Emotional Intelligence as a tool for Project Managers

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Project managers play a very crucial role in developing, assisting, or organizing a company’s project objectives. The role of a project manager can vary from company to company depending on the objectives or standards that the company requires. For example, project manager’s duties could range from assisting in business analysis, to follow-on activities of the project, to advancing strategic objectives, etc. In general, the project manager is “the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.”[1]

The success of the project is influenced by the project manager. They are responsible for the communication amongst stakeholders' expectations and project objectives, has to balance budget with resources, and use communication and soft skills to equilibrate both stakeholders' ideals and project's objectives. A good project manager is one who holds a positive attitude and shows superior communication skills, which increases, but not limits to: “communicating predictably, creating, maintaining and adhering to communications plans and schedules, and developing finely tuned skills using multiple methods”. [1]

Via their constant exposure to human interaction, it is important for project managers to acquire soft skills such as Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Intelligence. This article talks about the different ways that a project manager can become an effective leader by using tools such as Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Intelligence. It gives a brief description of why emotional intelligence is important, and the different skills incorporated to become emotionally intelligent. In addition, it ties the significance of having a diverse team, and how to avoid mishaps with culturally diverse, age diverse, and gender diverse groups.


Five Stages of Team Development

Five Stages of Team Development[2]

As mentioned before, the project manager plays a very important role in organizing and managing a team that are working towards achieving certain project’s objectives. With this in mind, it is important for the manager to be aware of the Five Stages of Team Development, also known as Tuckman’s Model. [2] Tuckman´s model addresses the five stages that a team over-goes from the initiation of a project to its closure. The five stages are: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. Each stage is crucial to developing a successful project, but a common mistake is that the team members and project manager race through the first steps and undermine the importance of developing a collaborative team. According to Leduc, this is a brief description of each step:

  1. Forming, revolves around breaking the ice, getting to know your team members and project manager. In this stage, there will be little to no project development, because roles have yet to be determined. In this stage, it is very important for the project manager to promote optimism, give clear goals, be directive, and figure out what each members strengths are to determine roles.
  2. Storming, can up rise many conflicts due to diverged ideas. Everyone will try to get their ideas and point of view across with very strong feelings. It is important that the project manager encourages participation, promotes respect, and make each teammates ideas be heard.
  3. Norming, the team rules are set, teammates know their roles, and there is order. It is the project manager’s duty to delegate, reinforce team spirit, and stay involved.
  4. Performing, everyone is focused and on target. They are working as a team, and are very productive. The project manager should stay on top of task and make sure that he/she is monitoring the tasks, delegating as much as possible, optimizing processes, and celebrates milestone achievements.
  5. Adjourning, is about the project coming to an end. Teammates are now saying goodbye and wishing the best to the rest and the project. It is highly important that the project manager now completes deliverables, analyzes the project as a whole, and celebrates success.

Emotional Intelligence and Project Managers

Project Managers are in charge of creating the project plan and monitoring costs, but also have an important role in the execution of the project plan. As time has progressed, generations and workforces have changed, and the old idea that your GPA or IQ exclusively determines your success rate as a project manager, has been tabooed. Currently, soft and communication skills have become one of the most important qualities that employers look for in a project manager. In other words, the importance of emotional intelligence is skyrocketing in the professional market. According to Davey-Winter, Peter Salovey and John Mayer defined Emotional Intelligence (IE) as the “ability to monitor ones own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and use the information to guide ones thinking and action”. The significance for project managers to be able to use IE is for various reasons:

  1. They operate in complex environments, therefore, they are constantly influencing, communicating, and negotiating with other departments and/or projects.
  2. They are also responsible of leading an effective team, therefore, they need to know how to manage future conflict, delegate work to teammates, and motivate them throughout the project.

To incorporate emotional intelligence in ones’ work ethics, there are five factors to consider: Perceiving, Managing, Decision Making, Achieving, Influencing. [3]

IE Framework[3]


According to Davey-Winter, the skill of perceiving is “the ability of an individual to recognize, attend to, and understand emotions in themselves and others.”[3] Perceiving involves acquiring the skill of being able to understand and differentiate someone’s emotions, acknowledge the meaning behind these emotions, and be able to demonstrate empathy. Statistics have shown that 55% of people portray their emotions via body language, 38% through their tone of voice, and 7% through their actual words. [3] For example, if a project manager wants to seal a deal with a contractor, but senses negative emotions from the representative, the project manager now is more aware of what his options are: whether he/she must continue with the proposal, come up with a better offer, or withdraw and look for a better contractor.


The managing skill is the “ability to effectively manage, control and express emotions”. [3] The IE managing skill has a wide scope. Not only are managers responsible of identifying their own emotions, but also analyzing the situation, and positively implementing them in the involved circumstances. For example, one might come out of a meeting or event stressed out. If the project manager proceeds to immediately speak to their staff members, the manager is more likely to put their stress on their staff members and plummet the staff’s motivation. On the other hand, if the manager decides to cope with their own stress, for example step aside and let the stress pass, then it would be less likely that the manager will negatively affect the team’s spirits. The EISA framework states that those with a low score in managing skills tend to “mismatch emotions, cope with stress less effectively, and have more difficulty building relationships and networks”.[3] But those with higher percentage are “more likely to appropriately express their emotions, have better coping skills, and have more meaningful interpersonal relationships and networks.”[3]

Decision Making

The EI skill of Decision Making is “the ability to appropriately apply emotion to manage and solve problems”.[3] Project managers, on a daily basis, have to make decisions whether it be very simple or complex ones. Project managers must be able to make decisions based on many variables. As decisions cause change, it is important to keep those possibly affected in mind. Project managers, although they must be realistic of what the matter at hands should be, they must also keep a cool head on their shoulders and stay calm when changes arise. If the project manager is not able to deliver or handle change very well, the team and project could suffer negative consequences. According to Davey-Winter, those with lower decision making skills tend to make impulsive, untimely and erroneous decisions throughout the project. Those with higher scores are known to be more pragmatic and flexible during decision making.


The EI skill of Achieving is “the ability to generate the necessary emotions to motivate ourselves in the pursuit of realistic and meaningful objectives.” [3] Project managers must know that some things can go wrong during the project, but motivated enough to step back, analyze what went wrong, and find a different way to approach the issue. In absence of this emotional mindset, the team motivation and push for the project will crumble due to the negative emotion emitted by the project manager. According to Davey-Winter, those with low scores of achieving tend to “avoid risk, be only outcome oriented, avoid emotions associated with failure, and have little task ownership.” While those with high scores are “intrinsically motivated, take pleasure in success, take responsibility and ownership, tend to be in a positive mood, and are comfortable taking moderate risk.” [3]


Last but not least, the EI skill of Influencing is known to be the skill that “recognize[s], manage[s] and evoke[s] emotion in others to promote change.”[3] The project manager has a lot of power when it comes to influencing. Because the manager is constantly getting exposed to all the situations that the team phases, it is up to the manager to lead the way of his/her team. Through this, it is number one priority to keep your team in a balanced level of staying productive but also emotionally positive. Once a team is influenced with negative emotions, it is less likely the team will collaborate well, and therefore, execute a successful project. Those with low scores of influencing are less likely to enjoy group communication and prefer one on one, are not successful at managing others, and are more instructive in their style of management .[3] On the other hand, those with higher scores are assertive, confident, and use their optimism to spark creativity.

Introduction to Cultural Intelligence

Aside from Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence is a great asset to acquire to become a successful project manager. Projects today are multi-cultural collaborations. In other words, more companies, as time progresses, become more involved in international affairs. It is also important to note that culturally diverse groups or teams are more valuable because they bring different point of view and ideas to the project. Therefore, whether a project manager is leading a culturally diverse team or not, it is a priority that project managers learn to become Culturally Intelligent.[4]

Diversity and Diverse Workforce Factors

It is important to dissect the term diversity before we dive into the phases of how to manage a diverse team. Diversity is the “combination of holding and managing the aspirations of people from different culture, race, gender, age, skill, cognitive style, group, education, background, etc.” [5] There are many factors that influence and impact a diverse workforce. These are categorized into two main groups: internal and external factors. Examples of internal factors are “geographical boundaries, culture, and social class”. [5] In other words, these are factors that are hard to change and therefore difficult to handle as a manager. External factors, on the other hand, work with the physiological behavior of the human being, therefore, should be kept in consideration when building a successful diverse team. According to Umamaheswararao, there are some lead internal factors: motivation, attitude, moral and ethical values, adaptability, commitment, and job satisfaction.


Motivation is the “process that arouses, energizes, directs, and sustains behavior and performance”. [5] As generations arise and time progresses, it is important to understand WHO you are working with and how to be able to motivate them. Every era has their own motivation. For example, Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) tend to affiliate themselves with active civic duties, are multitaskers, and are hungry for success. While those born between 1943 and 1960 “look for appreciations from the others for whatever they contribute”. [5]


Attitude is “a positive or negative feeling one have on objects, people, or events". [5] People carry unconscious and conscious attitudes. The unconscious is unaware of because “they carry repressed feelings to certain external aspects of diversity”. It is important to keep this in mind in the process of recruitment because it is important that the employees have positive attitudes in their unconscious and conscious attitude to equilibrate member interactions.

Moral and Ethical Values

Moral and ethical values are defined as “concepts or beliefs about desirable end states or behaviors that transcend specific situations, guide selection or evaluation of behavior and events, and are ordered by relative importance.” [5] As one can imagine, your moral and ethical values are different to others; whether it be because of different factors such as background, culture, or education. Therefore, it is crucial that in a team with diversified groups of people, everyone is aware of their diversities and simultaneously respect others values and personal differences.


Adaptability can be a very crucial aspect to have. Companies have different culture and policies, and when organizations come together, there could be a hard clash of changes. Therefore, only those whom are adaptable, can take the strike of change and be able to endure in such hardships. It is important to state that “employees trained with EI can be more flexible/adaptable and create the competitive edge to the company". [5]

Commitment and Job Satisfaction

Commitment and job satisfaction, in my opinion, go hand in hand. Commitment is “the state of being dedicated to a cause” and job satisfaction is “ a complex emotional reactions to the job” or “the feeling or affective responses to facets of the situation”.[5] Both job satisfaction and commitment are achieved by having high emotional intelligence. In a diverse workforce, job satisfaction is still questioned to be a result of diversity exposure, while commitment is seen as a “value addition to organization as they are devoted toward organization… and encourage others to get involved” [5]

Culture and the Aspects of Dealing with a Culturally Diverse Group

Now that the factors of diverse workforce are defined, we can dive into the aspects of dealing with a culturally diverse team in project management.

To affectively understand how to manage a culturally diverse group of people, it is important to pinpoint the problems that “project managers' encounter especially with people that come from other cultures.” [6] Project managers are “not educated or attuned to cultural diversity”, which is a major cause of the misunderstanding amongst communicating with their team members, stakeholders, etc. [6]

Culture is “a shared set of attributes of any group, by which this group organizes its living together, its environment and its solution to the questions of the society.”[6] Different features are intertwined with the term culture. To name a few: national character, perception, thinking, language, nonverbal communication, values, behaviors, etc. [6] Many misunderstandings arise from two main points: reluctance to becoming aware of cultural diversity and “cultural arrogance”. The first being that project managers are reluctant to learn more about different cultures, while the other is when project managers find their culture superior, therefore when visiting other countries, they do not “respect the values of their adopted countries”. If ignorant to these issues, one is not aware of the differences in cultural variables, minority women expressions, and examination of generations’ composition.

Some cultural variables include: silence, hand gestures, eye contact, and touch.


Silence is perceived differently throughout the world. For example, in Nigeria, India, and Japan, among others, “feel comfortable with silence and discreetness” while Americans “talk to share feelings” as silence is “often perceived as a sign of inattentiveness or disinterest” .[7] Saudi Arabians usually “lower their voices when talking…as a sign of respect” while if an American speaks to high of a volume to “signal to the Saudi Arabian person to speak up”, the Saudi Arabian will take this as screaming. In other words, silence can be different expressions along the western and eastern hemisphere. As a project manager, it is important to keep this in consideration to not step on anyone’s boundaries; whether it be ones employees, team member, or stakeholder.

Hand Gestures[8]
Hand Gestures

Hand Gestures are another factor that can be interpreted in different ways around the globe. A few hand gestures could be very offensive to those in the western hemisphere and eastern hemisphere. For example, in Greece, Spain or Brazil the ‘OK’ sign is calling someone in a vulgar manner, a thumbs up in America or Canada is seen as doing a good job while in Greece or Middle East is seen as a vulgar gesture. [7] Some offensive gestures could include pointing fingers, waving, snapping your fingers and curling your fingers. In Greece, Nigeria, Ghana or India, waving and pointing your finger is an insult. Snapping your fingers in Belgium and France is considered vulgar .[6] In East Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, and other countries, curling your finger is seen as rude. [7]

Hand Gestures[8]
Eye Contact

Eye Contact can be very conflicting to those living in the western hemisphere and eastern hemisphere. In western countries “eye contact is a sign of confidence and attentiveness”[7] and a sign of respect to your boss. [6] On the other hand, Eastern countries view eye contact differently. In Middle Eastern countries, same-gender eye contact can be problematic and “deemed inappropriate” .[7] In addition, Asian, African, and Latin American countries, “unbroken eye contact would be considered aggressive and confrontational” due to their “conscious[ness] of hierarchy”.


Touch also varies by country. There are three levels of contact: high, medium, and low. Countries with high contact such as Latin America, Southern Europe and most Middle Eastern nations “tend to stand close when speaking and make physical contact more often”. [7] Those with medium contact, such as Northern European and North American countries, “stand close when speaking and will touch on occasion” in comparison to low contact cultures in the Far East who “stand at a greater distance and generally avoid physical contact”. [7] Its important to keep these boundaries as a project manager because a project manager is constantly, approximately 90% of the time, communicating with people while scheduling, attending meetings, planning, etc. [6] Therefore, if these boundaries are not read well and crossed, it could cause a negative effect on the project manager and company.


Cultural variables can sometimes be confusing because not everyone is the same or hold the same values as their countries. For example, a Colombian-American could hold more Colombian values than American ones, or vice versa. That is why it is a good idea to have this conversation with your team members to secure a healthy environment. This promotes understanding and respect along the group and could be a “door opener” in conversation. [7]

Minority Women Traits

As for minority women, it is also important to keep in mind their traits in the workforce, due to their participation in many industries nowadays. If misunderstood, project managers could run into some serious problems. According to Obikunle, some of the actions include but not limit to:

  • Standing up when a project manager comes to them for questions or issues.
  • Looking down when a project manager is talking to them is a sign of cultural respect as supposed to shyness!
  • Not interrupting when a PM is talking.
  • Not complaining even when things are not going on well on the project.
  • Not arguing with you: this does not necessarily mean they understand what you have said or that they are in agreement with you.

In other words, as a project manager, you might want to consider these traits to determine what these women are trying to "say" with their body language. If ever confused about an action, do not hesitate to ask, or you might misinterpret the message.

Generational Traits

Another consideration, as mentioned above, is the “examination of… generations”. There are four generations that are dealt with currently:

  • Veterans (1922-1943)
  • Baby boomers(1944-1960)
  • Gen Xers (1961-1980)
  • Nexters (1981-2002)

The first two groups are known to have “reluctance… to properly understand the difference of their teams’ varied composition”, which is a cause of most project management problems. On the other hand, Gen Xers are “culturally diverse and were born to working women.” [6] They have a higher understanding of multiculturalism and are “better able to resolve conflicts quickly” . [6] Nexters are “highly cultural and may be the most productive of all the groups.” This means that cultural training is not a must, due to the fact that they have been exposed to it most of their lives. [6]

Project managers must be able to handle these four generations in coherence so that the team is both stable and productive. It is important also, to set the pace and promote respect amongst the generations. It is important to respect elders for their experience, but elders should also respect their younger peers. In effect, this will cause “productivity, effective communication, meeting deadlines, cost reduction and tension-free environment.” [6]

Annotated Bibliography

This article explains how to be successful at the five stages of team development. It details major aspects of what it is to be a great leader of a team.

This article talks about the importance of emotional intelligence in the careers of project managers. The author does a great job of linking the responsibilities of the project managers and how IE could be implemented.

  • Jada, Umamaheswararao & Jena, Lalatendu & Pattnaik, Ranjan. (2016). Emotional Intelligence, Diversity, and Organizational Performance: Linkages and Theoretical Approaches for an Emerging Field. Jindal Journal of Business, Sage Publications. 3. 1-12. 10.1177/2278682115627240.

This article describes cultural intelligence and its application to project managers. It also talks about the importance of having a diverse group of people working on a project. It also emphasizes on the internal and external factors of a diverse workforce


  1. 1.0 1.1 Project Management Institute, Inc.. (2017). Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th Edition) - 3.1 Overview. Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Leduc, N. (2018, December 18 Published). How to successfully go through the Five Stages of Team Development . Retrieved from http://apppm.man.dtu.dk/index.php/How_to_successfully_go_through_the_Five_Stages_of_Team_Development
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Davey-Winter, K. (2017, August 27 Published). Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers – Nice to Have or Necessity?. Retrieved from https://pmiwdc.org/article/karen-davey-winter/emotional-intelligence-project-managers-–-nice-have-or-necessity?fbclid=IwAR3eAkva03XmRVU4g6kTWC4MTFKoleVonrbAs0lehzpXfPRUlqQwTcex6so
  4. Woerner, B. (2010). Border crossing—cultural intelligence for project professionals. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2010—North America, Washington, DC. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Jada, Umamaheswararao & Jena, Lalatendu & Pattnaik, Ranjan. (2016). Emotional Intelligence, Diversity, and Organizational Performance: Linkages and Theoretical Approaches for an Emerging Field. Jindal Journal of Business, Sage Publications. 3. 1-12. 10.1177/2278682115627240.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Obikunle, O. (2002). Dealing with cultural diversity in project management: a dilemma in communication. Paper presented at Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium, San Antonio, TX. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Thompson, S. (2017, August 27 Published). Article title. Retrieved from https://virtualspeech.com/blog/cultural-differences-in-body-language
  8. 8.0 8.1 https://www.businessinsider.com/body-language-around-the-world-2015-3?r=US&IR=T&IR=T?utm_source=copy-link&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=topbar&utm_term=desktop
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