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Episode 401: Emotional Intelligence for Project Leaders (Premium)

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Margaret Meloni
Margaret Meloni, MBA, PMP

Those of you who have, will or are preparing for your PMP exam, inevitably come across the term “Interpersonal Skills”. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) mentions them, your prep books talk about them, and you find me talking about them in my PMP exam prep training lessons as well.

Leadership, team building, motivation, negotiation or trust building are some of the terms you’ll find. But there is another dimension to these soft skills that we project managers need. And that is “emotional intelligence”.

Emotional intelligence and leadership is one of the topics Margaret Meloni has been coaching and training on for a long time. The “softer side” of project management is her area of genius and so I’m very happy to welcome her as our expert today.

Episode Transcript

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

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: In this episode of the Project Management Podcast, we get emotional and discover how the soft skill of emotional intelligence helps us be better at the hard skills.

Hello and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™ at This is Episode 401 and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Thank you for listening in.

Those of you who have, will or are preparing for your Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam inevitably come across the term interpersonal skills. The PMBOK® Guide mentions them. Your prep books talk about them and you find me talking about them in my PMP® Exam Prep training lessons as well.

Leadership, team building, motivation, negotiation or trust building are some of the terms that you’ll find. But there is another dimension to the soft skills that we project managers need and that is emotional intelligence.

Margaret Meloni has been coaching and training on the softer side of project management for a long time. And so, I’m very happy to welcome her as our expert today.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Margaret!

Margaret Meloni: Hi! Good to be here! Thank you! Hi, everybody.

Cornelius Fichtner: Good morning, good morning! So to begin, let’s once again do a definition here. Let’s define emotional intelligence. What does emotional intelligence mean to you?

Margaret Meloni: The ability to monitor your emotions or the emotions of others and use this to guide your actions. A shorter way perhaps for me to say this is to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and others.

Cornelius Fichtner: Where does it come from? Who first brought up the term, wrote about it?

Margaret Meloni: Well I’ve traced this back to about 1964 and it probably even goes back beyond that. But to somebody named Michael Beldoch who did a paper on it. I’m just going to quickly go through some of the parties involved. Then in 1989, there was somebody named Stanly Greenspan who created a model to help describe what emotional intelligence was. This was picked up and used by Peter Salovey and John Mayer, not the singer.

And then we get to Daniel Goldman. If you use your favorite search engine and look up emotional intelligence, you’ll probably see a lot more about Daniel Goldman than any of these other parties. Although some of them are still actively involved in this field but you are going to see Daniel Goldman as he is very smart and he named one of his first book: EQ Emotional Intelligence. For those of us in the business world, he might be a little bit more of our go-to resource because he writes articles for Harvard Business Review and Forbes and others on a regular basis.

Cornelius Fichtner: And what is the correct abbreviation please? Is the correct abbreviation, EI or is it EQ or does it even matter?

Margaret Meloni: Well, I might get in trouble here with someone. That’s the risk I take when I say these things. I say tomato, to-mah-to.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right!

Margaret Meloni: But I will tell you is that I did run across one researcher who did use them differently and when he did, he used EI to discuss what we are born with, a potential that we are born with and he used EQ to talk about later our actual practical application of these skills. That being said, 99.9% of the time, I say EQ.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay so whether you say EQ or EI, you mean emotional intelligence. I prefer EQ myself but that’s just because that’s the one I have grown up with.

Margaret Meloni: Exactly, exactly.

Cornelius Fichtner: Why is emotional intelligence important to us project managers?

Margaret Meloni: It is a significant differentiator in our success and I’m going to just bounce some statistics off of you and I borrowed these statistics from a man named Travis Bradberry who also does some work in this area. Basically, there is some finding that 58% of our success ties to our ability to be emotionally intelligent and that’s pretty high.

In addition, if you look at people who are talk performers, who are considered to be successful that 90% of them rate high in EQ or higher than their colleagues. And this one, I’m going to bring this one up. I’m not sure that I am completely bought into this but I want to bring it up because I find it to be very interesting that there is an indicator that goes so far as to say that for each point that we increase our EQ, we might be paid $1300 more in our salary.

Now, I didn’t go peel back the layers of that research so I don’t know if we could really make a case for that. But I think these statistics together what they are illustrating is that there is a theme and that we are going to experience more success when we are able to control our emotions and recognize what’s going on with others so that we can behave accordingly.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay. Those are impressive numbers. But I have some other numbers for you here and those are numbers that are of interest to the project manager and the project sponsor. And that those are earned value numbers. That’s the budget. That’s the date on which I have to deliver. Those are key performance indicators. It’s the scope. Do I really need emotional intelligence to be more successful on that?

Margaret Meloni: This is the ultimate soft skills versus hard skills conversation I think or question. So if I’m just really high with my EQ, can I just forget about my earned value? No! Because there’s an expectation that I may be able to use my emotional intelligence to guide the team, to hit the goals that we have agreed upon. And so if I’m just like really fun to be around and I get along well with people but my team isn’t performing, that is going to come back to haunt me most likely.

Conversely, if I’m all about the numbers and I am a misery to work with in many fields, that is also going to come back to haunt me. So I think EQ is like the ultimate integration of our soft skills and our technical skills.

You know, so for example let’s say you are my sponsor and I do need to come into a status meeting and give you an update and tell you that we missed something in estimating and we’re going to be over budget. If I happen to know if I’ve done my work and I’ve had a chance to get to know you, and I happen to understand that budget is a hot button for you, I hope that I’m going to drop on my emotional intelligence to find the best way to present this information to you. I need to tell you, I need to tell you the truth it’s not okay for me to hide this but perhaps I can do it in a different way rather than blurting out to you: “You know, Cornelius, we’re absolutely wrong and we are $50,000 off and that’s just how it is.”

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! With all of that out of the way, we now want to turn our attention to the PMBOK® Guide. It has a long list of knowledge areas that it covers and what we want to do is go through them. Maybe we’ll touch upon all of them. Maybe we’ll skip one or two here or there and you have prepared an example for us on how we project managers use emotional intelligence in these knowledge areas. We’ve already heard one from cost.

So let’s not start with project integration management, that definitely we want to do last because we first want to learn about all the others and then integrate it. So let’s turn our attention to scope, project scope management. How do we use emotional intelligence in scope management?

Margaret Meloni: Well and you know in scope management, when it’s that time when we are preparing the scope and we’re trying to get the definition clear and people are beginning to get antsy: “When are you going to get this nailed down? Common! Hurry up!” And people are feeling pressured to agree to the scope and move on. Maybe it doesn’t happen to all of you but I’ve certainly seen that plenty of times. And you see a stakeholder who appears to be unhappy but doesn’t want to stand up to the momentum and wants to go along and sign it. But you can see that they are unhappy and they are signing off grudgingly, what do you do? Do you just say: “Ah well, they signed it. So too bad about them!” Or do you follow up with them to find out: “You seemed unhappy with the scope. I just want to come back to you and no matter what if there’s an issues, let’s work through it now because it’s going to haunt us later.” So you see that’s a way of sensing in the scope process that you think you really have it nailed but you really don’t because somebody is really not happy.

Cornelius Fichtner: What about project time management?

Margaret Meloni: You know you are still my sponsor because I’m not going to let you get away from me. But now that important constraint is time. It’s the deadline and I can see a forecast that we’re going to be over by 4 days. I can see that my time is working overtime, my team excuse me, is already working overtime. They are dog-tired, if you’ll pardon the expression, and I don’t know how I can get more out of them and yet I know that the business need is really needed this and we can’t be late.

I’m not going really need to drop on my emotional intelligence to work with all of you to help come up with a solution. It’s likely the solution may still involve asking the team to give more. It may involve asking you to maybe to concede to two days late. I may need to ask you: “Can we bring in some temp labor and increase the budgets?” But in order to help with the team, and I may have to remind everyone that a team who is really pushed in overtired is likely to have some quality issues and some illness issues. And so, I really going to need to pull on what I’m feeling by the way at that time, which is I’m freaking out and pull on all of that so we can all sit down and come up with a solution.

Cornelius Fichtner: Earlier on, you’ve already given us an example for cost management. Do you have a second example for us?

Margaret Meloni: Well let’s say, so you as my sponsor, let’s say you are super helpful and one of the ways in which you are so helpful is you give us some estimates, more in the middle of estimating. You used to work in a certain area and you used to purchase a certain kind of material. And so you say: “You know I want to help you out and you don’t need to go research these estimates because I know this is how much these materials cost.”

And my subject matter expert looks at your estimates and it came down immediately to the supplier that we used for those materials and prove that your estimates are wrong because that’s not in any way awkward because you are the sponsor and you’re trying to help us and you used to work in this area, and you’re wrong and my subject matter expert can prove that you’re wrong. And I don’t want to move forward with your estimates because I’m going to be off in the budget and sooner or later, I’m going to have to say ‘why’ and so you can see where I might have to draw on my emotional intelligence to: “How do I do this? Do I just not use your estimates and hope you don’t notice? Do I sit down with you privately? Do I bring he subject matter expert into it or does that going to embarrass you or do I just bring you a print out to say, look what has happened, or we’re obligated to use this specific vendor and that’s how much these materials cost at this vendor?” I got to pick the best way to handle this.

Cornelius Fichtner: How do we use emotional intelligence in the area of quality management?

Margaret Meloni: Let’s say that I am at a CMMI level IV or V where we use auditors and we have an auditor assigned to me as a project manager and the QA Auditor, I worked some place we call them QA Reviewers. Their job is to review how I’m running the project, to make sure that I’m following the processes that we say we’re going to use to run a project and my QA Auditor or reviewer finds a problem in my project management plan.

My project management plan has already been signed. My sponsor and stakeholders are happy and we moved on. But in the eyes of the QA Auditor, this is not okay. And the conflict is that their job is to make sure that I’m doing things and following the process and I want to try to follow the process and I didn’t make a mistake on purpose. But now we’ve moved on and I don’t see the value in following back and spending time and updating a plan that everybody seems to be fine with and they are using.

Now this auditor and I and perhaps others, we need to sit down and discuss what is really the best thing for the project without it being about missing: “That silly, we’ve moved on. Get over it.” Without the auditor saying: “This is how it is. You must stick to it.” So we’re going to have to find a way to be able to sit down and talk about this.

Cornelius Fichtner: Then we have human resources management and this is probably the area where everybody can see: “Oh yeah, emotional intelligence, human resources. They probably go hand in hand.” How do we as project managers though apply emotional intelligence here? What example do you have for us?

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

Podcast Episodes About PMP, PDUs: Power Skills, Emotional Intelligence

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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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