Applied EQ #40 – PMs Need to Understand the Playing Field (Part 1 of 2)

Applied EQ #40 – PMs Need to Understand the Playing Field (Part 1 of 2)

We have been exploring the Emotional Intelligence domain of Social Awareness.  So far we have addressed empathy and seeing others clearly.  Another competency of Social Awareness is Organizational Awareness.  This is the first of two posts which will address organizational awareness.

What exactly is Organizational Awareness?  Daniel Goleman, in The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace, defines Organizational Awareness as:

“the ability to read the currents of emotions and political realities in groups”

Hmmm…”read the currents” sounds a little like reading the tea leaves and that reminds me of astrology or fortune telling.  I hope organizational awareness is a little more grounded than that.

Interestingly enough, Organizational Awareness was not even part of Goleman’s original framework for emotional intelligence.  Instead, he included competencies like political awareness and team capabilities.  In his 2002 book, Primal Leadership, which he co-authored with Richard Boyatzis, he simplified the framework and included Organizational Awareness.  Here is how Goleman and Boyatzis describe Organizational Awareness in Primal Leadership:

Organizational Awareness.  A leader with a keen social awareness can be politically astute, able to detect crucial social networks and read key power relationships.  Such leaders can understand the political forces at work in an organization, as well as the guiding values and unspoken rules that operate among people there.”

That description sounds very relevant, perhaps critical, to our success as project or program managers.  I believe that the more we progress as project managers, the more our success is linked to organizational awareness.  As we will see, this awareness includes not just the project, but the company, customers, and vendors that are related project.

I first heard of Organizational Awareness back in 1993 before emotional intelligence became a popular buzzword.  Back then I was a Senior Project Manager at an un-named consulting firm.  Our annual performance review was based on an instrument that measured 11 different dimensions of project management, including organizational awareness.

Here is how that review instrument was used to evaluate the level of organizational awareness for a Project Manager.  Read the description and then take a moment to see where you would place yourself on this progressive scale:


Level 1:  Understands the formal structure and organization not only of the company, but of the client organization as well and operates accordingly.

Level 2:  Understands the informal structure, climate and culture with the company.  Knows where and whom to call and go to in order to make things happen or get things done.  Knows the broader range of company capabilities that can be made available to a client.

Level 3:  Understands the informal structure, climate and culture of the customers and vendor organizations as well as company.  Knows who can make what kinds of decisions and the factors that will influence them and puts this knowledge to practical use.

Level 4:  Understands the business of a customer more broadly that it is reflected in a given project.  Gains credibility with customers for this broader understanding and can spot future opportunities for company.

As noted, my manager used this assessment on me back in 1993.  At that time, I think she placed me at level 1.  Level 1???  That is essentially the same as being clueless about the organization.  How could that be?

Looking back, she may have been right.  Take a look of a picture of me from my employee badge and you tell me what you think:  Clueless PM, or Savvy Organizationally Aware PM?


Anyhow, the focus of that assessment tool was to guage a project manager’s understanding of the people, climate and culture of all the players in the project environment.  It was an assessment of exactly what Goleman describes as organizational awareness.

The thing I liked about that tool was that it specifically called out the PMs understanding of the entire project environment.  That included the company of course, as well as customers and vendors.  I also liked that it provided me a vision of what it meant to excel in this particular area.  I strove to master all the different levels.

You can also use this as a guide to mastering organizational awareness.  How aware of you of all the players in your project environment, including customers, clients, subcontractors and vendors?  Are you aware of who to call to get things done?  Do you know how to influence the decision makers?

In our next post, we will explore Goleman’s view of organizational awareness further and discuss techniques that PMs can use to increase their organizational awareness.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I am a big fan of Daniel Goleman’s work in the area of emotional intelligence, particularly as it applies to the workplace. I was pleased to come upon this great discussion of organizational awareness, finding it both well explained and concise.

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