Project manager, Ana Bertacchini, examines the importance of emotional intelligence for project managers and how best practice methods such as PRINCE2® can help.
Emotional intelligence is about managing and understanding emotions – both your own and others’. Unlike the IQ you’re born with, you can develop and increase emotional intelligence. To be a good leader – and project manager – it’s something you should always improve.
Why emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is key to excellent leadership because regardless of your technical knowledge, when you progress up the career ladder it always comes down to people and, more specifically, managing people.
A good leader is self-aware and able to regulate their emotions. They motivate a team and show empathy to help bring people together; managing relationships, encouraging collaboration and helping others resolve conflict.
And the lack of emotional intelligence has an impact on leadership: it’s said people don’t leave companies, they leave managers and I believe that’s true. If people are micromanaged, they don’t work to their best and that’s a sign that their manager lacks a holistic approach to people management.
A good manager effectively manages their own and other people’s shortcomings. Critically, they lead not manage. People need to be motivated to want to do something for you rather than be told or pestered via email.
The role of emotional intelligence in wellbeing
As well as affecting employee relationships, a culture of emotional intelligence creates a better working environment and greater wellbeing.
A positive working environment means you’re understood and feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them. In fact, the way managers handle mistakes is a great example of how people respond in different environments. When a person feels under pressure and micromanaged, they’ll try to cover up a mistake. But those who feel empowered will share the problem and work as a team to resolve and learn from it. Mistakes therefore become learning opportunities and encourage better team interaction.
An environment without emotional intelligence brings increased stress levels and is not a positive place to be. We must remember: no one wakes up in the morning and thinks they want to do a bad job today. Leaders must assume that people are doing their best and treat them as such.
Improving emotional intelligence in project management
Project management has a degree of focus on communication that naturally encourages things like face-to-face interaction and, in turn, creates more emotionally intelligent leadership; however, more can be done.
Emotional intelligence is something that you never stop improving and this is especially important as our roles and working environments evolve. We’re increasingly working in complex, international teams in remote offices and with a broader demographic of people, so we need to keep improving how we lead.
Fortunately, emotional intelligence is something you can develop through good coaching techniques. While mentoring is about shadowing and learning, coaching explores your inner abilities and what you would do in a certain situation. Executive coaching doesn’t have to involve an external consultant. If a team just agrees to trust each other and work together, this fosters the right environment.
PRINCE2 can also aid emotional intelligence as it helps structure communications. The Lessons Learnt exercise is an excellent example of this as it encourages conversation around a project. Also, if things haven’t gone to plan, it helps you move on from it.
Project managers should push themselves and their team to do these exercises as it’s important to talk openly about how we can support each other better. Equally, it promotes organizational learning and breeds knowledge within a team.
When working in banking, we used this approach regularly. On many projects, operational and front office colleagues didn’t really talk and therefore didn’t understand what their counterparts were trying to achieve. By talking, they learnt empathy and can therefore work better together. In these Lessons Learnt scenarios I’ve definitely “thrown myself under the bus” a few times; but doing that in the safety of a group is very liberating and has an overall positive impact on your wellbeing.
Ultimately, emotional intelligence comes down to authenticity – being genuine in your understanding of people and wanting to bring a team together. As managers and leaders, we must understand that people are different and so coach and support them accordingly.
Leaders can always do more for their teams: it’s not always about the things they do. Emotional intelligence is a mindset that, when it’s deployed, is empowering and rewarding.
Read Ana Bertacchini's previous AXELOS Blog Post, The multi-faceted project manager.