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Using your EQ: a guide to positive project leadership

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Good emotional intelligence (EQ) is paramount in project leadership as it fosters effective communication, collaboration and conflict resolution among team members.  

Leaders with high emotional intelligence understand and manage their own emotions, leading to better self-regulation and decision-making. Additionally, emotionally intelligent leaders adeptly navigate challenges, adapt to changing circumstances, and inspire trust and loyalty within their teams. Ultimately, they cultivate a positive organisational culture, driving success and achieving project goals with efficiency and resilience. 

When there are so many spinning plates to align, it can be easy to forget how emotional intelligence is really at the core of great project management leadership. Projects often fall down when a higher value is placed on the technical aspects rather than communication and engagement. However, finding and developing positive project leadership in your change teams will act as a key pillar for delivery success. 

What does this mean in practice? How do you know if there is strong emotional intelligence in your leadership skillset? Can you assess your resources and identify gaps in this critical area of project capability? Here are some ideas employed by leaders with a high EQ: 

1. Impact and intentions  

It’s important to consider your audience when you engage with them. Often messages can have a negative impact even with the purest intentions and this can especially happen in pressurised environments, as negative thoughts and insecurities can rise quickly. 

It’s essential for your project leaders to be aware that people are looking to them for signals and will hone in on what they say and equally, what they don’t say. They must be self-aware and ensure that their interactions are positive, and land as intended every single time. 

Good project managers do the groundwork from the outset; they establish a rapport, build trust and develop good relationships within their teams. Once this has been developed a useful technique is to review those messages and summarise, listen and adjust and then reinforce to get the impact they need. They must take time to achieve this and not lose sight of the people in their team and their personal aspirations. It’s essential that they build an understanding and confidence in their teams, ensuring they check in to see how messages land and are interpreted, looking to foster an open environment where the team will be honest and direct. Project leaders must be flexible and be willing to adjust in a project environment to guarantee that they are working towards the same goal. 

2. Finding the positive common ground 

Are your project leaders able to break down barriers and blockers and generate a common set of actions to get your project moving? 

Strong project leaders must first ensure they get the sponsorship and vision for what they are doing clear and well understood. Forget “Return on Investment” and “payback periods”, these are for the FDs COOs and CEOs — you need to challenge, excite and make it worth doing for your project team to really strive for success against a genuine goal. 

Secondly, find areas where you can agree mutual benefits and work from these. In this context, your project manager needs to be a negotiator, a savvy operator, an entrepreneur who can secure small wins to build from and generate forward progress. 

Project leaders must also help their team to deliver. Taking time to understand what drives them, their personal goals and what makes them tick will help to engage them appropriately and get them feeling motivated about delivering for you. In line with the old adage ‘help others succeed and then you will’, how many of your project leaders are too focused on the tasks at hand to skip this and miss an opportunity for positive leadership? 

3. Generate positive energy 

Are your project leaders able to inspire and communicate positive emotions? 

Can your leaders communicate their emotions, engage others and leave them how they intended? How do you want people to feel at the end of a conversation? Be sure to focus on the words and body language you use. If you want to inspire and lead, what are you doing and saying to make that happen? 

Secondly, it’s essential that all project leads have resilience. So much is written about resilience but what are we talking about here and what should your best project managers be doing? 

The strongest project leads have already fostered a support network suited to their needs which in turn helps build their resilience. In this group are trusted advisors who can give direct feedback and be there to listen and support. Resilience is not about simply taking the blows on your own and keeping going, in ‘a project world’ it’s about inviting in challenges, ideas and solutions from a wider set of resources to help you be successful in the projects’ objectives. 

Project managers and sponsors of transformation should focus on making sure this is in place. When you’re in the initiating stages of a project it’s not just about the governance and the plan but also setting up the support structures to ensure that positive energy can be fuelled and reviewed as the project progresses. 

In conclusion, to enable transformation success there must be a positive approach to change — focusing on how your project manager leads. In some cases, this is more important than the what. In practice this means balancing technical elements with communication and engagement continually checking on their intentions and impact, having a negotiators style to find common areas and developing a style to inspire others through real care for their needs. All this while not forgetting their own support network. 

Nine Feet Tall is a values-led management consultancy which delivers meaningful transformation through the power of people and technology.  


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