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The EQ Factor: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters for Project Managers

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By Vijay Khatnani, Managing Partner, J2 Solutions

In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of assessing a candidate’s emotional intelligence (EQ) in the hiring practices of managers. Emotional intelligence has come to the forefront of our working environment, and today I’ll be expanding on the topic as it pertains to project managers.

But first, what is emotional intelligence? In my mind, it’s all about having acute emotional awareness—towards both oneself and others—and being able to use that information to guide one’s thinking and actions. Essentially, an emotionally intelligent person has the ability to assess a situation, a person or a group of people at a deeper level—beyond what’s going on at the surface.

Although IQ has long been the gold standard for measuring a person’s intellect, newer thinking revolves around the idea that the innate ability to perceive the emotions of others is also a form of intelligence. And the good news is that while IQ is a rather fixed state, EQ is more fluid—which means it can be learned.

Why does this matter to today’s project manager?

EQ can mean the difference between an effective leader and one who struggles to deliver on his or her objectives. Here’s why: Project managers are responsible for the initiation, planning, design, execution, monitoring and closure of a project. But in order to ensure the most successful outcome, they must possess the flexibility that enables them to build relationships, influence, collaborate and negotiate. Without a doubt, emotionally intelligent project managers can navigate through those functions with relative ease while assuring that the needs of the greater good are met.

Let’s take a deeper dive into why emotionally intelligent project managers are able to achieve a greater level of success:

  1. They foster a positive team environment. Though project managers may not be in traditional management roles, they are responsible for motivating team members to think innovatively and work to their potential. Project managers with a high EQ can relate on a deeper level and refine their approach based on the team’s collective emotional makeup. When project managers provide leadership and model enthusiasm, compassion and commitment to achieving goals, the team is more motivated, better aligned and ultimately positioned to deliver successful project outcomes.
  2. They overcome barriers. High EQ project managers not only recognize the value in leveraging the potential of others to problem-solve but also know how to diffuse a potentially toxic situation without allowing it to impact the team. When faced with roadblocks, they use diplomacy to reach a resolution before it escalates. In essence, emotionally intelligent project managers are able to recognize and manage emotions in themselves and in others to turn problems and conflict into opportunities.
  3. They collaborate inter-departmentally. With an innate ability to understand company culture, successful project managers can influence not only their own project teams but also the organization as a whole. They have an overall awareness of what’s going on business-wide—from internal change to strategic business priorities and more—which allows them to communicate more empathetically and lead more confidently. Even across groups with competing priorities, emotionally intelligent project managers know how to positively influence relationships to achieve collaboration. Productive interdepartmental collaboration, while not always easy to navigate, can be achieved by emotionally intelligent project managers—and this can greatly alter results.
  4. They effectively manage change. Project alterations are often needed when deemed necessary to adjust the scope, time or cost of a project deliverable—and that change must be managed from both a technology and a people perspective. High EQ project managers can adapt to these changes with a unified approach that ensures the structure, processes and tools are in place to make this happen. They also have an understanding of the impact the changes may have on the affected parties.
  5. They know that one size does not fit all. At J2, we refer to this as “Flexology.” Using this method, high EQ project managers are able to modify a standard project implementation process to what works for specific cultures, environments and requirements. Highly aware of their surroundings and the various dynamics that might affect the project at hand, emotionally intelligent project managers are flexible in their approach. They understand that fluidity is a must, as no two projects are the same.

How does a project manager sharpen his or her EQ skills?

It all starts by looking inward. EQ has become an essential trait for a skillful project manager and is one of the biggest predictors of a project team’s success and project outcomes.

Begin by observing how you feel and how you react to certain situations. Be willing to question your own opinions and take responsibility for your feelings, good or bad. If you have a keen sense of yourself and know how to handle your emotions and reactions, you’ll be able to fine-tune your instincts. With that comes empathy, the ability to communicate more effectively and, ultimately, a long and successful career.