Economic figures indicate a significant and growing need for innovation in today's global economy. In order to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage, an organization's chosen strategy must be reinforced. A common approach is the use of process improvement and project management techniques to execute strategic initiatives. These two important domains can integrate and align vital business strategy to help achieve organizational goals.
The growing use of organizational change initiatives in the pursuit of excellence has created an increased importance for developing effective leadership competencies. The need for success is placing a renewed emphasis on one very unique role — the project manager responsible for successfully leading these strategic change initiatives. These organizational leaders, who perform well due to their technical skills, are promoted to act as the organizational change agents and often lack development in the critical interpersonal skills, which include leadership, communication, conflict management, and problem solving.
Recent research contends that interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, which constitute emotional intelligence (EI) play a more important role than cognitive intelligence, particularly in determining personal success and engagement of people in the workplace (Rabicoff, 2010). Personal competencies of confidence, emotional control, and interpersonal skills form a basis for predicting a person's potential (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2004).
Over the years, numerous studies have determined that organizational change initiatives tend to fail as a result of poor leadership and have identified interpersonal skills as the critical component when measuring a leader's effectiveness. One emerging aspect of the interpersonal skills is emotional intelligence (EI). Emotions are key drivers in making sound decisions. Our logical thinking is often only rational justifications for our emotional decisions. EI is the ability to sense, understand, manage, and apply emotional data that can aid in leading, motivating, and influencing critical stakeholders.
New research is emerging on the value and applicability of EI and the skills and competencies that require a culture of quality and a work environment in which innovation is embraced and allowed to flourish. Over a decade of research has consistently demonstrated that those with higher EI abilities are more likely to perform at a higher level than their less emotionally intelligent coworkers. Leading management textbooks now include substantial coverage of the latest research on EI. EI is recognized as another tool that organizational leaders can use in their efforts to understand and to predict behaviour.
Project management practitioners, who perform well due to their technical skills, are often promoted to project managers and lack development in the interpersonal skills, including communication, leadership, problem solving, and conflict management. For example, a software developer may perform well in developing program code and then be assigned to lead a team of people on a subsequent project. Pinto, Thoms, Trailer, Palmer, and Govekar (1998) stated: “Project teams are frequently headed by people who are chosen for their technical expertise rather than for their leadership abilities” (p. 55). Wong (2007) stated: “Future project leaders will require greater knowledge and skills in managing human factors” (p. 323). Exhibit 1 demonstrates the accidental project manager relying mostly on his or her domain knowledge (see dotted line).
Practitioners need to be well balanced in the technical skills and human skills to manage projects. The technical skills of project management include planning, scheduling, budgeting, and monitoring and controlling. The human skills of project management include communicating, developing and leading teams, and interacting with project stakeholders. Project management is balancing the technical skills along with the people skills. This requires a high level of project competency in combination with personal competencies that are needed to interact with the people throughout the project.
Project management practitioners must use other associated areas of expertise and knowledge, to ensure successful projects, including domain knowledge, project management knowledge (hard skills), project management knowledge (soft skills), and general business knowledge (Exhibit 1, see solid blue line). Domain area knowledge is derived from technical, management, and industry practices, such as construction, software development, manufacturing, and so forth. Project management knowledge (hard skills) is unique to the project management profession, such as, schedule development, cost estimating, and risk management. Project management knowledge (soft skills) includes interpersonal skills, such as communication, influence, conflict management, and problem solving. General management knowledge encompasses understanding how the projects align with the corporate strategic objectives.
The project manager must be able to interact with the project sponsor, team members, and stakeholders affected by the project. Ineffective project leadership results in misunderstanding of project objectives, lack of acceptance from project team members, and poor decision making (Leban, 2003). Therefore, project managers need to have strong human skills (Wong, 2007). One aspect of human skills is EI (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). The project manager must be aware of his or her emotions and others' emotions on the project.
An emerging concept of managing human skills uses EI (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). There is a growing body of research, published in respected, peer-reviewed journals, suggesting that EI does play an important role in work-related processes (Cherniss, 2010). Prior to determining which EI abilities to develop, practitioners need to know what their current EI abilities are. Once practitioners know their EI abilities, they can determine which EI abilities to develop, and then improve their human skills in areas such as problem solving, decision making, and leading.
Researchers have long debated the skills and competencies that are beneficial in the role as an organizational change leader. Researchers have also debated the value and applicability of emotional intelligence in organizations and the value of the various assessment tools available. In the past decade, several research studies have emerged that have investigated the relationship between organizational leaders, emotional intelligence, and the interpersonal skills required to lead and direct these strategic initiatives. In one recent study, across 15 nations and 21 industries, 83% of chief executive officers reported an increasing gap between their expectations for executing organizational change and their organizations' ability to execute organizational change. New research on EI and the interpersonal competencies of organizational leaders is relevant because both may offer avenues that can fuel the effectiveness of organizational adaptability.
Salovey and Mayer (1990) acknowledged Thorndike's definition of social intelligence as “the ability to perceive one's own and others' internal states, motives, and behaviors, and to act toward them optimally on the basis of that information” (p. 187) as foundation to the construct of EI. Salovey and Mayer (1990) established the first formal definition of EI in their seminal article, Emotional Intelligence, as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions” (p. 189). Salovey and Mayer (1990) postulated that, as a subset of social intelligence, EI monitors, discriminates, and uses the feelings and emotions for thinking and actions. According to Mayer and Salovey (1997), EI is a multi-dimensional construct that relates emotion and cognition with the improvement of human interactions.
The years ranging from 1900 through 1969 was an era of research into separate areas of intelligence and emotion (Ciarrochi, Forgas, & Mayer, 2006). There were debates among psychologists about whether emotions held universal meaning, or whether they were culturally determined. Ciarrochi et al. (2006) stated, “Darwin had argued that emotions evolved across animal species; this was met with skepticism by social psychologists who believed that emotions were manifested differently in different cultures” (p.6).
From 1970 to 1989, intelligence and emotion were integrated into the new field of cognition and affect (Ciarrochi et al., 2006). Understanding of what emotions meant and when they arose were explored. Darwin's theory that emotions evolved across animal species and emotions were universal expressions was validated by Paul Ekman in studies from Papua New Guniea, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, and the former Soviet Union (Ekman, 2003). The term emotional intelligence was occasionally used, but was not defined (Ciarrochi et al., 2006). Howard Gardner (1983) proposed a theory of intrapersonal intelligence. Gardner's (1983) theory was part of a general self and social intelligence and not considered EI.
From 1990 to 1997, John Mayer and Peter Salovey published the first formal definitions of EI (Salovey & Mayer, 1990; Mayer & Salovey, 1997). Mayer and Salovey introduced the first EI ability scale based on their four-branch model to measure EI (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). The development of a formal theory of EI provided the starting point for the study of EI (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).
Based on the history of intelligence, scholars measured intelligence to a single number and named it intelligence quotient (Christensen, Horn, & Johnson, 2008). Research from academic psychologists indicates that intelligence is much broader than this (Christensen et al., 2008; Gardner, 2008). There is now a proliferation of definitions and models of intelligence. Many researchers have proposed different types of intelligence and among them is EI (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). The appeal of EI is that it offers a different perspective of what it means to be intelligent (Bienn & Caruso, 2004).
The Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology stated there are three major models of EI: the Mayer-Salovery-Caruso EI Test (MSCEIT), Goleman, and Bar-On behavior (Bar-On, 2007b) models. The MSCEIT model defines EI as the ability to perceive emotions, use emotions to facilitate thought, understand emotions, and manage emotions (Bar-On, 2007b). The Goleman model views EI as emotional and social competencies that contribute to workplace performance (Bar-On, 2007b). The Bar-On model describes EI as interrelated emotional and social competencies and skills that impact intelligent behavior (Bar-On, 2007b).
Organizational leaders who excel with the use of emotional intelligence may be more capable of responding to risk or opportunities. With annual spending on organizational change initiatives in the billions and expecting to grow, it is difficult to overlook the increasing demand for achieving and sustaining success, which creates a growing importance for developing effective leadership competencies.
Most organizations seem to appreciate that EI has some relationship to performance, but the understanding of how, where, and why is unclear. The concepts and tools of EI are used in organizations, but the validity and application remain major concerns. There is much confusion on what exactly EI is and how it can be accurately measured. The concept of EI remains unclear. This lack of clarity is reflected in contemporary business, where human resource professionals feel incompetent on the subject, despite claims of massive applicability in organizations.
When leading and managing a project, project teams will encounter problems, which will need to be resolved. A few issues that can fuel confrontation within projects include constrained budgets, scope creep, personality clashes, and organizational politics (Hollingsworth, 2010). Resolving these types of conflict requires a project manager with EI to directly confront the issues involved (Mersino, 2007). Clark (2010) stated, “…emotional intelligence and empathy are likely to be key strengths in helping project managers to successfully manage conflict” (p. 6).
Solving problems, throughout a project, requires decision making. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (Project Management Institute, 2008) identifies decision-making as an interpersonal skill to resolve problems among stakeholders. From a project management perspective, a key challenge is how to make the right decisions when there is a high degree of uncertainty and make correct judgments to prevent cost overruns and schedule delays (Johansson, Hicks, Larson, & Bertori, 2011).
Emotional intelligence is the latest development in understanding the relation between reason and emotion, which can aid in effective decision making (Ciarrochi et al., 2006). Emotions assist people in thinking and decision making (Caruso & Salovey, 2004). Emotions play a key role in good decision making within an organization (Bienn & Caruso, 2004). Individuals differ in their ability to use their own emotions to solve problems (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).
Psychologists acknowledge that EI theories recognize the important four basic components of perceive, understand, use, and manage emotions (Bienn & Caruso, 2004).
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