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Emotional Intelligence in Project Management

Running Head: The Role of Emotional Intelligence (EI) in Project Management over the Next Five Years

Matthew D. Gonzalez, Ph.D., PMP

Assistant Professor of Business Administration, University of Incarnate Word, San Antonio


Published: Franklin Publishing Company (7th listing)


While the project management industry emphasizes control of cost, schedule and scope as the barometer of project success or failure, contemporaries argue this is only a partial valuation. The operating paradigm throughout this study is based on market conditions over the next five years. This study utilizes a qualitative case study methodology seeking to answer what skills will be required within the realm of project management. While credentials and learned capabilities are still at the forefront within a project manager’s arsenal, a view through the lenses of EI skills suggests, (a) multiple variables require further study, and (b) the realization that a project is better served moving forward through a mixture of technical and humanistic experiences and valuation models.


The Project Management Institute (PMI) is cited as the world’s largest nonprofit professional organization (Campbell, 2009) boasting a worldwide membership of over 150,000 in 140 countries. PMI has unified and equipped project managers (PMs) around the globe with best practice standards and methodologies. PMs of the 21st century command and control project constraints through an arsenal of defined tasks, hard deliverables, and standard tools and techniques. With over 40 years of research, community exchange and precision tuning, the hard skills required for effective project management are demonstratively established. Why is it then that so many projects fail? If tools and techniques are ubiquitously available and consistently applied, why is it that a majority projects fail to deliver promises within time, budget, and scope? Ask any project manager what roadblocks typically impede project progress and nearly every response will state “People!” Pressing the issue, they will likely add, “Because they always resist the changes that my project requires” (Campbell, 2009). Take a quick inventory; are you battling the same “people” challenges? Are your project roadblocks political, environmental, economical, or social and cultural? What PM skills must be adopted and sharpened in the next 5 years, or risk receding into the sunset?
Current Study

The operating paradigm of this study is based on market conditions over the next 5 years. A focus will illustrate that EI skills will be required within the realm of project management. While credentials and learned capabilities are still at the forefront within a project manager’s arsenal, a view through the lenses of EI skills suggests a project is better served moving forward through a mixture of adaptive leadership and practical experience.
RQ1: What are the critical success factors required for effective project
management over the next 5 years?

Literature Review

Project Management

While the project management industry emphasizes control of Cost, Schedule and Scope as the barometer of project success or failure, renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman and other contemporaries argue that this is only a partial valuation (Goleman, 1998). Cabanis-Brewin (1999) assert that the bedrock of project success is a PM’s human competencies or soft skills such as communicating, listening, sensitivity, influencing, and motivating. Conventional practice in managing resources, empowering, developing, and analysis can deliver a project within budget, time, and scope, but still categorically fail. The additional dimensions such as team performance, knowledge transfer, mobilizing the business case, and influencing stakeholder management are what really determine success. These dimensions are the fruit of EI and are no less important than the hard skills of project management. During an interview with PM Network (1999), Goleman reported that Emotional Intelligence matters twice as much for success over technical skills. IQ is still the biggest predictor to land a project award, he admits, but once you’re in, it’s the ability to handle self and others that promotes you and makes the difference (Cabanis-Brewin, 1999). Which emotional intelligence tool should you concentrate on?

A Brief History of Emotional Intelligence

  • 1930s – Edward Thorndike describes the concept of “social intelligence” as the ability to get along with other people.
  • 1940s – David Wechsler suggests that affective components of intelligence may be essential to success in life.
  • 1950s – Humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow describe how people can build emotional strength.
  • 1975 - Howard Gardner publishes The Shattered Mind, which introduces the concept of multiple intelligences.
  • 1985 - Wayne Payne introduces the term emotional intelligence in his doctoral dissertation entitled “A study of emotion: developing emotional intelligence; self-integration; relating to fear, pain and desire (theory, structure of reality, problem-solving, contraction/expansion, and tuning in/coming out/letting go).”
  • 1987 – In an article published in Mensa Magazine, Keith Beasley uses the term “emotional quotient.” It has been suggested that this is the first published use of the term, although Reuven Bar-On claims to have used the term in an unpublished version of his graduate thesis.
  • 1990 – Psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer publish their landmark article, “Emotional Intelligence,” in the journal Imagination, Cognition, and Personality.
  • 1995 - The concept of emotional intelligence is popularized after publication of Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
  • 1998 – Goleman publishes “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, in which he explores EI in the workplace.

Figure 1. Evolution of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence – What is it and why do you need it?

Emotional Intelligence is the area of cognitive ability involving traits and social skills that facilitate interpersonal behavior. While intelligence can be broadly defined as the capacity for goal-oriented adaptive behavior, EI focuses on the aspects of intelligence that govern self-knowledge and social adaptation. The term first appeared in 1985, in Wayne Payne's doctoral thesis, “A study of emotion: Developing emotional intelligence”. Payne's thesis centered on the idea that society's historical repression of emotion is the source of wide-scale problems such as addiction, depression, illness, religious conflict, violence and war. Goleman later popularized the term and developed related concepts in his influential book, “Emotional Intelligence” (1995). In “Working with Emotional Intelligence” (1998), Goleman explored the function of EI on the job describing emotional intelligence as the largest single predictor of success in the workplace.
Goleman (1999) describes EI as "managing feelings so that they are expressed appropriately and effectively, enabling people to work together smoothly toward their common goals." According to Goleman, the four major skills that make up emotional intelligence are:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Management

EI has become a vital part of how today's leaders meet the significant challenges they face. EI can further help leaders in a difficult leadership role, one that fewer and fewer people seem capable of fulfilling, and can provide developing leaders with the competitive edge they need to succeed. As EI evolved into a finite attribute among leaders and managers, it has become clear that without EI, projects would continue to fail at an alarmingly high percentage.


This qualitative study utilizes the case study methodology (Yin, 2003) as a method of understanding (RQ1). The sole research question (RQ1) of this study was asked to 7 seasoned projects managers via face-to-face interviews. The sample interviewees were selected based on their commonality of having taken and completed a graduate project management program in the southwest part of Texas. Each member of the sample set was provided with alternative names to protect their identity. Various industries were represented amongst the sample set to include military, government, automobile manufacturing, grocery production, aviation, and mechanical engineering. Notes were taken within the interviews and synthesized for correlation analysis, hermeneutic meaning, and understanding. The researcher served as an extension of the instrument by asking follow up questions based on responses from the interviewees.

As a means of understanding the outlook of the project management industry, secondary data was reviewed through a meta-analysis of the available research. The need to further develop knowledge based on the amount of existing research that exists is necessary as the number of primary research has grown over the past fifty years (Glass, 1976). Hunter, Jackson, and Schmidt (1982) argue while there are problems with qualitative meta-analysis, they advocate for this style of research through utilization of proper methods across studies. A myriad of research journal articles, practitioner articles, books, websites and most of all interviews with project managers’ and their ontological experiences were collected, organized, and categorized based on a synthesis of the findings.

Empirical Results

The case study revealed the following findings as the top 5 skills necessary for project managers over the next 5 years, (a) Communicating with Impact, (b) Persuasive Leadership, (c) Conflict Management, (d) Change Management, and (e) Adaptive Personality will serve as the most vital EI skills over the next five years for successful project/program management implementation. While there were other factors that could equally be argued as vital to project success, a reminder of this study’s’ foci regarding emotional intelligence is due. The findings are further discussed as follows.

Communicating with Impact

Everyone wants to be significant, important and to make an impact with other people when they speak. Communicating with impact is conveying your messages to other people clearly and unmistakably. Communication is also about receiving information that others are sending to you, with as little distortion as possible. Communication is at the heart of everything we do. It is impossible not to communicate, and further possible that we communicate even when we are not actually speaking. Non-verbal communication, such as body posture, gestures and facial expressions can be more powerful and more genuine than the spoken word.

Communicating with people in the workplace can be challenge. Maximizing your communications skills is vital to developing relationships, improving customer service, increasing productivity, building teams, managing change and increasing the bottom line. Communicating with impact is what sets you apart from other individuals both in your personal life as well as your professional career. Communicating with impact is a must for everyone who hopes to climb the ladder of success.

If communication fails, is it possible to be successful? As discussed, communication is at the heart of everything we do. While many articles, books, and training seminars on the topic of effective communication seek to foster growth, the impact has not received as many accolades. Thus, it is these author’s collective view that communication starts with the leadership itself.

Persuasive Leadership

Persuasive leadership is a leader’s ability to move people from their current position to a position that they don’t currently hold. Persuasive leadership requires a leader to not only make rational arguments, but also frame ideas, approaches and solutions in ways that appeal to diverse groups of people with basic human emotions. This is further based on what is considered to be the top 5 EI skills that a project manager must be able to articulate his/her position while effectively managing the conflict(s) that it may stir up, while employing practical change management solutions throughout the various projects life cycles.

According to Krakoff (2010), there are four steps to successful persuasion. First, establish credibility. Second, understand your audience, identify key decision makers, stakeholders and the organizations network of influence and pinpoint their interests and how they view alternatives. Third, reinforce your positions with vivid language and compelling evidence. Fourth, connect emotionally, the persuasive leader must be able to connect to their audience and demonstrate both intellectual and emotional commitment to their position.

Project Managers are constantly faced with the challenge of managing people who don’t report directly to them, assuming a matrixed environment. That means a project’s success often depends upon the PM’s ability to influence and persuade team members and stakeholders at multiple levels. Over the next five years the project management industry will become more collaborative, extending beyond cross functional teams and peers, merging into multi-cultural/global business partnerships. The future of project management will entail project managers becoming more diverse, entailing them to be more familiar with virtual communications and nanotechnology. The project manager will become more global centric and requiring them to be better at influencing stakeholders that are in different parts of the world and not just in their immediate “sphere of influence”. As such, it is imperative that the Project Manager develop his/her persuasion skills to engage those outside of the local business partnerships.

Conflict Management

Conflict is defined as the process which begins when one party perceives that another has frustrated or is about to frustrate (Thomas, 1992). Conflict Management can be divided into two positions based on positive and negative emotions (Desivilya, 2005). First, positive conflict management often exhibits behaviors that are integrating, compromising, and obliging. Secondly, negative conflict management yields dominating and avoiding behaviors.

The pace of change confronting organizations today has resulted in calls for more organizations to work in teams; in turn, many scholars have noted that leadership may have important consequences for groups, suggesting that a focus on the group level is important. Lowe, Kroek, and Sivasubramaniam (1996) found that leaders who exhibit transformational leadership behavior are associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, involvement, and performance of their subordinates. Organizations such as General Electric, Motorola, Toyota, Unilever, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman have employed the use of training in Leadership models for new and future leaders. Some of the fundamental concepts taught are managing change, ethical leadership, working with teams, and motivation and inspiration. An unexpected benefit of this training was discovered with improvement in communications and cooperation among subcontractor elements had dramatically improved.

Research has indicated that emotional competencies are twice as important as IQ and expertise in contributing to excellent and effective performance. It seems to be the consensus between leading authorities that EI generates delegating, open communication, and proactive behavior, which can bring positive outcomes to an organization. A study done in Thailand demonstrated that PMs and project engineers with higher EI scores tend to use more open communication and proactive styles of leadership than those with lower EI scores. As stated by Charles B. Daniels, “the implications for engineering managers seem clear. As globalization becomes even more profound on the economy the pressure for companies to achieve continually higher levels of quality will increase.” That being said, it is evident that there is an importance for a focus on emotional intelligence in the workplace.

Change Management

A project is a unique, temporary endeavor with a definite beginning and end. Translation? Change is coming! Every project overtly or covertly introduces organizational changes in order to achieve a desired future state. The myriad resulting impacts to the project team, end users, direct stakeholders and other project affiliates are espoused, marginalized, or rejected – largely dependent on the project manager’s leadership style and comportment throughout the project lifecycle. A project manager is a change agent and must intricately guide both team and the organization through change. Succinctly put, a PM must incorporate EI elements into change management strategy to effect change and produce 360º results.

By the 1980s and 1990s, the school of leadership shifted its focus from situational leadership to leading an organization through change (Geoghegan & Dulewicz, 2008). Two types of leadership styles were defined: transactional and transformational. Transactional leadership emphasizes task completion by rewarding followers for achieving performance targets. Examples include guiding, directing and managing constraints. Transformational leadership, alternately, focuses on people development to achieve performance goals. Examples include providing motivation, intellectual stimulation, challenging followers, developing vision, engendering trust and pride, etc. Respect, personality and creativity are all hallmarks of the transformational leader. Which style contributes more to project success? Studies conducted by Keegan and den Hartog (Tuner & Muller, 2005) predict that a transformational leadership style is more appropriate for PMs. However, direct correlations that link a PMs leadership style and project success are untenable; this is largely due to a lack of relevant studies.

Much research over the years has been published around committing to and accommodating changes in a project, including how to overcome resistance to change; how to communicate change in a positive way; how to lead change with great results, etc. Change Management is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams and organizations from the status quo to a desired future state (Campbell, 2009). Voluminous studies in leading change attribute project success to the manager’s personality and social skills in particular.

Participative management is one such tactic and suggests the importance of getting team buy-in at the beginning of a change initiative. Or, by tactful pursuit, the PM may facilitate change by cleverly leading his team into an “ah-ha” moment where the team identifies the change requirement and takes credit for the good idea. People are much more likely to take ownership and commit to change if it was their idea to begin with. A project manager’s ability to cooperate and associate with the perceptions of his followers bears directly on his effectiveness in introducing change. The Center for Creative Leadership demonstratively concludes that satisfying relationships have a direct connection on how well peers judge a leaders ability to institute change (Leadership, 2003).

Almost all changes birthed in a project endeavor filter through four dimensions: technology, economics, demographics and culture. Most organizations and teams embrace new change in technology, new economic structures, and new team members, but cultural changes are viscerally resisted. Culture is essentially the beliefs we have about the way things ought to be (James, 2006). Examples of cultural barriers include ineffectual leadership, poor timing, and inadequate behavior management (Council, 2008). Further examples include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Disagreement between top leaders can produce an inconsistent change vision.
  • Insular leadership and traditional corporate culture can prevent the recognition of risks and opportunities.
  • Minimal involvement by top management can diminish company-wide enthusiasm for change and slow implementation.
  • Attempts to complete broad changes simultaneously can prompt a total rejection of the change program.
  • Changing the largest or most profitable business units first can preempt “warm up” learning opportunities.
  • Disengaged groups can become islands of resistance, preventing the broad promotion of change.
  • Silent resisters can undermine the change vision by promoting personal agendas.
  • Poor alignment between rewards and expectations can present an ambiguous change message and discourage changed behavior.

Adaptive Personality

Due to the infinite similarities to other management skills in today’s world, each case study has provided several concepts of adaptive personality from each of their ontological experiences, as it relates to other emotional intelligence skills presented in this research study. Case study #4 suggests a PM can diffuse each of these barriers to change, but doing so requires tactful, deliberate EI application. The PM must first gauge his team’s motivation and acceptance of the change impact, and subsequently adapt his leadership style to effectively implement the change. In most cases, the team will not immediately adopt or be inspired. As a result, the PM must selectively employ adaptive leadership techniques to effectively lead change. Adaptive leadership is a discerning and calculated transformation by a PM in order to facilitate cultural dynamics and simultaneously galvanize team performance. Such traits are required by the PM in order to survive future requirements and diffuse cultural change barriers in a highly competitive/evolving project environment (James, 2006).

If you exhibit an adaptive personality trait, case study #3 believes you are most likely able to tune-in to verbal and nonverbal clues further allowing you to make adjustments to maintain your effectiveness in ever changing situations. An adaptive personality allows you to quickly build and maintain positive relationships while motivate and focus others to achieve success. To ensure future success in project management, leaders of all facets of business will need to thoroughly understand and practice adaptive personality. This EI skill may become the most important tool in one’s toolbox.

Summary of Findings

While the 5 skills reveal practical skills, a deep-dive into each of the skillsets reveals hidden variables within the research and findings that present the academic environment with areas to test further. Figure 2 reveals the skillset and matched variable that lends itself to further research:

Skillset Variable

  • Communication with Impact Distortion
  • Persuasive Leadership Performance
  • Conflict Management Positive and negative emotion
  • Change Management Culture
  • Adaptive Personality Verbal and non-verbal clues

Figure 2. Key Variables


It is case study #6’s ontological experiences that in order to survive future requirements in a highly competitive and evolving project environment. To describe what an adaptive personality is, we must first look at adaptive behavior. Adaptive behavior is any behavior that changes to fit another behavior or situation. Adaptive behavior should be thought of as a master concept. It covers all types of behavioral compromises and adjustments (French, Bodgers, Cobb, 1974). In looking at a salesman, one might find that he or she will change their behavior based on the customers’ actions and reactions.
The practice of adaptive selling is defined as the altering of sales behaviors during a customer interaction or across customer interactions based on perceived information about the nature of the selling situation. (Weitz, Sujan, and Sujan, 1986). Given these definitions we can see that adaptive behavior is a result of stimuli from an adaptive personality. This stimulus affects behavior. Case study #6 stated the emotionally intelligent manager can correctly apply the right stimuli at the right time to achieve effective / efficient results from team members’ performance. The manager possesses an adaptive personality.

Adaptive personalities exhibit a positive conflict management trait resulting in a positive emotion. This adaptiveness encourages integration, compromising and obliging. EI allows one to understand what behavior style they might use in conflict. A higher degree of EI will allow one to select whether a positive or negative approach towards conflict management will provide the most desirable results. Several personality traits indicate a person’s probability of adaptive or non-adaptive personality (Wrobel, 2007) and outward behavior. Adaptive vs. non-adaptive personality has been measured on a Schedule for Non-adaptive and Adaptive Personalities or SNAP scale. The SNAP is comprised, in part, by 13 diagnostic scales of personality disorder (APA, 1987). The outcomes of a 2007 study by Wrobel (2007) found that high degrees of extraversion tend to lead toward a positive or adaptive personality, while pessimistic behaviors lead to a more negative or non-adaptive personality. Thus, this researcher concludes that a portion of adaptive personality is adaptive leadership.

Case study #7 revealed it would benefit a leader in today’s world and in the future to be adaptive in their leadership styles. S/he should be able to exude self-control, provide sound judgment, and be culturally aware to be successful in our ever changing fast paced diversified world. FM 22-100 (US ARMY Leadership Manual) stresses that leaders must be able to adjust their leadership style to the situation as well as to the people being led (Army H. D., 1999). Managers should not limit themselves to one leadership style in a given situation and, with the direction of the work-force today and tomorrow, being able to adapt appropriate styles will help in influencing employee’s success.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

Naturally, this study contains limitations. Primarily, the use of pure qualitative means as opposed to quantitative means provides a gap in the study. Furthermore, a temporal limitation was self-developed based on the notion of skills necessary by a PM over the next five years. However, the future direction of research on the EI skills of a PM is bright. It is recommended that research continues on the need to identify educational curriculum that teaches a mixed-method of technical versus the humanistic approach to project management. More analysis and data are necessary to correlate leadership styles and the impact on success, or failure, of a project. Future research should also focus on the practitioner side of the art and science of managing a project whereby organizational and individual performance evaluations combine technical and humanistic project progression. Lastly, the 5 hidden variables that were an outcome of each of the 5 skillset should be researched collectively using a similar qualitative or quantitative methodology to identify deeper understanding of (RQ1).


Projects are essentially risky and PM’s require a multitude of tools to succeed. Some of these tools are tangible, measureable, and certifiable. While others are intangible, non-certifiable and noticeably missing when absent. Inarguably, all PM’s understand that a project has 5 Process Groups (PMBOK 4th Edition, 2008):

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and Controlling
  • Closing

In fact PM’s can test and certify that they have expert level knowledge of the above written processes. Even Project Management Professional’s (PMP) following proven processes find their projects not meeting the desired outcomes. As this study has discussed, the key to successful project management resides in the intangible, vague, elusive realm of Emotional Intelligence (EI). As stated, EI is not a tangible, certifiable process. It is however, a teachable, learned skill that involves leading people. During this study of EI and how it relates to project management, this researcher has defined the 5 most needed EI skills for project management over the next 5 years:

  • Communication
  • Persuasive Leadership
  • Conflict Management
  • Change Management
  • Adaptive Personality

Until such a time when people are not needed to manage project management processes, PM’s will need a high level of EI to attain successful project outcomes. By understanding EI, PM’s can use their emotions to build their interpersonal skills and influence. The better PM’s are at developing and sustaining relationships, the more successful we can expect the end result of projects. EI provides the edge for excelling at interpersonal skills and building the relationships necessary to succeed within project and program management.

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