Please Share

Emotional Intelligence: The Secret to Being an Excellent Project Manager

Emotional Intelligence: The Secret to Being an Excellent Project Manager

Project Management is a people profession. We don’t primarily deal in numbers or things: we deal with people. Bosses, clients, colleagues, team members, stakeholders… They are who make our projects succeed or fail. And so we need the people skills to build, maintain, and get the best from those many interlocking relationships. And for that, we need Emotional Intelligence.

Essential Models for Project Managers
Emotional Intelligence: The Secret to Being an Excellent Project Manager


We’ll answer why it’s important, what it is, and how to apply it to Project Leadership.

And, along the way, we’ll address the needs of any PMP Candidates, wondering what Domain I, Task 14 of your Examination Content Outline is all about.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

Why Does Emotional Intelligence Matter?

Let’s start with a brilliant quote from Dale Carnegie…

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion. 

Dale Carnegie

When you are dealing with people, logic and reason are not enough. People are instinctive, emotional beings. And Project Managers deal with people all the time. If you cannot deploy emotional intelligence, then your ability to interact with people and to get the best out of them will be severely constrained.

But it’s more fundamental than that. You are an emotional being too. If you cannot interpret your own emotional state and regulate your own responses and motivation, how can you be in control of anything? I would argue that self-regulation is the first skill of any professional.

What is Emotional Intelligence

My favourite definition of Emotional Intelligence is that of Reuve Bar-On:

Emotional-social intelligence is an array of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and behaviors that determine how well we understand and express ourselves, understand others and relate with them, and cope with daily demands, challenges and pressures. 

Reuven Bar-On

For a brief introduction, take a look at this short video…

The Reuven Bar-On Model of Emotional Intelligence

Reuven Bar-On’s model describes Emotional Intelligence as an array of 15 interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills, and behaviors.

  1. Self-regard
  2. Emotional Self-awareness
  3. Assertiveness/Emotional Self-expression
  4. Independence
  5. Empathy
  6. Social Responsibility
  7. Interpersonal Relationships
  8. Stress Tolerance
  9. Impulse Control
  10. Reality Testing
  11. Flexibility
  12. Problem-solving
  13. Self-actualization
  14. Optimism
  15. Happiness/Wellbeing

The Peter Salovey and John Mayer Model of Emotional Intelligence

Peter Salovey and John Mayer defined four branches of Emotional Intelligence:

  1. Perceiving Emotions
    In ourselves and, particularly, in others.
  2. Using Emotions
    To help us think, reason, and make choices.
  3. Understanding Emotions
    And therefore knowing what they mean and how they impact people.
  4. Managing Emotions
    Regulating how we feel and how we respond to situations.

The Daniel Goleman Model of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman’s model of Emotional Intelligence is by far the most widely known – especially outside the psychology community. Goleman is one of our Top 12 Psychologists a Project Manager Should Know About.

This is because Goleman’s approach views Emotional Intelligence from the perspective of the emotional and social competencies that contribute to professional, managerial, and leadership performance. That is, of course, what we are interested in.

Emotional Intelligence in the PMP Exam Syllabus

And this is also the reason why PMI chooses this model for its own PMP training. Its PMP Examination Content Outline (Domain I, Task 14) requires PMP candidates to know how to ‘promote team performance through the application of emotional intelligence’. And if you take training from a PMI Authorised Training Partner (ATP) – as we recommend you should – the they will cover the Goleman model in their training.

Therefore, we too will focus on the Goleman model of Emotional Intelligence.

It is not hard to map Bar-On’s 15 factors into Goleman’s 5 dimensions of Emotional Intelligence. However, is somewhat different in approach. One might say it is orthogonal to that of Goleman and Bar-On, and entirely complementary.

The Dimensions of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman articulated five dimensions of Emotional Intelligence, in his best selling book, Emotional Intelligence.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social Skills

Self-Awareness: Understand Your Emotions

Self-awareness is vital for anyone building a professional career. It lets you form an accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses; likes and dislikes. This is the route to development and we cultivate self-awareness by taking time to reflect on our experiences and how we responded – in our words, our actions, and in our emotional responses.

If you want to step into a leadership role, you will need the next element we’ll look at: self-regulation. But to control your responses, you must first understand the triggers you react to and your feelings about a range of people and circumstances. Your emotions will affect your choices and your consequent performance as a professional.

Self-awareness is also about knowing what drives you: your personal goals, the values that dictate your choices, and the things that motivate and demotivate you. As a result, in his follow-up to Emotional Intelligence, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Goleman dropped Motivation and wrapped it into the first two dimensions.


The last element of Self-awareness is having the confidence to operate effectively. And, in stressful, high-stakes environments, you may also need to exert self-control to ‘act as if’ you have that confidence. This is the confidence to:

  • Speak truth to power
  • Take calculated risks
  • Make decisions

With confidence comes the professional poise and gravitas that people look to.

You will find videos on confidence, assertiveness, and gravitas, in the Personal Impact course/playlist on our sister YouTube channel, Management Courses.

Self-Regulation: Manage Your Emotional State

There is a lot more to self-regulation than ‘just’ than self-control. But we’ll start there, with your ability to curb your emotions as they rise-up under stress or external pressure. The ability to remain calm will not just enhance your focus, productivity, problem-solving, and decision-making. It will make you somebody other people will want to follow.

But, day-to-day, self-regulation is as much about diligence, reliability, and resilience. You need to be able to discipline yourself to do things that are hard, unpleasant, or uncomfortable – even tedious.

When you do, people will value your reliability and trust you for it. They will also trust you for your integrity – the willingness to do what is right, treat people fairly, and behave in accordance with your values and statements. Do take a look at our videos on the Trust Equation and How to Build Trust.

I also think that there is something in self-regulation about your ability to hold onto what’s valuable and change to adapt to new circumstances at the same time. It’s a deliberateness in the choices you make.


I prefer Goleman’s earlier formulation with Motivation as a separate dimension of Emotional Intelligence. Because self-motivation encompasses a number of elements:

  • Desire to succeed
    Choosing to work hard on achieving the results you want, rather than backing-off when things get tough.
  • Committing to a cause
    And therefore being prepared to make sacrifices to achieve it. For us, we are looking mainly at a cost of time and ease, when we choose to take on difficult projects.
  • Taking the initiative
    Will you do what you think is right, even when there’s nobody to instruct you – or even approve? A willingness to seize opportunities will inspire others to follow you.
  • Remaining positive in tough times
    This is not about ‘glass half-full’ optimism. It’s about moving past your fears and using the resources you have in a flexible way, to regain control of a difficult situation.

Empathy: Emotional Awareness of Others

Empathy is your ability to feel what others are feeling and so, gain an insight into what is motivating them at the time.

Team Development

Strictly, it’s all about understanding the people around you, but we also extend this to imply a value in caring for them and wanting to help them. As a leader and as a Project Manager, you have a duty to develop the team members who work for you. You need to help them grow their skills and their careers.

Take a look at our articles on Feedback, Mentoring, and Coaching.


We know t hat a diverse team can surpass a homogeneous one in its performance art all levels. It’s empathy that helps you to see both:

  • the shared values, and
  • the different perspectives

of your diverse team – and therefore get the best from them.

There are two other elements that fit nicely into the Empathy dimension:

  1. Political Acumen
    Projects are inherently political in nature – and they sit within the wider context of an organization. And organizations are still more political.
    Take a look at:
    1. Get to Grips with Project Politics | Video
    2. The Game of Projects: How to Win at Project Politics
    3. Podcast: Politics and Stakeholders
  2. Serving your team, users, and stakeholders
    As well as the service mindset that comes with ‘Servant Leadership’ – my favored leadership model for Project managers, there are other aspects. Yake a look at:
    1. Good Customer Service: How to Keep Your Client and Stakeholders Happy
    2. What is Voice of the Customer (VOC)? | Video

Social Skills

The last of these is the big one. Projects are filled with people that you will need to interact with constantly:

  • team members
  • colleagues and fellow professionals
  • users and customers
  • clients
  • suppliers and service providers
  • contractors and consultants
  • bosses and sponsors
  • steering groups and committees
  • and all the usual stakeholders

As a result, you need exemplary social skills.

The Range of Social Skills

Let’s just list them – and return to my assessment of the priorities, below.

  • Building, growing, and maintaining relationships
  • Communication – formal and informal, easy and tough
  • Team building and management
  • Collaborating and working together
  • Handling conflict – respectful negotiation, uncomfortable resistance, and disrespectful arguments
  • Influencing and persuading

In short, this are all aspects of leadership.

Applying Emotional Intelligence to Project Leadership

Project Leadership demands all of these aspects of Emotional Intelligence. The simple ‘technical aspects’ of the Project Management body of knowledge are not enough on their own to do the job well. (Notice I’m not capitalising ‘body of knowledge to imply any one BOK, like those of the PMI or APM)

In this section, I want to select some good examples of aspects of Project Leadership and the Emotional Intelligence skills they require of us.

Personal Leadership: The Importance of Self-Regulation

Before you lead others, you must first be in charge of yourself. This means seizing control of destructive:

  • self-talk
  • prejudices
  • fears and anxieties


Self-control means making choices deliberately – rather than letting your emotions or drives select them for you. Perhaps the best tool to use, to cultivate self-control is mindfulness. This means taking time each day to still your mind and become aware of whatever you choose to become aware of. To best still your mind, choose something simple and external to you – like a scene outside or the aroma and taste of a cup of coffee.

But you also need to learn to quickly inventory the way you are feeling and how your physical responses correlate with your emotions. Is there tension in your body, or an edge to your voice? When you spot these, bring them under control.


The next step is to make the’ right’ choices constantly – even when you’d rather do something else. But never, ever, let this become a rigidity of thinking that prevents you from seeing and doing what’s right as the situation changes. Adaptability is as much a part of emotional intelligence as your diligence.


Ultimately, your goal is to build trust:

  • In yourself
    The source of self-confidence
  • From others
    When people know you are credible in your assessments, reliable in your actions, and generous in your orientation towards others, they will come to trust you… and therefore be ready to follow you.

Team Leadership: Applied Social Skills

As I commented above, this is all about leadership. Let’s focus on the real value of three particular Project Leadership and general professional skills.


Can you drive collaborative behaviors? This is about building a team that trusts one-another. And the best way to understand the route to take is the Tuckman Model of Group Development. The article in the link will give you the detail. For a quick introduction, take a look at this video…


Self-control will reduce the incidents when you are directly involved in conflict. But that still leaves the times when you will decide to intervene in others’ conflict. You may decide to:

  • pacify
  • mediate
  • arbitrate

We have a lot of resources on what is a tricky topic:

Dealing with Conflict in Projects

We have a full course on Dealing with Conflict in Projects, which I recommend you check-out.


The best basis for developing the skills and performance of a fellow professional is through coaching. This is about doing three things:

  1. Raising their awareness of what matters in a situation
  2. Identifying and evaluating potential courses of action
  3. Helping them take responsibility for acting on their selected path of action

Again, we have a detailed article to help you start your journey in coaching colleagues for performance: How Coaching Skills will Make You a Better Project Leader.

Stakeholder Engagement: Politics and Communication

A huge part of our jobs as Project managers is engaging with our stakeholders. And there are three skillsets that come straight to my mind…

Political Acumen

This is about know to read a political situation and respond accordingly. I’ve done a video, long article, and podcast about this:

  1. Get to Grips with Project Politics | Video
  2. The Game of Projects: How to Win at Project Politics
  3. Podcast: Politics and Stakeholders


People assume listening is easy – and that there is nothing to learn about it – because we think we do it all the time. However, there are four levels of listening:

  1. Pretending
    Yes, we all do this sometimes. We have other things on our mind, so just go through the motions. It’s as disrespectful as it is useless for gathering information or building a relationship. Don’t.
  2. Selecting
    This is when there are two or more channels of information coming in, and we select which one we focus on – but can swap quickly to another. Think about the idle chat you are engaged in with a colleague, while you are paying attention to someone else’s conversation nearby.
  3. Attending
    Good quality day-to-day workplace listening pays attention to what is being said, ready to respond accordingly, when it’s your turn.
  4. Empathizing
    If you go beyond attending to the words and also pay attention to gesture, expression, posture, tone of voice, pace… You can sometimes listen between the lines to sense the underlying emotions.

Good quality listening means turning off the voice in your head and choosing to pay close attention to the other person. use nods and tags phrases to show you are engaged, and respond appropriately when they have stoped speaking.

We have a short course that will help you improve your listening skills.

The Power of Listening: Listening Skills 101

Check-out our short, low-cost course on how to get The Power of Listening.


There is so much I could say about the importance of influencing to Project Managers. Often, we have little or no formal authority over members of our extended project team – and still less over our stakeholders. Influence is how we get things done.

Do take a look at or video: ‘Leading without Authority: How to Manage and Lead People | Video

And, of course, a large part of our agenda as project managers is to lead change. So, our ability to influence people to entertain the potentialities of a change and to explore and maybe accept it are key to that aspect of our role.

The study of influence is one of psychology. And, perhaps, the best-known psychologist studying influence today – Dr Robert Cialdini – features in our recent article, about the ‘Top 12 Psychologists a Project Manager Should Know About

It’s also a topic I have written about extensively:

Peak Performance: Understanding and Influencing Behavior

Well, I just covered influence, so let’s look at three related disciplines you’ll need to master.


Personality is a hard topic for anyone who has not made a detailed study of it. But as a project Manager it is well worth understanding the basics. There are many simple models we can use – and some more sophisticated tools that psychologists prefer. I may well take a look at some of them in the coming months:

  • Big Five Personality Factors
    This is the basis of most serious academic study. The model suggests we sit on a spectrum for each of 5 personality types:
    • Openness to experience
    • Conscientiousness
    • Extraversion to Introversion
    • Agreeableness (largely about sociability)
    • Neuroticism to steadiness and resilience
  • Formal evaluations tools, based on the Big 5 PF, like the DiSC model of:
    • Dominance
    • Influence
    • Steadiness
    • Conscientiousness
  • …or the 16PF Model
  • Various models based on Jungian Types. These all go back into the mists of time, but the best-known modern examples are:
    • The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
    • Kiersey’s temperaments
  • Low-grade commercial evaluation models with more or less research backing, like
    • Merrill-Reid Social Styles
    • The Alessandra Model
    • Tracom Social Styles
    • True Colours
    • Life Orientations
    • The Hermann Whole Brain Model

Day-to-Day Behaviors

Some people think of aspects of the Transactional Analysis toolkit as personality models, but they are not. TA tells us a lot about how people communicate with one another, and how we behave. I very much believe that this is one of the most useful sets of thinking tools for Project managers, so we have a detailed article for you, called: ‘9 Transactional Analysis Tools that All Project Managers Must Know‘.


The Goleman Model of Emotional Intelligence includes motivation as one of its five dimensions. But the focus is very much on self-motivation. However, there is a lot of important knowledge that Project Managers need, about motivating the team members and stakeholders around us.

As you’d expect, we have a detailed article: ‘Project Team Motivation [Everything You Need to Know]‘.

But we can do better than that…

On our sister YouTube channel, Management Courses, we have a whole course/playlist on Motivation. I recommend you take a good look.

What are Your Thoughts about Emotional Intelligence?

As always, I am keen to read your questions, observations, and experiences in the comments below. And I will be sure to respond to every contribution.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

follow me on: