Emotional Intelligence in Project Management
BAO’s new Project Manager, Maria, reflects on the importance of emotional intelligence in navigating complex creative technology projects
The Digital Agency: Who is the digital project manager and what do they do?
In high-performing digital teams, momentum is useless without clear direction, practical guidance and open communication. At digital and creative agencies, project managers are responsible for creating, sustaining and facilitating the momentum that carries projects from their first idea to a fully delivered solution - and this requires a carefully regulated flow of information. Through the life of complex projects, against tough deadlines, quality project management is essential.
At this point, the subject of project management has been heavily documented. Countless books, blogs, articles and journals cover the theory, practice, tips and tricks that drive successful project management strategies. However - among a collection of different qualities, Emotional Intelligence (EI), finds its way to the forefront of the discussion regularly, and in this article, (and as a new digital project manager), I wanted to cover how EI underpins some of the leading interpersonal principles of project management.
Emotional Intelligence in Digital Project Management: What is it, and how is it useful?
To understand exactly how leveraging emotional intelligence is valuable in project management roles, we should first define what it is.
Emotional intelligence, in the simplest terms, is the ability to manage one’s emotions and understand the emotions and needs of others. It also extends into being able to help read the relationships and social interplay of a group and its members. Thus, helping to create a harmonious social environment, and influencing behaviours towards positive outcomes - for a project and its team.
Developing emotional intelligence is useful in any profession - and often, makes the top spots in the lists of qualities that employers look out for. But there’s a particular focus on its value in project management; largely due to the facilitation aspect of the role and the ability to handle people and skills-based complexity.
At a high level, emotional intelligence powers:
Your understanding of your team, and how personalities and skills operate together.
Well-developed emotional intelligence provides an individual with the enhanced ability to listen and communicate with different individuals, which allows best use of their skills, while still serving individual and team needs. On large, distributed teams of experts at different levels, this can be critical to successful people management.
Your understanding of your client.
Creative and brand clients operate in competitive spaces, full of strong and ambitious personalities. Helping to empathise with their professional goals and personal motivations helps both strengthen a relationship and deliver exactly on brief. Without this, creative businesses really aren’t useful - making emotional intelligence of paramount importance when working with leaders and their team members.
Your ability to navigate shifting priorities and pressures.
Evolved emotional intelligence allows you to distinguish when your own emotions are influencing your decisions. It also means that you understand the contagious nature of your emotions, and awareness of this helps maintain a culture of accountability. Setting an example that the team can follow, and maintaining perspective on both short and long goals is incredibly influential.
Similarly, the practice of mindfulness and self-awareness feeds directly into good quality results and satisfied teams. Emotionally intelligent leaders help create environments for high employee performance and engagement as your team will be more confident in following a leader who remains calm in challenging times. This is a transferable skill that’s applicable to your professional and personal life too. Low emotional intelligence impacts your ability to accurately assess situations, which in turn creates reaction rather than response - often unhelpful in the heat of the moment.
How is project management related to other disciplines?
To further build on on EI, let’s discuss confidence. Developing the confidence to socialise with new people, and the confidence to ask for help is a pivotal trait to have in any role. Confidence allows you to make timely decisions, and empower your team too. To achieve this, however, requires the sensitivity to admit what you don’t know. Remind yourself that asking questions and seeking help when it’s needed is the best way to get to the right answers, and build a culture powered by co-operation. Remember: the smartest people are highly curious, and they ask a lot of questions!
How does emotional intelligence affect communication?
Project management is a linchpin role designed to create clarity from ambiguity. Often, project managers must be able to understand that it’s not always possible to have the entire picture - but emotional intelligence helps to capitalise on a team’s collective skills and use them to create greater results (and forecast risk). It’s tough but vital to be able to determine when it’s best to make a quick, sound decision with 80% of the information, than to make a late, perfect one with 100% of the information. So be gracious to yourself when you’re faced with these challenges, as this creates a positive demeanour that will radiate into your environment, which can change a team’s behaviour and their ability to deliver.
As digital project managers, we're in a privileged position to work on, contribute to and guide highly skilled teams and projects. Technology is evolving quickly, and demands constant learning and adaptation. While our domain-specific knowledge regularly changes and improves, we must also maintain a solid grasp of emotional and personal cues. As we invest in our businesses, we must also place a particular emphasis on an investment with a constant return: the development and management of emotional intelligence.
Getting started with Emotional Intelligence
To learn more about EI and its role in social and professional success, check out: