Project Management Institute

Intangible assets

VOICES | In the Trenches

Stop thinking of emotional intelligence as a mere people skill—it can save projects time and money.
By Sam Alkhatib, PMP

I ONCE WORKED ON A TEAM that experienced a major setback after the project manager left mid-project. When the new project manager was named, a team member felt slighted and angry. A longtime veteran with our firm, this employee felt passed over for someone he saw as a relative newcomer.

Blinded by his emotions, he informed our client that the new project manager was unqualified, rendering the team unfit for the work in the eyes of the client. His statements, a mere result of anger, damaged our team's credibility.

This was no way for the team member to prove he was ready to be a project manager, a position that requires poise under pressure. We've all experienced disgruntled team members—or maybe we've let our emotions get the best of us, too. Such situations call for better emotional intelligence (EI).

EI, the ability to identify and respond to one's own or others’ emotions, is a sound component of any project. Though technical expertise and business acumen matter, project managers with strong EI can better mitigate conflict and build trust with their team members.

In the example above, the project manager had the power to fire the team member. However, an emotionally intelligent project manager recognizes that firing an employee and then hiring and retraining a replacement has a definite impact on project cost and time. In addition to being cost-effective, it is always preferable to solve management issues through coaching and development.


An alternative approach—the one actually taken by the new project manager—was to treat the root cause of the problem. The project manager explained to the upset team member that management's choice didn't marginalize or undermine his efforts. It was a decision made to best support the needs of the project.

This discussion helped the team member realize that the move didn't represent a slight or personal insult. It was purely a business decision. And though the team member acted inappropriately, the project manager diffused his anger, earned respect in the process and retained him as a valuable resource on the project, saving time and money.

The Makings of a Leader

To maximize hiring decisions, organizations should look for these EI attributes in potential project managers:

  • Self-restraint, the ability to express negative feelings calmly and sensibly
  • Empathy, the ability to recognize emotions in other people
  • Communications skills, the ability to facilitate and foster stakeholder relationships

Organizations could use a variety of tests to determine employees’ EI levels. The 360-degree assessment, for example, gathers EI feedback from a team member's manager and peers. But an effective, low-cost and less time-consuming method is simply for executives to observe a project manager during the course of a project. Just as a project manager's intelligence is made visible by his or her ability to perform the work, a project manager's emotional intelligence is made visible by his or her leadership ability.

Based on my observations, a project manager with excellent EI saves time and money. PM


img Sam Alkhatib, PMP, is an engineering manager at Cupertino Electric, Inc., San Francisco, California, USA.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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