how each team member is motivated and how to make them more productive - can impact the overall team performance and consequently impact the project outcome.

So what does Emotional Intelligence stand for? According to an article on MindTools1, "Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they're telling you, and realize how your emotions affect people around you. Emotional intelligence also involves your perception of others: when you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively". This definition is based on work done by Salovey and Mayer in 1990s and is widely referred to as the 'ability model of Emotional Intelligence'. The ability model of emotional intelligence (Salovey and Mayer, 1990) is widely regarded as the most scientifically robust model of emotional intelligence in that it meets the criteria far more closely than others, for what might be termed an independent intelligence. The four abilities are cognitive in nature and are argued as developing from early childhood onwards. These four abilities are arranged in a hierarchical fashion in the following order: (1) the ability to perceive emotion; (2) the ability to integrate emotion to facilitate thought; (3) the ability to understand emotions; and (4) the ability to manage emotions (Nicholas Clarke 2010, 462(pdf1)). Basically, if your EQ is high (Emotional Quotient - way of measuring your emotional intelligence; similar concept as IQ), you are in a better position to manage your feelings and deal effectively with others. It also indicates your ability to control your own emotions, use them to make good decision and act effectively. In my opinion, EQ should be added to the standard ways of measuring achievement like GPA, IQ, SAT and other standardized tests. The word 'others' in above definition from MindTools should mean groups too and not just individuals. Project Management involves managing teams and managing the overall team emotion should be an important task and can significantly impact the project.

Is Emotional Intelligence different from Intelligence in general? Is Emotional Intelligence more important than IQ when it comes to measuring success? These are some interesting but obvious questions. After visiting a number of sites I would define intelligence as the ability of thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem-solving and learning. This is in contrast to the concept of emotional intelligence - the ability of understanding one's own and other's emotions and using it effectively to guide our actions. As mentioned in an article by John Chancellor, the founder of the website, getting admissions to any of the great schools mandate you to give basic standardized tests like SAT, ACT, etc. Even after getting into the school, your progress, performance and rank is measured based upon GPA. And all these tests are measures of IQ and not Emotional Intelligence. They are designed to test our math and reading comprehension skills. He then goes on to mention that even after so much importance on IQ, studies have shown that IQ only contributes about 20% of our success and that the major attributes are social and emotional intelligence. He mentions that we have 2 minds - emotional and rational. Rational mind is slower than emotional mind implying that our reactions to situations are generated by our emotions and if we are not capable of controlling our emotional mind we will make poor decisions. I totally agree with this as I believe if I go back and think about situations in which I now think I might have reacted in a different way; I come to the conclusion that my reactions at the spur of the moment were purely based on emotions and without enough thought given to them. It applies to project management too as project managers who react with frustration to difficult situations are not perceived with high regards when compared to project managers who can control their emotions and apply thought before reacting. It's not just your problem-solving ability but your way of articulating the situation and the message you convey that makes difficult project management situations manageable. This makes applying emotional intelligence to work equally important as having project management education and leads us to believe that EQ is a major contributor towards your success not only in project management profession but in several other professions. There is a lot of material talking about EQ and IQ importance on internet. I came across a very interesting article on about the whole EQ and IQ battle which perfectly summarizes the importance of each. The article mentions "It would be absurd to suggest that cognitive ability is irrelevant for success in science. One needs a relatively high level of such ability merely to get admitted to a graduate science program at an institute like Indian Institute of Technology. Once you are admitted, however, what matters in terms of how you do compared to your peers has less to do with IQ differences and more to do with social and emotional factors. To put it another way, if you are a scientist, you probably needed an IQ of 120 or so simply to get a doctorate and a job. But then it is more important to be able to persist in the face of difficulty and to get along well with colleagues and subordinates than it is to have an extra 10 or 15 points of IQ.  The same is true in many other occupations." The article also has a captivating opening quote which was taken from the TIME magazine cover story on The EQ Factor (TIME, 1995) - "IQ gets you hired but EQ get you promoted". And as John Chancellor mentions in his article, "IQ can land you a job but your lack of EQ can get you fired". Thus, EQ can be an excellent tool to find out who among a talented pool of project managers will become the strongest leader or the most effective project manager.

History of Emotional Intelligence

*EIConsortium - Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (CREIO) There has been a recent increase in the awareness of Emotional Intelligence as a success measure. But is it really now that we have realized that it is an important aspect of measuring a person's chances of achieving success in life? The answer is no. The concept has been in existence since long back. According to an EIConsortium* paper titled 'Emotional Intelligence: What it is and Why it Matters'2 presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology on April 15, 2000, the concept of emotional intelligence was mentioned for the first time in 1930s by Robert Thorndike when he wrote about 'social intelligence' and described it as the ability to get along with other people. In 1940s David Wechsler asserted that non-intellective abilities are essential for predicting one's ability to succeed in life. The paper goes on to mention that this early work again came to light when in 1983 Howard Gardner wrote about 'multiple intelligence' and proposed that IQ and related tests are not the only types of intelligences that exist and coined the terms 'intrapersonal' and 'interpersonal' intelligences. Thus it can be said that even though the name varied the concept of emotional intelligence pretty much existed and was agreed upon by multiple researchers. Wikipedia's3 search page on Emotional Intelligence (which pretty much corroborates other sites that I visited on the history of Emotional Intelligence) mentions that Wayne Payne's doctoral thesis "A Study of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence" was the first published use of this term and goes on to mention that this term became widely recognized by the publication of Daniel Goleman's best seller book titled "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ".

Emotional Intelligence for the Project Manager

Human resource management, and the corresponding soft-skills, is pivotal to project management success. One of the measures of these soft-skills, used in recent years, is the concept of emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to grasp, appreciate, and discerningly manage emotions in relationship to oneself and others (Barry and Plessis 2007, 1).

Verma states in the book Organizing Projects for Success - The Human Aspects of Project Management (1995), project managers must be very effective in interpersonal relationships as well as building and nurturing project teams. Apart from technical knowledge and decision making skills, Verma lists people skills are important for project managers, they require: communication, motivation, negotiation, energy, enthusiasm, even temperament, self-confidence, reliability, maturity, emotional stability, a constructive, positive attitude, independence tempered by political awareness, flexibility, tolerance for ambiguity, and uncertainty (Verma 1995, 34).

In the article Emotional intelligence: A crucial human resource management ability for engineering project managers in the 21st century by Barry and Plessis (2007), they conducted a study which included a literature review and a web-based survey of project stakeholder perception of the importance of emotional intelligence as competence for project managers to answer the following questions:

"What is emotional intelligence and how is it applicable in the project environment, for project managers?" and

"Do project stakeholders have the opinion that emotional intelligence is an essential competence for a project manager of the 21st century?" (Barry and Plessis 2007, 2)

The survey questionnaire was developed using the framework of emotional competencies as indicated in Figure 2. The survey consisted of 50 questions covering reactions to situations in four typical situations and emotional competencies required by project managers. The 5,444 respondents selected were project managers and the stakeholders who have worked closely with project managers.

Figure 2: Framework for emotional intelligence. Source Barry and Plessis (2007)

The responses to each question on the five point Likert scale were analyzed statistically using Excel and SAS, 1997. The nature of the survey was such that, after compensating for negatively stated questions, the responses indicated what the perception of each respondent was in terms of the importance of emotional intelligence for project managers. A response of strongly agree indicates that the respondent perceives that emotional intelligence is very important for a project manager (Barry and Plessis 2007, 5).

This study contributed greatly to project management theory, as it was the first formal study to determine the construct of emotional intelligence in a project environment and answered the question whether emotional intelligence is an important competence for project managers. The study showed (See Figure 3 for results) that emotional intelligence is perceived as an important competence for project managers in the 21st century, as most of the respondents (89.79%) felt that emotional intelligence is important, and that each of the constructs of emotional intelligence is equally important as well (Barry and Plessis 2007, 5).

Figure 3: Response summary. Source Barry and Plessis (2007)

The main implications for and contributions to project management practice are as follows: This research shows emotional intelligence is an important competence for project managers and therefore needs more attention in selection and development of project managers. According to the literature, emotional intelligence is something that can be learned and improved. Emotional intelligence should thus be taught to project managers (Barry and Plessis 2007, 5).

The facilitation of both rational and emotional aspects of a project is required to be successful. Emotional intelligence combines the cognitive system, which orients us to what makes sense to the emotional system, which orients us to what matters. These enable the project manager to provide the leadership necessary to successfully operate in an ever-changing business environment (Leban and Zulauf 2004, 559).

A study conducted by Leban and Zulauf in 2004, consisted of using the Emotional Intelligence Ability Test (MSCEIT) and the multifactor leadership questionnaire (MLQ) Form 5X on 24 project managers and their associated projects. The MSCEIT Ability Test was employed to determine the relative emotional intelligence ability of project managers. The measures of interest include experiential and strategic emotional intelligence and their components. Team members and stakeholders responded to questions addressing the project manager's leadership style between four to nine months after project activities began and at the designated end of a project phase or milestone. The MLQ measures of interest are the leadership behaviors of attributed idealized influence, behavioral idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individual consideration, contingent rewards, active management-by-exception, passive management-by-exception, and laissez-faire (Leban and Zulauf 2004, 559-560).

Overall, emotional intelligence and the ability to understand emotions, was found to relate significantly with the inspirational motivation component of transformational leadership. In addition, the strategic use of emotional intelligence was found to relate significantly with the idealized influence (demonstration of high standards of conduct, self-sacrifice and determination) and individual consideration (provide support, mentoring and coaching while accepting follower's individual differences) components of transformational leadership (Leban and Zulauf 2004, 560).

Collectively, the findings of the study suggest that emotional intelligence as measured by the ability to understand and manage emotions can occur without necessarily perceiving feelings well or fully experiencing them. What is required involves a higher-level, conscious processing of emotions, with necessary reasoning about emotions, how they develop over time, how they may be managed, and how to fit emotional management into social situations. Such abilities are strategic in the sense that one may use such information to develop relationships by charting an emotional course for oneself and others according to personal and social needs (Leban and Zulauf 2004, 561).

The results of this study provide further evidence that project managers using a transformational leadership style and emotional intelligence abilities do enhance actual project performance. In addition, the study shows that there are a number of linkages between transformational leadership style and emotional intelligence ability. Further study into these areas should help identify content for appropriate education and training programs (Leban and Zulauf 2004, 562).

The International Project Management Association (IPMA) has defined 46 elements for assessing the competence of project participants. Of the 46 elements, 15 deal with the behavioral attributes of competent project participants. Nearly one-third deal with human qualities, while the remaining 31 address 20 technical elements of project management and 11 address the context in which project management is implemented (Ireland, 2006, 3).

These 15 behavioral attributes are compatible with Goleman's model of emotional intelligence and reflect the IPMA concentration on the human resource in projects. The 15 elements are shown in Table 1.

If one agrees that the human element of projects is important and that better management leads to better project results, then one can also agree emotional intelligence is important for a project manager. IPMA believes that human behavioral attributes are important as well, and devoted more than 30 percent of its competence elements to measuring human factors (Ireland 2006, 3).

Managing projects successfully requires a mixture of skills including interpersonal ability, technical competencies, and cognitive aptitude, along with the capability to understand the situation and the people, and then dynamically integrate appropriate leadership behaviors. Skills in managing relationships are critical to achieve stakeholder satisfaction through all stages of the project. Relationship skills complement the effectiveness of hard (technical) skills because project outcomes are achieved through people, using their knowledge and creativity not through the mere use of techniques or hardware. Creating the right relationships with team members and other stakeholders is one of the biggest challenges that face project managers. This requires them to cultivate both hard and soft skills (Pant and Baroudi 2001, 125). A clear understanding of the soft skills of project management and the ability to apply these skills effectively throughout the life cycle of a project will enhance success exponentially. Few projects fail because the Gantt chart/PERT/CPM is wrong, the roles/responsibilities were not mapped out in a matrix, or the cost charts were off. More often they fail because of a project manager's inability to communicate effectively, work within the organization's culture, motivate the project team, manage stakeholder expectations, understand the business objectives, solve problems effectively, and make clear and knowledgeable decisions (Belzer 2001, 2).