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Episode 384: Situational Awareness for Project Managers (Free)

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Wanda Curlee
Wanda Curlee and Cornelius Fichtner

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!

This interview about situational awareness with Wanda Curlee was recorded at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Congress 2016 in San Diego, California. It was co-written and co-presented with Marie Sterling. Wanda and I discuss their presentation and white paper Situational Awareness. Do you have the Emotional Intelligence for it?. Here is the abstract:

This paper explores the relationship of situational awareness and emotional intelligence of portfolio, program, and project leadership. Included in the paper is an introduction to situational awareness, emotional intelligence, SAGAT, recommendations and details about the workshop exercise. Situational awareness plays a critical role in effective decision making, and more so in complex and challenging portfolio, program and project management environments. Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the study of how in tune a person is with his or her own emotions and the ability to understand emotions of those around himself or herself. Through the use of a live training simulation, an individual’s level of situational awareness and their emotional intelligence will be determined.

Click to download the white paper

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner:  Hello everyone and welcome back to the Project Management Podcast at . I am sitting here in the halls of the beautiful and sunny San Diego Convention Center here at the 2016 PMI Global Congress and in front of me is Wanda Curlee.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner:   Hello, Wanda.

Wanda Curlee:   Nice to see you again, Cornelius.     

Cornelius:   Welcome back on the program.  

Wanda:  Thank you very much. An honor to be here.

Cornelius:  Yeah. You are speaking on Situational Awareness: Do you have the Emotional Intelligence for it? Have you already presented it?

Wanda:   No, I have not. I’ll present tomorrow morning.

Cornelius: Have you any idea how many people have registered?

Wanda:   The last time we checked there were about 60 people, so we’re hoping for a little bit more but if only 60 show up, that’s fine. If one shows up, we’ll do it.

Cornelius:   OK. Wonderful. Well, good luck. You said “we” and that is the moment where we also have to acknowledge your co-author and co-presenter.

Wanda:   Yes. That is Marie Sterling. She is actually the expert on situational awareness. She does a lot with the Canadian Military Services. I know they’ve combined everybody but she does the air side. She also does something similar to the American Civil Air Patrol where she goes out and tries to find lost hikers or planes that have gone down.

Cornelius:   So, let’s take a look at your paper since there are two authors you mentioned. You are more on the emotional intelligence side and she is more on the situational awareness but we’re going to cover both topics. The abstract begins as follows: The paper explores the relationship of situational awareness and emotional intelligence of portfolio, program and project leadership. How does this understanding help me as a project manager?

Wanda:   OK. We all know that we need to understand what the political situation is in a company. However, situational awareness takes that one step further. It’s—am I reading the data correctly? So that’s Level 1. Level 2 is: can I assess where I’m going and Level 3 of situational awareness is projecting. Do I know what’s going to happen in the future? As a project manager, no, we can’t forecast what’s going to happen in the future but based on everything that we’re seeing—the political, the environmental, what’s happening on the project can I state that I expect this to happen but it also gives you the flexibility that if I don’t state it correctly or understand what’s going to happen in the future, then I have the flexibility to get back to where I needed to go and tweak for it. Now the emotional intelligence side brings in: we did some research, Marie and I did, we put a survey monkey where we had somebody go through some—we had people come in and did the surveys and they did a situational awareness and then right after that, they did an Emotional Intelligence Quotient as it’s called. So what they do is we took, we did analysis of the Emotional Intelligence Quotient based on how they answered the various levels of situational awareness and we found rudimentary right now because we really don’t have that many people that responded. We only have about 25, we’re hoping for more that the higher your Emotional Intelligence Quotient, the better you are at situational awareness. It’s better for you to understand how you see people and how you understand yourself from an emotional intelligence perspective so that you can be better at situational awareness.

Cornelius:   Allow me to take a step back because we’re talking about a marriage here between emotional intelligence and situational awareness. How did you and Marie find each other to do this? Because these things are often serendipitous.

Wanda:   Right. Marie and I have known each other for years. I was actually the project manager on an initiative done by PMI after the tsunami happened in the Indian Ocean where we developed a Project Management methodology that could be used by anybody. They could just tear up some sheets and go and build a new home or a new infrastructure. It was very rudimentary. They helped those that maybe couldn’t read, or did not know how to write so it was a lot of pictures. She actually did the training component. She then contacted me and said, “Hey Wanda, are you interested in this?” and she was doing the situational awareness. I said, “Wow, we need to marry it with something—how about emotional intelligence. So that’s how we came together on it.

Cornelius:   OK, back to the paper. In the introduction, I found a section that very interesting to me. Allow me to read it: Project, program, portfolio managers can assist company leadership by understanding the situational awareness and the proper emotional intelligence to provide the necessary leadership. Here’s my somewhat critical question in regards to this statement. Often, we project managers, we are not viewed as being qualified to do something like that. We are the task masters; we’re supposed to get this project done. We’re supposed to just get these assigned projects completed on time on schedule on. How do we get to that point where we are being seen as somebody who can actually speak on this?

Wanda:   The Project Management area and us as project managers, it’s evolving. For example, we used to just say we did nothing in this strategy area. It was only done by the program and the portfolio managers. However, that’s shifting. We’re finding that if you’re on a project that does not meet the strategic needs of the company, then you’re really doing something that doesn’t have any value to the organization and potentially, you’re going to be cancelled or you’re going to be stopped or you’re just on a project that never gets the funding. So, it goes on forever and we all don’t want to be on those type of projects. So there needs to be a marriage between the portfolio, the program and the projects from a strategic point of view because now when we have less resources to do the things that we need, then the leadership needs to understand that we are doing something that provides to the bottom line or enhances our technology to make us better in the marketplace. So, project managers need to understand where they fit strategically. When they understand where they fit strategically, then they have to have some situational awareness about their project. Where do I fit into this? Do I meet two or three strategy objectives of the organization? Am I fulfilling one, or am I not doing any? If you’re not doing any, well there might be a reason. There might be a regulatory requirement for it too. That might be a reason to do it but if you’re not meeting a strategic need, then you need to start questioning the leadership, “Hey why am I doing this?” and if they can’ answer, you might say, “Hey, do we really want to do this?’ We might want to take our resources and put it on to something that makes sense for the organization. If you have the emotional intelligence and you know which leadership to go to to get people on your side, and therefore understand the situational awareness in the company, then you’re going to be seen as a hero because now you’re taking resources that were on a dead-end project and putting them on something that is valuable and that is dated or maybe start a project that was underneath the line of what projects we’re going to do this year because now we have all these resources that can do that.

Cornelius:   How do you fold the paper? Define emotional intelligence and situational awareness.

Wanda:   Well, emotional intelligence is really the ability for leaders and when I say leaders, I’m talking about project managers and portfolio managers and program managers to understand their emotional cues of my own, how am I reflecting on to other people within the organization and then I and my ability to read others and what’s happening. How do I handle stress? How are the other people handling stress? What is my project team doing right now? Are the technical folks really having an issue with maybe the business side? If I can understand those emotional cues, then I can do better. Situational awareness is the perception of reality so if you think of a fighter pilot, a fighter pilot has to understand their rules of engagement and they have to understand where they are in that plan at any one time. Are there enemy people coming? Are there people on the ground that are trying to shoot at me? Or are there up in the air that are trying to shoot at me? So you constantly have to know where you are. You have to know where your allies are too. Do I have a wingman with me or am I flying by myself? In a project environment, we have to understand and project managers haven’t done this in the past. Where do I fit in the project? Do I have another project that’s fitting in to me? Beforehand, we have just kept project managers in the blind so they may not know that their projects is fitting in to something else. They have to know what leadership thinks about this project. Am I part of a program? And what does the portfolio think? Am I going to be delayed, etc.?  So those are things that they need to understand.

Cornelius:   In the paper you then moved on to describing how situational awareness is measured. Can you walk us through that, please?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

PDUs: Power Skills, PMI Global Congress, PMI Global Congress NA 2016, Emotional Intelligence, Situational Awareness

  • Last updated on .
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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