Project management to leadership

the role of emotional intelligence



As the project management profession continues to increase in complexity, there is a growing demand for leaders. Successful leadership is a dynamic process requiring both cognitive and emotional competencies, and “emotional intelligence” is the skill that distinguishes star performers. In today's changing business environment, project managers need not only to manage global, virtual, and multicultural projects, but also to establish a direction and align with the organization vision. The globalization of the workplace puts a special premium on emotional intelligence for project managers. Several studies demonstrate that strong leadership style and emotional intelligence leads to the success in implementing large and complex global initiatives.

With the changing business climate, the yardstick for measurement is the emotional competence of project managers and leaders. This presentation will examine the challenges/issues faced by project managers and how emotional intelligence helps drive success. Leadership excellence cannot be achieved by technical competence, but instead by character and emotional intelligence (Goleman, 2002).


This presentation addresses why “emotional intelligence” is an important skill required for transition from project management to leadership. An outline of the current business climate and how it impacts the project managers supervising large, global, and highly distributed projects is presented. The global nature of stakeholders emphasizes the need for strong leadership and emotional intelligence.

The Transition From Project Manager to Leader

In today's competitive business environment, strategic initiatives are implemented through projects. These projects in most cases consist of cross-functional teams. A project manager leads the team members as he has the primary responsibility of achieving project objectives. The project managers today are being called on to supervise projects that are global in nature. Due to this globalization, there is a sudden emphasis on project managers as leaders. Leadership is a skill that has been overshadowed by management over the last few decades, but now what is in demand is leadership.

Project managers today are not only required to maintain a degree of order but are also required to produce change and establish direction. This means that the project managers need to develop a vision that defines the key aspects of the organization and to communicate it to the team for strategic alignment. A project manager is accountable as a leader who motivates and energizes the team members, in order to complete the project as per the stakeholder's expectations.

Leadership Trends

“Influence and unleash the potential of the people and organization for greater good.” (Blanchard, 2006) This seems to be the new definition of leadership today. The leadership development field is rich with theories, models, techniques, and tools. In today's environment, effective leadership requires a collective, shared effort for the greater good.

In the current intense competitive environment, the old ways of doing business no longer work. In a challenging world, we need to develop new traits to promote creativity and empathize with global, diverse teams. Today's leader needs to draw more on his or her emotional competency than on his or her cognitive skills. In order to have a positive impact on team members, leaders today need to have additional traits such as empathy, political and cultural awareness, and skills of persuasion. In essence, emotional intelligence is an imperative leadership skill.

In the distributed and collaborative project environment, team leadership has a significant role. In order to lead a high-performing organization, the demand is for leadership to manage multigenerational teams consisting of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y individuals. With increasing global and diverse markets, decision making is often distributed and collaborative leadership is needed.

Emotional Intelligence

In this competitive global market, there is a greater demand on an individual's cognitive, emotional, and physical resources. This has put a special premium on emotional intelligence and made it a very valuable skill. This presentation will describe how the ability to manage feelings and handle stress—important aspects of emotional intelligence—helps one understand and manage human dynamics. Success as leaders is not defined by job skills, but by “EI”—a set of competencies that distinguishes how people manage feelings, interact, and communicate. Personal competence, knowledge, awareness, and social competence are the major aspects of the EI framework that is central to leadership.

Emotional Intelligence framework

Exhibit 1: Emotional Intelligence framework.


Anthony, M. (2003). Selling emotional intelligence. New York: Dearborn Trade Publishing /Kaplan Publishing.

Boyatzis R., Goleman D., McKee A. (2002). Primal leadership: Lead with emotional intelligence. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Blanchard, K. (2006). Leading at a higher level. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Financial Times / Prentice Hall.

Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J..(2005).The emotional intelligence quickbook. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc.

Collins, J. (2001).Good to great. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Consortium for research on emotional intelligence in organizations. Retrieved October 2008 from

Dittmer, B .(2007). Succeeding with EI. Dittmer Consulting LLC. Retrieved October 2008 from

Druskat, V. U., Wolff, S. B. (2001). Building the emotional intelligence of groups. Retrieved November 2008 from

Friedman, S. (2008, April). Be a better leader and have a richer life. Harvard Business Review, 112–118.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D.(1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

IBM study. (2008, May). Tomorrow's leadership landscape—Leaderships online labs. Harvard Business Review, 56–66.

Martin, A. (2007). A CCL whitepaper: Changing face of leadership. Retrieved October 2008 from

Maxwell, J. C. (1991).The 21 indispensable qualities of a leader. Coppell, TX: Nelson Books.

Sparrow, T. & Knight, A. (2006). Applied EI. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey Bass –A Wiley Imprint.

Stein, S. J. (2007). Make your workplace great. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

© 2009, Shobhna Raghupathy
Published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida



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