Emotional Intelligence
How to Develop Emotional Awareness at Work

An Introduction to Emotional Intelligence

You’ve probably heard of the term emotional intelligence before. It’s a way of thinking about how we impact the people around us. As project managers and leaders, it’s very important to be conscious of the impact we are having so we make the right impression at the right time.

Emotional intelligence is also known as EI or emotional quotient (EQ). Think of it as your emotional IQ. These skills can also help with negotiating and conflict resolution: as you can see, developing your EQ can have a positive impact on being able to lead your project team!

In the podcast episodes below, you’ll learn about the interpersonal skills required to help your team deliver their best work, create a positive environment and a supportive project culture. You can influence the way your team feels and behaves, simply by tuning into your emotional awareness and making the right choices for the situation. Let our expert podcast guests show you how.

Emotional Intelligence Tools for Smoother Projects

Listen now to this featured Podcast on Emotional Intelligence.

In this interview with expert Kim Wasson we discuss practical applications of emotional intelligence tools for everything from communications to meetings to celebrations to managing remote teams. You'll learn to recognize both emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence signals and use them to tailor communications and daily operations.
Kim Wasson with Cornelius Fichtner
Kim Wasson with Cornelius Fichtner
Please scroll down to see the full list of our Emotional Intelligence podcasts.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is your ability to recognize and understand your own emotions and use them to respond appropriately to others, while recognizing and acknowledging their feelings too. EI helps you adjust the way you respond to get the best outcome in a situation.

If you already have a project management certification, or are studying to earn one, then you’ve probably come across the term ‘interpersonal skills.’ Leadership, team building, motivation, negotiation or trust building are some of the terms you’ll find under that umbrella. But there is another dimension to those soft skills that you need as a project leader.

And that is emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the term given to the way we can monitor our own emotions and the emotions of others. From there, we use the clues and information we pick up to guide our actions so that they can be as effective as possible. In other words, EI is being able to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and others.

What are the 5 Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence?

According to Daniel Goleman, who popularized the concept, the 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence are:
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills.
But what do those terms really mean, and how do you apply them to your work in a project setting? Let's investigate further.


Self-awareness simply means that you are conscious of your own emotions as they happen, and how they might affect your actions and those of others. Tap into how you feel at work and acknowledge that. It's OK to be frustrate if your project sponsor overrules a decision you made, or someone fails to complete a task on time, despite telling you yesterday that everything was on track.


Do you make decisions in haste, or are you quick to say things you then regret later? Criticizing others is something that psychologist Nick Wignall says emotionally intelligent people don't do. Self-regulation is the skill of keeping yourself in control and thinking before you speak and act. Project environments can be fast-paced, highly charged and constantly changing, so having a leader who is calm and considered makes a positive difference to the team.


Project managers tend to be motivated people, because they need the tenacity and drive to deliver a project successfully. Motivation is one of the components of EQ. It helps you consistently achieve your goals and push yourself to ensure a quality result in what you want to achieve.


Leaders with high EI are empathetic. They see things from others' perspectives, which is essential in a project setting because it ensures the end result meets stakeholders' expectations. Empathy also extends to the way you interact with your team and colleagues. Think about how you can develop their skills in ways that help them meet their own personal career goals.

Social skills

Finally, project professionals should demonstrate social skills that enable them to work with leaders across the business and people at all levels. Social skills include behaviors we typically think of as interpersonal skills, like conflict resolution, communication and facilitating change. These skills help set you apart as a project leader because they ensure the team can operate effectively.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Project Leaders

Emotional ability is important for project leaders because:
  • It helps you work effectively with others
  • It helps you engage your team
  • It makes you better at your job.
Yes, EI really does have the power to make that much of an impact to you and your project team! There are huge benefits to demonstrating emotionally intelligent leadership, as explained below.

  • It helps you work effectively with others
    Strong emotional quotient makes it easier for you to 'get along' with others. You won't necessarily realize you're doing it, and neither will they, but you will draw on your ability to recognize and respond to feelings at work to get the best out of any interaction. On project teams where the individuals have not worked together before, this awareness can help people feel understood, respected and trusted.
  • It helps you engage your team
    As well as facilitating getting the work done, EI is important for engagement. You can communicate better, inspire others to achieve the project's vision, encourage and lead. When people want to work on a project and are engaged with their tasks, they are empowered to be more consistent and motivated.
  • It makes you better at your job
    EI is twice as important as technical skills or IQ, according to Harvard Business Review. In the top managers, it accounts for nearly 90% of the difference between average performers and those who excel in their jobs. Paying attention to your social awareness skills really will give your career a boost!

As a project manager, you can see why emotional intelligence in leadership is important. Whether you are leading multi-million dollar projects or small initiatives for your department, you’ll be working with others, building interest in the project, asking people to do tasks and then following up with them. Using your interpersonal skills can make those activities more effective and less stressful for everyone.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Project Management

EQ means picking up on the clues people give out. Is someone on the team desperate to get more involved in the project and learn from you? Is someone struggling with something at work (or even outside of work)? The more alert you are to the challenges facing your team, the more you can tailor your leadership style to fit their needs.

Ultimately, emotional intelligence and leadership is all about creating a positive working environment where you, as the project lead, can remove roadblocks and help the people on the team deliver the project successfully.

Aspects of emotional and social awareness include strong connected leadership, the ability to handle problems gracefully and being able to create and support effective teams using principles from the world of social and emotional intelligence translated into project management tools and techniques.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

You can improve your emotional intelligence. Here are 5 steps you can take to build your skills.

  • Be reflective
  • Take a self-assessment
  • Be accountable for your actions
  • Manage stress
  • Consider others

Be reflective

Reflect honestly about how you react to situations at work. Put some time aside to consider recent scenarios where you have been proud of how you responded to a situation on your project, and where you have not been proud of how you handled yourself. Think about why those situations happened and what you could have done to create a different outcome.

Take a self-assessment

Ask for feedback. You can also do a self-evaluation to review your strengths and weaknesses as a project leader. What areas could you work on? Many HR departments offer leadership assessments or 360-degree feedback activities. Talk to your manager to see if you could access what is available.

Be accountable for your actions

Leaders recognize and acknowledge when they could have done something better, and they own their mistakes. We all know that mistakes happen, so when they do, take action and apologize. You can't undo the past, but you can take responsibility for your behavior.

Manage stress

Think about how you react to stressful situations at work. Do you see the same reactions in others when they are under pressure? How can you mitigate or manage those reactions in yourself and others? Think about why others may react differently to you.

Consider others

Considering others is fundamental to demonstrating your EI at work. Think about how your actions will affect others on the team before you act on a decision. How would you feel if you suddenly heard about that decision? Are there ways you can help the team better respond to the decision? Put yourself in their position and try to see things from the other person's point of view.

Developing emotional intelligence simply means paying attention and building self-awareness. Take the time to be conscious of the way your actions affect others. If someone is having a bad day, you asking them for a project status update in the next 30 minutes could make it even more unpleasant for them. Instead, if you plan out when you need status updates and provide adequate notice, they can manage your requests without feeling over-burdened.

You already have a level of EQ, but how much do you listen to it and try to improve your skills in this area? The podcasts on this page are a curated collection of interviews with experts in the field. They have some amazing insights and practical tips to share with you. Why not add these episodes to your podcast queue now?

The most challenging problems we deal with are in the interactions between people. We need to focus on the underlying mechanisms that drive behavior, thoughts, feelings and emotions. It's critical, especially in the leadership aspect of project management, that we leverage this knowledge.
Samad Aidane

PM Podcast Episodes on Emotional Intelligence

Below you'll find a curated selection of podcasts on emotional intelligence in a project environment. This is just a small selection of the podcasts we have available on interpersonal skills and leadership topics.

Interpersonal Skills in Project Management

In this interview we look at why you should care about interpersonal skills, behavior styles and motivators, the emotional wake, organizational culture and politics. You'll also takeaway some tips about the all important topics of conflict management and coaching.
Kristy Tan Neckowicz and Dev Ramcharan with Cornelius Fichtner
Kristy Tan Neckowicz and Dev Ramcharan with Cornelius Fichtner

Mindfulness for Project Managers

Mindfulness as a business practice and leadership tool has seen a significant increase in press coverage lately. It originally started out as a means for improving yourself and your interactions with others but you will find that many leadership articles in the large business journals will make reference to it. In this interview with Margaret Meloni we look at mindfulness in project management. You'll learn what it is, the benefits, but most importantly we go through a number of familiar project management situations to see how mindfulness will help us improve and become better leaders.
Margarent Meloni, MBA, PMP
Margarent Meloni, MBA, PMP

Situational Awareness for Project Managers

Every project manager needs to master situational awareness. That is because no two projects are perfectly alike. What worked last time may have to be tweaked next time. Even worse, what may have worked just yesterday may have to be tweaked today! In this interview we look at situational awareness in project management and how that links to EQ.
Wanda Curlee and Cornelius Fichtner
Wanda Curlee and Cornelius Fichtner

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

At its core project management is all about effectively leading your team. Therefore emotional intelligence for project managers and project leaders can be just as important (if not more) than knowing how to interpret the latest earned value data.
Kim Wasson and Cornelius Fichtner
Kim Wasson and Cornelius Fichtner


Emotional intelligence can’t be ignored in project management. As so much of the work you do is with teams, it’s so important to know how to get the best out of your working relationships with others.

The good news is that it’s easy to start improving your EI skills. The more you are aware of what you are doing and how other people are reacting to your management style, the more you can start to shift your own behavior and that of others. We can all work on building emotionally intelligent workplaces that treat people as people instead of simply ‘project resources’.

We have plenty of relevant podcast episodes on this topic, so pick a few and start listening to improve your skills!

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