Training Manual for Managing Complexities and Ambiguities in Projects

A Practical Manual for Project Managers to Help Accept and Manage Ambiguity



Click HERE to download the PDF



This training program provides tools, recommendations, and actionable strategies to assist project managers in dealing with complexities and ambiguities in their projects. The manual is informed by the insights from a two-year research project investigating the tolerance of ambiguity in project managers, funded by the Project Management Institute.

Firstly, the manual provides a brief description of the key concepts of ambiguity and tolerance of ambiguity in projects. Secondly, a typology of the most common types of ambiguities in projects is provided. Finally, the manual offers a number of practical recommendations, activities, and tools for dealing with ambiguous situations in projects, across four domains: (1) mastering knowledge and information-seeking capability; (2) mastering emotional capability; (3) mastering critical thinking and problem-focused coping, and (4) mobilizing organizational resources.


Why Being Competent at Managing Ambiguity is Important

Project managers are regularly confronted with complex and ambiguous situations in their projects. Time pressures and competing priorities, common to project work, are the reasons why dealing with ambiguous situations is even more challenging in the context of projects. This training manual is designed to help project managers recognize and deal with project complexities, which can have a positive effect on project performance and increase the well-being of project managers. Recognizing that most of the training programs that project managers receive is on managing technical aspects of the project, we developed this manual to assist project managers in dealing with project complexities, which in addition to technical aspects, also includes those related to managing challenging tasks and managing people.

Key Concepts

Ambiguity is characterized by complete or partial lack of information or inconsistent information about a situation at a given point in time. This incomplete or lack of information impacts decision-making and often evokes negative emotions, such as stress or anxiety, and can have long-term consequences on job satisfaction and burnout. The ability to effectively recognize and manage ambiguous situations is seen as an important competency of successful project managers.

Tolerance of ambiguity (TOA) is the tendency to perceive ambiguous situations as desirable and to competently manage these situations. TOA comprises three dimensions: (1) comfort with ambiguity, (2) desire for challenging work and, (3) managing ambiguity.


Comfort with ambiguity

reflects the extent to which project managers remain calm and composed when confronted with ambiguous and uncertain situations in their projects. Project managers with a high level of comfort with ambiguity are not afraid to experience ambiguity. They stay calm and relaxed when exposed to complex issues. Project managers with a low level of comfort with ambiguity prefer working on clear and familiar tasks, and often feel stressed and anxious when confronted with ambiguous or complex tasks in their projects.


Desire for challenging work

reflects project managers’ tendency to seek out novelty and challenge in their work. Project managers with a high desire for challenging work like engaging with complex situations, are comfortable taking on tasks they have not done before, and seek new and challenging opportunities. They are not afraid to take risks and tend to experience boredom easily. Project managers with a low desire for challenging work tend to seek more repetitive tasks with well-defined and clear goals. They tend to be more cautious when confronted with risky situations.


Managing ambiguity

reflects project managers’ ability to navigate ambiguity when it occurs. Project managers with high scores in this dimension are also able to better recognize ambiguous situations and take steps to know specific details about the situation. They are good at planning how to best respond to ambiguous situations by drawing from their networks, being open to different solutions and applying problem-solving tactics. Project managers with low scores in this dimension tend to struggle when dealing with ambiguous and complex situations in their projects.

Project managers can take this quick assessment1 to evaluate their TOA:


Add the values to calculate your individual TOA score:

6–10 indicates a low tolerance of ambiguity

11–15 indicates a moderate tolerance of ambiguity

16–18 indicates a high tolerance of ambiguity


Types of Ambiguities in Projects

Project managers can experience ambiguities in every phase of the project life cycle and across different types of projects. Our study identified seven main categories of ambiguous situations and 17 subthemes. To identify types of ambiguous situations in projects, we used survey data collected from 312 project managers (43.6% males, 56.4% females) who collectively described 778 ambiguous situations they recently experienced in their projects. Participants’ average age was 45.94 years (SD = 13.21) and ranged from 21 to 82 years. Most participants (58%) had five or more years of experience in managing projects. Participants came from a range of industries: professional, scientific, and technical services (19.9%); construction (10.9%); manufacturing (9.6%); information, media, and telecommunications (6.7%); healthcare and social assistance (6.1%); financial and insurance services (5.1%); public administration and safety (4.8%); and education and training (4.8%) among others.

Most of the ambiguities that project managers experienced in their projects stemmed from task complexity. These ambiguities accounted for 36.65% of all situations in our dataset. This was followed by ambiguities associated with core aspects of project management, such as managing project progress, project resources, and project scope, totaling 135 (19.18%) ambiguous situations in our dataset. The third most frequent type of ambiguity experienced by project managers was ambiguity associated with managing stakeholders, totaling 129 (18.33%) situations. The table below describes these ambiguities and provides examples.

img Ambiguity stemming from task complexity

img Ambiguity related to task coordination

For example, coordinating complex project deliverables, coordinating work, coordinating document access.

img Ambiguity related to task novelty

Tasks that have never been done before and where limited knowledge existed to comfortably approach these tasks.

img Ambiguity related to challenging problems

Tasks where it was unclear to the project manager how to best proceed.

img Ambiguity associated with core aspects of project management

img Ambiguity related to managing progress

Ambiguities affecting timely project progress. For example, lack of clear time line or waiting for an issue to be resolved in order to progress with the project.

img Ambiguity related to managing resources

Ambiguities related to uncertainties around resource allocation and access to resources (i.e., human, financial, and/or time resources). For example, the removal of funds or the decision to hire more workers.

img Ambiguity related to managing scope

Ambiguities related to limited information regarding project requirements. For example, starting a new project without all the customer input on what they want to achieve. Providing estimates for the project when we don't have the full scope or requirements.

img Ambiguity associated with managing stakeholders

img Ambiguity related to managing conflict

Ambiguities in communication with stakeholders, and obtaining information from and getting access to stakeholders. For example, conflict with other tradesmen. Conflicts of interest between manager and the customer.

img Ambiguity related to managing expectations

Uncertainties around dealing with high or changing stakeholder expectations. For example, trying to manage a process when the customer changes the path first approved by both parties.

img Ambiguity related to stakeholder engagement

Involved ambiguities related to dealing with difficult stakeholders and handling disagreements. For example, a customer stated changes to a particular requirement, but didn't confirm them officially. Project manager received very late contradictory direction from major stakeholders. Contractor has not submitted a schedule going forward.

img Ambiguities associated with managing the project's human resources

img Ambiguity related to human resources

Uncertainties around the skill set and capabilities required to perform project tasks. These include decisions around hiring new staff, personnel leaving or taking extended leave, working with an inexperienced or incompetent team member, and managing people who lacked commitment. For example, lack of responsiveness from team members. Employees are moving around constantly, which requires retraining every now and then.

img Ambiguity related to leadership

For example, no support from upper management. Managers not wanting to listen to options, causing employees to be disgruntled.

img Ambiguity related to relational conflict

Ambiguities around disagreements with coworkers. For example, dealing with a coworker who oversteps boundaries and gives advice to people above their position.

img Ambiguity related to task conflict

Ambiguities around disagreements about how to carry out a task. For example, unavailability of entire team to meet at [the] same time. Differing views on how something should be designed.

img Ambiguity stemming from insufficient task and role information

img Task ambiguity

Uncertainties related to limited information about project tasks. For example, uncertainty regarding document version to use among those listed in the system.

img Role ambiguity

Insufficient information about one's role (i.e., lack of role clarity). For example, no single owner for a crucial series of tasks. Not knowing the appropriate person to verify changes the team made to meet new compliance regulations. Multiple teams claiming ownership over projects.

img Ambiguity associated with mistakes and errors

Ambiguity caused by project aspects that were faulty or inappropriately conducted.

img Ambiguity resulting from unforeseen circumstances and occurrences

Ambiguities around aspects that were unexpected and impossible to predict, such as unpredicted weather conditions, stolen equipment/materials, or unexpected personal circumstances, such as divorce or sickness.

Results from our study revealed that project managers tend to be more effective in managing ambiguous situations stemming from task complexity and ambiguity associated with mistakes and errors. However, they are less confident when dealing with ambiguities associated with managing people, such as ambiguities around managing stakeholders’ expectations, dealing with unreliable suppliers, or obtaining information from stakeholders or team members.

This training manual is designed to help project managers dealing with different types of ambiguous situations, with a particular focus on developing the soft skills necessary to build strong networks, identify relevant knowledge, manage emotions, and cope with stress.

Strategies for Dealing With Ambiguities in Projects

This training manual offers practical strategies, tips, and exercises that will assist project managers in dealing with complex and ambiguous situations in their projects. We divided this manual into four domains designed to assist project managers in recognizing challenges in their projects, remaining calm when faced with challenging tasks, and providing tools to more effectively deal with these challenges:


Mastering knowledge and information-seeking capability


Mastering emotional capability


Mastering critical thinking and problem-focused coping


Mobilizing organizational resources


Mastering Knowledge and Information-Seeking Capability

Access to knowledge and information helps in better understanding and dealing with challenging situations. Without sufficient information about ambiguous situations, project managers can feel stressed and anxious. Talking to others, researching, reading, referring to past experiences and lessons learned from fellow project managers, using peer networks, and utilizing communities of practice can help project managers locate relevant information about the situation and minimize uncertainty. Our research found that two practices in particular assisted project managers in mastering knowledge and information-seeking capability and gaining access to valuable knowledge. These two practices include: (1) tapping into networks and (2) encouraging transparent communication.


Tap into your networks

Our research found that network use is a highly effective strategy project managers can use to deal with ambiguities in projects. Therefore, when experiencing ambiguity in projects, we encourage project managers to use their existing networks to gain relevant knowledge and information that will assist them in dealing with such situations.

We recommend new and less experienced project managers, who may not yet have extensive professional networks, invest time in connecting with organizational members and peers inside and outside their organization to build their networks. Below is the list of specific activities that project managers do to use their networks effectively when encountering ambiguous situations.

Where possible, project managers should avoid ambiguous situations and be proactive in terms of the following:

Connect with diverse experts or relevant stakeholders to reduce unknowns about ambiguous situations and seek information about the situation (e.g., when dealing with a novel task or using a new process).

Use networks as a sounding board to bounce ideas off and assist with brainstorming solutions to potential problems caused by ambiguity.

Be open to ideas from others and challenge their own assumptions.

Maintain networks by periodically touching base and providing assistance to colleagues and peers.


Encourage transparent communication

Our research revealed that transparency reduces ambiguity. Transparent communication can be used to effectively manage project ambiguities such as those around project expectations, stakeholders’ requirements, and time line uncertainties. Honest and transparent communication can help to obtain clarifying information and reveal issues that may arise during projects. Here is the list of actions that our research demonstrated can help project managers ensure more transparent communication in their projects:

1. Encourage face-to-face interactions. Whenever possible, encourage frequent face-to-face interactions, both formal and informal, with team members and project stakeholders. For example, consider conducting daily 10-minute progress meetings, lunch, or coffee meetings; periodically invite project stakeholders to give them information on project progress; and seek their feedback and input.

2. Provide honest and constructive feedback to team members and relevant stakeholders. For example, hold ‘ask me anything’ sessions to provide opportunities for sharing information, updates, and to promote collaboration.

3. Share knowledge. Give project team members and relevant stakeholders access to project information, for example, information about project progress, resources assigned to tasks, and project risks. That information can be stored on a shared project site where team members and stakeholders have access. When sharing information with your team, do not forget to provide context to avoid misunderstanding and be mindful not to disclose sensitive information.

4. Clearly describe the situation. Use clear and concise terms to describe what you want. Don't ask: “Could you fix this problem?” Do ask: “Would you talk to the client before Wednesday and find out more about the requirement?”

5. Be clear and assertive. Say what you need to say and clearly get your point across. Don't say: “I don't know when the project will be finished” Do say: “It is possible that the project will be delayed because we haven't received parts from the supplier on time.”

6. Show interest by listening to the other person without interrupting. Don't forget to project positive body language and say “thank you” to acknowledge the work well done. (See below for our advice on practicing active listening.)


Mastering Emotional Capability

Our research revealed that project managers’ ability to recognize and modify emotions in themselves and others can help them more effectively deal with ambiguities they experience in projects. Our data confirmed that this was particularly the case when ambiguities were related to people issues, which was also the form of ambiguity project managers tended to struggle with the most. A well-balanced and empathetic project manager who is aware of the surrounding social dynamics is more effective in remaining calm when faced with ambiguity, navigating through uncertainty, and creating trusting relationships that make people feel safe to disclose relevant information.

Emotionally intelligent people are able to recognize and manage their own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Project managers high in emotional intelligence are able to actively listen and effectively participate in communication while staying aware of the more silent nonverbal cues and body language. Our research identified two aspects of emotional capability that help project managers dealing with ambiguities in projects: (1) emotional regulation and coping with stress and (2) practicing empathy.

Emotional regulation reflects the extent to which individuals are able to control and manage their emotions and impulses. It involves awareness of inner feelings and reflecting and learning from their own and others’ successes and mistakes. Similarly, coping with stress is the ability to manage one's own stress and destructive feelings (such as anxiety, anger, or sadness) by stopping negative thoughts, stepping aside, reframing problems, gaining perspective, and taking time to relax and reenergize.

Practicing empathy is the ability to relate to others’ emotions and see the world from their perspective. It also involves the ability to swiftly develop relationships of trust and credibility by being authentic and trustworthy. Practicing empathy can help project managers develop improved ability to communicate effectively and build strong connections with others.

Our research found that strengthening these two aspects of emotional capability helps project managers create a trusting environment in which project team members and project stakeholders feel safe to speak up and disclose information. Greater emotional capability is useful for project managers to better recognize the situation and encourage others to open up and share information needed to solve challenging and ambiguous situations. When project managers can remain calm in the face of ambiguity, they are well positioned to approach a problem with rational rather than emotional strategies.


Add the values to calculate your individual TOA score:

14–20—indicates a low level of emotional capability

21–35—indicates a moderate level of emotional capability

36–42—indicates a high level of emotional capability


Emotional Regulation and Stress Coping

Emotional regulation and stress coping refer to how an individual is able to control and manage their emotions and impulses. Emotional regulation can help project managers remain calm and composed when faced with a challenging situation, even if the situation triggers negative feelings such as stress or anger. Project managers who can effectively regulate their emotions and cope with stress are able to better understand and accept negative emotions such as frustration, fear, anger, and worry. Identifying these emotions and understanding their sources can help project managers better respond to challenging situations. In this section, we provide a list of practices that will help project managers better cope with stressful situations and challenges in their projects.

Research on self-regulation and insights from positive psychology suggest a range of practical tips to help regulate one's emotion. We adopted these to the workplace context of managing projects based partially on our interviews and quantitative data.

1. Observe your emotion. Acknowledge that it exists, stand back from it, and get yourself unstuck from it. Do not necessarily act on the emotion; having the emotion does not mean that you have to act. You may just need to sit with the emotion.

2. Change the way you think about the situation to stay calm. Gain perspective of the situation. If required, leave the room or go for a walk to collect your thoughts and gain perspective.

3. Practice mindfulness to become more aware of your emotions and feelings. Breathing exercises are very helpful in assisting people to remain calm. Even people who have never tried mindfulness techniques can adopt this simple breathing strategy. When you are experiencing a negative emotion at work (for example, you are stressed because the task that should have been finalized long ago is slowing down progress of the project and you don't know when this will be finalized, or you are frustrated because key stakeholders do not agree with what they want the final product to look like); in these or similar situations, take 10 deep breaths before reacting to the situation. This will help you calm your emotions, gain perspective on the situation, and see the situation more clearly.

4. Avoid blaming others; instead acknowledge that people make mistakes because it is a part of the learning. Instead of getting angry and blaming others, tap into your network. Consider who and how they can help you resolve the situation.

To assist with these practical strategies, we suggest you enter these practices into a small notebook and review them daily. Then, on a weekly basis, reflect and make notes on how you applied these tips in relevant situations. Think about how you could have approached situations differently, and apply such insights into your behavior in future, similar situations.


Practicing Empathy

Practicing empathy is an integral aspect of emotional intelligence. Understanding others through practicing empathy can assist project managers in being more sensitive toward others and better communicate with others by identifying their emotional cues through active listening and greater awareness of the surroundings. This in turn will help project managers gain trust and access important information needed to solve complex project issues. Practicing empathy can help project managers develop greater social awareness and build strong connections with others.

Techniques to try:


Empathize with the speaker.

Try placing yourself in the shoes of the speaker and try to understand their point of view. Try not to interrupt or use judgment; instead, show concern and interest. This will help in creating a congenial and trusting environment where speakers (project team members or stakeholders) will be encouraged to share knowledge.


Active listening.

When communicating with your team members and stakeholders pay attention to the other person very carefully. Show your desire to listen by maintaining eye contact and using signs to acknowledge that you are paying attention. Focus on the nonverbal cues, put aside distractive thoughts, ask clarifying questions, take notes, be open-minded toward the speaker and give them time to express themselves. Provide feedback to make sure you have understood the content as intended by the speaker and ask for more information if required.


Mastering Critical Thinking and Problem-Focused Coping

Our research demonstrated that critical thinking—the ability to select, categorize, and infer information—helps project managers in dealing with complex and ambiguous situations. The project managers we interviewed used visual roadmaps, diagrams, and drawings, and built visual plans to unpack complex problems and better understand challenging situations. Using these tools helped project managers to categorize ambiguous situations and divide complexities of the situation into more manageable pieces that they could visualize, rethink, and anticipate. Below we present useful frameworks and activities that can assist project managers in mastering critical thinking and problem-focused coping to better deal with ambiguous situations.


Using mind mapping for visualizing complex problems

Mind mapping is a useful technique to visually unpack a complex and ambiguous situation. A mind map provides a visual diagram that captures, organizes, and links components of the situation. Breaking complex situations into smaller components can help project managers understand root causes of problems, factors affecting ambiguous situations, and options for solving such situations. There are easy to use and free to access mind-mapping tools available online, for example:

To create a mind map for dealing with a complex and ambiguous situation, first draw a circle in the center of a page and write the problem you wish to solve (you can do that manually on a piece of paper or use mind-mapping software). Next, add branches to your map, from the middle circle. For example: reasons the problem occurs, factors affecting the problem, and possible solutions. You can keep adding branches to include more ideas. Project managers can engage team members, relevant stakeholders, and experts to jointly develop a mind map of an ambiguous situation, and identify its components, causes, and ideas for dealing with the situation.


Using the Cynefin Framework for Categorizing Ambiguous Situations

The Cynefin framework is a conceptual framework used to aid decision-making, discussed in the Harvard Business Review article by Snowden and Boone. Effective leaders deal with complex situations following these three steps: assess the situation, categorize the situation, and respond to the situation. The Cynefin framework helps categorize complex situations according to four “domains:”

Obvious (or simple) contexts are characterized by stability and clear cause-and-effect relationships that are easily discernible and apparent to everyone involved. Be mindful not to oversimplify the obvious contexts, which can occur due to inadequate assessment of the situation, groupthink (when group desire for conformity results in suboptimal decision-making outcomes), or overconfidence based on past successes.

Complicated contexts tend to have several root causes or symptoms and a number of possible solutions, which may not be apparent to everyone. To effectively deal with complicated situations, project managers may first assess the situation and what is known and not known about the situation. It is also advised that project managers engage experts to provide more information about the situation. Complicated contexts call for investigating several options, where every option may be potentially suitable. This may lead to potential ‘analysis paralysis,’ where a group of experts are unable to agree on which option to select. Choosing the final option can often take a lot of time.

Complex contexts are those for which the most effective solution is difficult to identify and may require project managers to make decisions based on incomplete data or incomplete information. Complex contexts are often unpredictable, which makes decision-making more difficult due to an inability to envisage the future. If possible, it is advisable to be patient and spend some time looking for patterns and emerging insights that will help make more informed decisions.

Chaotic contexts are those where searching for the right answers is impossible or even pointless. Those situations resemble dealing with crises or emergencies. These situations tend to be very dynamic, hence the relationships between causes and effects are impossible to determine. When faced with chaotic situations, project managers are advised to first act to establish order and then work to transform the situation from chaos to complexity, where the identification of emerging patterns and symptoms is possible.


Problem-focused coping activity

Our research revealed that task focus or problem-focused coping can help project managers in dealing with ambiguous and complex situations. It involves efforts to explore the problem, generate various options to solve the problem, evaluate the pros and cons of different options, and implement steps to solve the problem. We draw from our own research findings and previous interventions on problem-focused coping to design this problem-focused coping activity that could assist project managers in addressing ambiguous situations in projects:

This activity will take 20 minutes of your time:

Step 1. Find a quiet space where you can focus.

Step 2. Think about an ambiguous situation you are currently experiencing in your project.

Step 3. Consider different options for dealing with this situation and briefly write these options on a piece of paper.

Step 4. Consider the pros and cons for each of these options. Write these down.

Step 5. Spend 10 minutes evaluating these options and their advantages and disadvantages.

Step 6. Select the most plausible option.

Step 7. Now provide more detail about the option you have chosen. Specify time frames, resources required, specific people required, and relevant short- and long-term goals.

If you are uncertain about your option, consider talking to people who have experienced similar situations in the past. Engage people who could do something more concrete with the situation.


Mobilizing Organizational Resources

Our empirical data identified three organizational resources that help project managers embrace and more effectively deal with challenging and ambiguous situations in their projects: (1) leadership support, (2) learning culture, and (3) time and space to explore ambiguous situations.


Provide leadership support to help project managers tolerate and embrace ambiguity

Findings from our research demonstrated that ‘leadership support’ is an important resource for project managers when it comes to dealing with ambiguous situations. Our research revealed that project managers who maintain strong and trusting relationships with their leaders feel supported and more confident to talk about concerns and challenges they experience in their projects. Leadership support provides project managers with psychological safety and the confidence to act on ambiguity. When there is no support or trust, project managers reported they become risk-averse and more fearful when faced with a complex task.

" "Psychological safely with my leader… Being able to say I don't know, I'll get back to you and that is ok. Rather than feeling like I have to have an answer right then... If this safety is not there, people are not helping each other."

(Project manager, Internal change and improvements projects, Female)"

Leaders, senior managers, program managers, or project management coaches, can provide support and psychological safety to project managers by practicing openness and active listening. This can be achieved by providing project managers with a safe and trusting environment, in which they can express their concerns and openly share issues they have experienced in their projects. It is also a good practice for more senior project managers, project management coaches, and mentors to provide project managers with ongoing constructive feedback, openly share areas for improvement, and provide tips and guidance for approaching complex and ambiguous situations.


Ensure learning cultures to support project managers with ambiguities

Organizational cultures that value learning, experimenting, sharing knowledge, and risk-taking, promote an environment in which project managers are more effective when dealing with ambiguities. Such cultures help create an atmosphere in which project managers feel safe and are more willing to speak up, disclose their opinions (even those that are unpopular), reveal their own shortcomings, and take risks, without fear of being criticized or punished. These ‘learning cultures’ encourage knowledge sharing within and between projects, which help others to solve problems and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Changing or adjusting culture always takes time. However, there is a range of strategies that can help promote desirable values, norms, and behaviors. Senior leaders can play an important role by modeling desirable behaviors (for example, by admitting mistakes and communicating openly). Senior leaders can also use stories to highlight and promote desirable behaviors. New cultural norms can be reinforced by adjusting performance indicators to reward culturally consistent behaviors. For example, project managers can be rewarded for their knowledge sharing and collaboration efforts. Finally, culture can be strengthened by recruiting people who live by and already represent desirable values.


Provide project managers with time and space to explore ambiguous situations

Project environments are fast-paced, and decisions have to be made quickly. In such environments, there is not much time for project managers to evaluate complex and ambiguous situations, which in turn affects their effectiveness in dealing with ambiguity.

Ambiguity is characterized by complete or partial lack of information or inconsistent information about a situation. More information about the situation can decrease the level of ambiguity. Gathering information and reflecting on the situation require resources such as time, space, and access to relevant people or documents. Our empirical data demonstrated that project managers often lack sufficient time to properly understand, evaluate, and reflect on ambiguous situations. Although it may seem counterproductive, our research found that extra time and resources dedicated to reflecting and searching for relevant information about the situation can be a good investment that may help avoid problems in the long term.

" "[I need] time to make me familiar and for me to face the uncertainty. Time to discover, to explore. Build a mental model. Uncertainty just dissolves the more [you are] familiar with the uncertainty yourself. "

(Project manager, IT projects, Male)"

" "We could work our way through, solving issues one by one, but in a few years, the issues will still be there and need to be resolved. In investing additional time in understanding why, what purpose, and where there is alignment, may feel slow, but we were unpacking the complexity upfront. This manages some order to the chaos going forward."

(Project manager, Internal change and improvements projects, Female)"

Sufficient time and resources are essential for project managers to more effectively deal with ambiguous situations in their projects. Project managers need time to obtain information about the situation from various sources, and evaluate and reflect on that information. Our research demonstrated that project managers lack time to properly explore ambiguous situations, which in turn prevents them from making optimal decisions when solving ambiguities. We recommend that project-based organizations provide physical and/or virtual space for project managers to connect and interact with people not only within, but also outside their project teams, and encourage project managers to participate in informal networking opportunities and relevant communities of practice.



Ackerman, C. E. (2021). 21 emotion regulation worksheets & strategies from

Baker, J. P., & Berenbaum, H. (2007). Emotional approach and problem-focused coping: A comparison of potentially adaptive strategies. Cognition and Emotion, 21(1), 95–118.

Bagshaw, M. (2000). Emotional intelligence—Training people to be affective so they can be effective. Industrial and Commercial Training, 32(2), 61–65.

Budner, S. N. Y. (1962). Intolerance of ambiguity as a personality variable. Journal of Personality, 30(1), 29–50.

Gray, K., & Ulbrich, F. (2017). Ambiguity acceptance and translation skills in the project management literature. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 10(2), 423–450.

Hagen, M., & Park, S. (2013). Ambiguity acceptance as a function of project management: A new critical success factor. Project Management Journal, 44(2), 52–66.

Hall, J. (2019). 10 things leaders do to promote transparency in the workplace.

O'Connor, P., Becker, K., & Fewster, K. (2018, July 1–5). Tolerance of ambiguity at work predicts leadership, job performance, and creativity [Paper presentation]. Creating Uncertainty Conference 2018. Ascona, Switzerland.

Rane, D. B. (2011). Good listening skills make efficient business sense. IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 5(4), 43–51.

Slaski, M., & Cartwright, S. (2003), Emotional intelligence training and its implications for stress, health and performance. Stress and Health, 19(4), 233–239.

Snowden, D. J., & Boone, M. E. (2007). A leader's framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review, 85(11), 68–76.


This research was funded by a Project Management Institute research grant. The authors are grateful for the financial contribution, which made this research possible.

Author Biographies

Anna Wiewiora is an Associate Professor in the School of Management at the QUT Business School, Australia. Anna uses applied research to solve practical problems with the focus on building learning and innovation capabilities within complex and time-limited project environments. Her research on building learning capabilities in project organizations attracts attention from academia and industry. Anna obtained her PhD from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 2012. Anna has published her work in 40+ peer-reviewed journals, conferences, and industry reports. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter O'Connor is a Professor in the School of Management at the QUT Business School, Australia. He conducts research and consults on a range of topics, including leadership, personality, tolerance of ambiguity, creativity, and emotional intelligence. He has published more than 50 academic journal articles and his work has been covered in a range of media outlets, including Scientific American, The Washington Post, and The International Business Times. Peter received his postgraduate training in organizational psychology and received his PhD from the University of Queensland, Australia. He can be contacted at [email protected]


1 Please note that this assessment is for self-reflective purposes only. It is not a validated measure and should not be used to formally compare, hire, or evaluate project managers.

Please note that this assessment is for self-reflective purposes only. It is not a validated measure and should not be used to formally compare, hire, or evaluate project managers.



Related Content