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26. How important is emotional intelligence for project managers?

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and international leader in emotional intelligence coaching.

Is emotional intelligence important for project managers? Yes! I am about to run an emotional intelligence workshop for project managers in the mining industry. Why? Because emotional intelligence can be of enormous benefit to them. 

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Why is emotional intelligence important for project managers?

Why is emotional intelligence important for project managers? Because project managers are dealing with people. That is the hardest part of project management. The hardest part of people to manage is their emotions and their emotionally driven behaviour. Yes, emotions drive people's behaviour and any project manger who is not aware of this will face difficulties.

Project managers need to be able to harness the emotions of the people they are dealing with to motivate them to get the project delivered on time, on specification and on budget. This doesn’t happen unless all the people are pulling in the same direction. Who is responsible for that? Yes, you guessed, the project manager! That is a skill requiring high levels of emotional intelligence.

They also need to be able to communicate the project brief clearly, to be able to ensure everyone involved understands the requirements, and to be able to convince everyone to meet the requirements. Therefore, once again, the project manager is managing communication and interpersonal skills - both of which require emotional intelligence. Project managers need to be able to accurately read the people they are delivering to.

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What happens when project managers have low emotional intelligence?

Project managers with low levels of emotional intelligence get surprises - they become surprised by the responses they get. Project managers with high levels of emotional intelligence can predict the responses they get and prepare for them accordingly.

Also, project management is a stressful job. Projects are delivered in high-pressured, tense situations, often with enormous challenges. The project manager has, therefore, to be able to handle stress, tension and pressure really well, and this is an emotional intelligence skill. They also have to be able to help their team handle the pressure too - managing the emotions of others is a high level emotional intelligence skill.

Project managers also need to be able to keep their cool. Things go wrong (today’s understatement!) in project management. If, over time they get criticised or things fail or people don’t deliver what they said they were going to deliver, and the project managers get angry and blow their tops, they are not going to keep people onside. And they are going to suffer. An emotionally wrecked project manager is not an effective one.

I hope this helps to explain the importance of emotional intelligence for project managers! It is high.

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