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Your monthly dose of Project Management articles.

Emotional Intelligence in Project Management (by Milvio)

Emotional intelligence is typically defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. As a project manager, a large part of the day-to-day is focused on managing the multitude of stakeholder relationships. Project managers depend on people to respond to the outputs, capabilities, outcomes, benefits and/or value that they design, build, test and deploy to customers. However, people will only respond if they are emotionally engaged. So the phrase ‘stakeholder management’ implies that these people can be made to respond positively to transformational business change, but the truth is that a project manager frequently has no formal power of authority and therefore has to rely on engagement and emotional intelligence to successfully deliver agreed organisational (including strategic) objectives in terms of collective business, user and supplier interests.


Daniel Goleman, renowned author in emotional intelligence explains that emotional intelligence consists of five fundamental capabilities – self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy and nurturing relationships. These invaluable skills are needed to lead and successfully manage any complex transformational and business change programmes and projects.

So what does it take to be emotionally intelligent as a project manager?

Self-awareness or the ability to recognise and understand one’s own emotions is a critical part of emotional intelligence. When we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident, make informed decisions, build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively about potential business, service and environmental risk threats and opportunities that may threaten continued business justification in terms of continued viability, achievability and desirability.

Self-regulation is all about expressing your emotions appropriately. Those project managers who are skilled in self-regulation tend to be more flexible and adapt well to volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) external conditions that have the potential to impact the project tolerances. They are also good at managing conflict and diffusing tense or difficult situations. This important attribute helps to diffuse any stakeholders who perceive the proposed change as a potential threat to their role or potential way of working, particularly where change is seen as an event rather than a journey towards the desired target state.


Self-motivation is, in its simplest form, is the force that drives you - as a project manager - to do things. People with self-motivation can find a reason and strength to successfully deliver agreed project objectives, even in challenging conditions, without giving up or needing another to encourage them. However people can be motivated by many things, both internal and external such as:

  1. Achievement drive, or the personal drive to achieve, improve, and meet certain portfolio, program and project standards
  2. Commitment to your own personal goals
  3. Initiative or the readiness to act on opportunities
  4. Optimism or the tendency to look ahead and persevere with the belief that you can successfully deliver the agreed project objectives within time and budget.


Empathy or the ability to understand how others are feeling is absolutely critical to emotional intelligence. But this involves more than just being able to recognise the emotional states of others. Being empathetic enables people to understand the power dynamics that often influence social relationships, especially in a dynamic project environment. Those competent in this area are able to sense who possess power in different relationships, understand how these forces influence feelings and behaviours, and accurately interpret different situations that hinge on such power dynamics.


Nurturing relationships or the ability of the project manager to connect with other people and build a sense of a community and belonging is paramount to success of any project, particularly when dealing with people within the project team responsible for delivering the desired outputs, capabilities, outcomes, benefits and/or value. Employee engagement is about understanding people’s individual motivation and aspirations to achieve a productive energy state within the team where everyone works collectively to achieve the agreed project objectives.


Emotional intelligence is when you are able to demonstrate emotions, empathise with others, and make day-to-day decisions that may impact business, user and supplier interests using multi-level awareness. As a project manager, you must be aligned with your team’s emotions, you must know how to communicate with a wide range of people, you must be aware of your behaviour, and above all else, you need to motivate the project team to drive success. As such, emotional intelligence is an ability that any project manager can get better at with practice – since practice makes perfect.


Exclusive 💬

Milvio DiBartolomeo

About author

OGC Gateway Assurance Expert | Author | Agile, Project, Programme & Portfolio Management and Better Business Cases Specialist

Milvio DiBartolomeo has a proven track record in ICT project, programme and portfolio management in the Queensland public sector, Australia. He has worked on a number of transformational change initiatives across the programme and project lifecycle as a business and process analyst, software tester and project manager. He practices what he preaches having successfully implemented staged funding release by gated review technique to protect public sector investment and redesigned the project governance structure to minimise senior management time commitment for a Queensland Government department. He has extensive PMO experience as a Portfolio Manager, Capability Support Manager and now as a Workforce Delivery Manager. With a lifelong passion for learning his credentials include practitioner level knowledge in Better Business Cases, Managing Benefits, MoP, P3O, MSP, PRINCE2, PRINCE2 Agile, AgileSHIFT, ICAgile, ISTQB software testing and ITIL. He also released his first white paper called “Project Optimism Bias in Capital Investment Decision Making” through APMG-International.
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