Cultivating Emotional Intelligence In Project Management

In business, project management is schedules, timelines, and deadlines. From an outside perspective, project managers, PMs, can be seen as bossy, delegating, or even risky.

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Written by AMA Colorado

Woman considers Emotional Intelligence


In business, project management is schedules, timelines, and deadlines. From an outside perspective, project managers, PMs, can be seen as bossy, delegating, or even risky. In the creative industry, as a project manager, there is a balance that must be struck to succeed. When working in a team, many personality drivers can make or break a team. The ultimate goal of a project manager is to steer the team in the right direction while executing the end result while also keeping the internal team aligned. To do this effectively requires a high degree of Emotional Intelligence.

D. Goleman - Emotional Intelligence Book

 According to Dan Goleman, a psychologist whose book, Emotional Intelligence, was on the New York Times Best Seller List for a year-and-a-half, emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions while being able to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.1 There are five key elements of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Understanding how these work in harmony will help develop you into a better project manager as well as an integral team player. 


To begin with, self-awareness is exemplified in how you monitor your emotional state. My father has one rule for business, “leave emotion out”. As a project manager, this is an invaluable skill to learn as you are usually working with a team under a tight timeline or a strict budget. Understanding how others perceive you and your actions will help you become more proactive versus reactive as a project may end up becoming a high risk or have a tight deadline. I worked on a project recently that had a tight timeline and turnaround for a client launch. As I was briefing the team in, I felt the fear and panic creep across their faces. They were being driven by emotion instead of facts. Taking a step back, I recognized that I had forgotten a crucial piece of information and was able to share with the team to help alleviate this fear. Being self-aware is being able to pause, laugh at our mistakes, and then continue with confidence. 

Self- Regulation

As a project manager, you will be faced with challenging clients as well as internal turmoil as you are working with multiple types of operators. Self-regulation is the ability to respond to people respectfully with an understanding of their perspective. Project Managers are responsible for keeping a project on time, on budget, and on-task. These three elements will require hard conversations if you see the project moving away from your end target. By recalling your emotional intelligence toolbox, you can effectively and efficiently communicate the changes or client feedback as well as receive constructive criticism from the team. 


 An understanding of motive is crucial as a project manager because you are managing internal and external expectations whether that is with teams or clients. Being able to read the team and navigate towards a clear, concise goal is crucial for keeping everyone aligned and on task. When I started my career, my boss was hypersensitive to detail. From formatting, bulleting, to ensuring all the information was gathered before passing the project along. At first, I saw this as irritating, but it helped sharpen my awareness of the work ahead. Over the course of honing this practice, I now know how to ask where the bodies are buried to avoid disaster. Motivation will help you to continue the initiative of committing to completing the task through adversity.  


When you fully understand the “state of the state” become more empathic. From a project manager perspective, empathy will become extremely important as you deal with deadlines and client edits. Acknowledging and understanding the tough road ahead will not only encourage your team but also motivate them to help contribute to the end goal. Recently, I was working on a project that had gone on for multiple months, missing reviews, feedback, and alignment on the overall strategy. I recognized this as a moment to reflect on the foundation of the project, I had been having weekly status calls, but felt as though I was missing the mark. After discussing with a few colleagues, I realized, that my empathy was misplaced. I was looking at it from a selfish perspective in how I stay organized, what the team needed was a different organization. Embracing this challenge, I realigned our status calls and ways of showing the work. The effect was almost overnight. The client became more receptive, as was our team. Showing empathy toward the other team may, in turn, help you accomplish your goals. 

Social Skills

Finally, social skills are crucial to a successful project manager. Leading a team through a project can be stressful, frustrating, and exciting all at once. Part of having the right social skills for the job the ability to read a room. Grasping what the team needs is 90% of the battle, being able to interpret it is the other 10%. One of my mentors has a phrase, “Put the team in a room and shut the door”. Her method is extremely effective when it comes to getting the team to talk and ideate. Project managers can develop this skill when faced with challenging situations allowing you to observe and make recommendations and ultimately persuading the team to work together towards the same goal. Solving problems can be challenging, but with the right tools in your belt, you will soar to success in no time. 

David Ogilvy said, “When people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.” As a project manager, it is your role to lead, organize, and motivate the team to outcomes that are delivered on time, on budget, and on-track. By utilizing the skills of emotional intelligence, you too can turn any project into an adventure. 

– Written by Ericka Patten, Project Manager at Ogilvy

Works Cited in this article: 1 Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ. Bloomsbury.