When you think of your leader or your project manager, what comes to mind? Would you remember them long after the project is done? A memorable manager is one who never loses control of his temper no matter what issues he faces. Someone who has earned the trust of his or her team, one who listens attentively, is approachable, gets along with others, and always makes well-informed decisions. This soft skill of emotional intelligence is the foundation upon which successful projects are built.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand, use and manage one’s emotions in a positive way that empathizes with others, and allows one to communicate effectively, overcome challenges and resolve conflict.

A project is defined as a sequence of tasks that must be completed within a stipulated timeline to achieve a desired predetermined outcome and is managed by a leader called the Project Manager, who according to Pant and Baroudi (2008: 124), has the technical competencies of project management, the capability to understand the situation and the people and then dynamically integrate it with his appropriate leadership qualities. Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet the requirements of a project.  It covers aspects of planning, monitoring, coordination, and control (Kuster, Huber, Lippmann, et al. (2011:9).

Inevitably though, all projects comprise people who are complex and have different personalities and temperaments, and who are under immense pressure to deliver a product within budget and time, hence making emotional intelligence an essential ingredient in the mix for project success.

This study aimed to determine whether the emotional intelligence of project managers is crucial for project success, with specific reference to the construction and building industry in South Africa.

The Foundation of Emotional Intelligence:

For decades, the focus was always placed on a high intellectual prowess for academic and business success and success in one’s career and personal life, as was advocated by the Stanford-Binet Intelligence IQ score. Kelly (1998), and Spencer and Spencer found that IQ alone is not a primary predictor of work success and job performance. This then gave rise to a new school of thought called social intelligence, the roots of which were laid down by the American psychologist Edward Thorndike (1920) who developed the concept (Chamorro-Premuzic, Von Stumm and Furnham (2011:657). Social intelligence according to Thorndike is the ability of people to understand and manage people to act wisely in human relations.

The theory of Multiple Intelligence, according to Gardner (1993:43) includes both the concepts of intra-personal and interpersonal intelligence. Interpersonal intelligence is a person’s capacity to understand the intentions, motivations, and desires of other people and how to work with other people. Intrapersonal intelligence focuses on the ability to understand oneself and how to regulate one’s behavior.

Although the concept of emotional intelligence was introduced way back in 1964 by Michael Beldoch, it was only later popularized by Daniel Goldman in his book “Emotional Intelligence: What it can Matter more than IQ” which led to the models of emotional intelligence.

Models of Emotional Intelligence:

Emotional intelligence models have aided in the development of several construct evaluation instruments. Each theoretical paradigm conceptualizes emotional intelligence from different perspectives. The three main models are:

The Ability Model – considers emotional intelligence as a pure form of mental ability hence pure intelligence. The ability model focuses on perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions, and using that information to facilitate and guide our decisions. Their emotional intelligence framework has four branches of human abilities which are perceiving emotions, facilitating thought, understanding emotions, and managing emotions to enhance the advancement of new intelligence and using these more intelligent methods of building a trusting relationship

  • The Trait Model of emotional intelligence refers to the individual’s perceptions of their emotional abilities (Mayer, Caruso, and Salovey, 2000). According to Bar-On, emotional intelligence is an arrangement of interconnected behavior which is driven by emotional and social competencies that influence performance and behavior. This model focuses on five emotional intelligence scales which are self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal and decision-making skills, and stress management. The subscales are:
    • Self-regard
    • Self-actualization
    • Emotional self-awareness
    • Emotional expression
    • Assertiveness
    • Independence
    • Interpersonal relationships
    • Empathy
    • Social responsibility
    • Problem-solving
    • Reality testing
    • Impulse control
    • Flexibility
    • Stress tolerance
    • Optimism

All of the scales and subscales mentioned above drive human behavior and relationships.

  • The Mixed Model of emotional intelligence as espoused by Goleman combines mental capacity with personality traits. Goleman (2001) identified an integrated matrix with twenty emotional competencies which could assist project managers in successfully leading and managing projects to success. The twenty competencies are divided into the five dimensions of emotional intelligence based on Goleman’s Mixed Model of Emotional Intelligence.
  1. Self-Awareness – recognizing one’s own emotions, accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses, and competencies, and possessing self-confidence to succeed in personal and business life.
  2. Self-Management – a person’s ability to exercise appropriate control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, achievement orientation, and initiative.
  • Motivation – intrinsic motivation focuses on the psychological needs in terms of job security, promotion, education and training, recognition by management, and a sense of feeling valued. Extrinsic motivation focuses on external rewards such as a higher salary, remuneration, and company financial benefits.
  1. Social Awareness – includes empathy, service orientation, and organizational awareness.
  2. Relationship Management – entails good communication, listening skills, and the ability to reassure team members through inspiration and guidance.

These five competencies are the basis for the subscales which include:

  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Emotional self-control
  • Adaptability
  • Achievement orientation
  • Positive outlook
  • Influence
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Empathy
  • Conflict management
  • Teamwork
  • Organizational awareness
  • Inspirational leadership

Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence (Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, 2002).

Project Success and Emotional Intelligence:

 Projects in the construction and building industry, as well as projects in general, cost billions of dollars and many projects fail not only in terms of time, cost, scope, and quality but due to the lack of emotional intelligence of project managers where good and often irreplaceable human capital is lost.

Cooke-Davies (2002) states that project success is important within the project management field because of the demand placed on the project manager to perform and where soft skills are critical.

Four project success factors that focus on people dynamics build project success. They are:

  • effective communication with internal and external stakeholders
  • the management of unexpected complications and challenges
  • clear project mission
  • senior management support and motivation (Mazur et al. (2014)

Personal qualities too such as leadership, job performance, working in a team, business planning skills, and general professionalism for success add to project success.

Various researchers (Jugdev and Muller, 2005; Turner 1999) have identified the different components of project success. They argue that the criteria for project success vary from project to project, and it depends on both external and internal factors. Turner and Muller’s (2006) study focused on the project manager’s success in managing the project that contributed to its success. They further investigated how the competence of the project manager with his focus on leadership styles and emotional intelligence contributed to project success. In the study of Carmel (2003) the results indicated senior managers who are emotionally intelligent develop an emotional attachment to the organization and therefore are more committed to their career and work. The different emotional intelligence competencies as discussed enhance the abilities of project managers to successfully complete projects.


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