What makes project managers successful?

I am really interested in this question of what makes project managers successful; is it emotional intelligence, IQ, PMBOK Knowledge, or other factors?

Is Emotional Intelligence more important than IQ?
Obviously I am a big believer that emotional intelligence is a major factor.  (Have I mentioned the book lately?)  There are not a ton of articles on the link between emotional intelligence or soft skills and project management.  As I mentioned in a previous post on this blog, there is a recent research article from Ralph Muller and J. Rodney Turner stating that their research shows that emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important than intelligence in predicting project success.

This is consistent with what Daniel Goleman has stated about EQ and IQ.  In his 2001 book The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace, Goleman stated that while IQ determines the types or categories of jobs that people can go into, EQ will determine how well an individual does in a particular line of work.  In other words, once you are in a particular job category (such as project manager), Goleman believes that EQ levels can be used to predict success rates for that job.  Goleman does qualify his remarks by saying that this is what he believes and that appropriate research will need to be conducted.

The Muller and Turner study that I referenced is the first of that type of research referenced by Goleman that directly relates project success to the emotional intelligence of the PM.  At least it is the first that I have come across and I have been researching this for a couple of years now.  It left me wanting more though. 

I am going to write to Muller and Turner and ask for clarification of the results and their interpretation.  For example, why do they think that some of the competencies such as conscientiousness and sensitivity had such a high correlation to project success,  while others, such as self-awareness and resilience had little or no relationship?   

I would also like to better understand how they identified individuals with each of these 15 competencies they tested.  How exactly did they get an objective assessment of some of these emotional qualities?  For example, did their questionnaire ask someone to rate their own level of emotional resilience?  On what scale, from 1) eggshell thin to 10) impenetetrable armor? 

Is PMBOK Knowledge Important to PMs?
I also wonder if there is any relationship between the PM’s understanding of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and their project success.  What about those individuals that study the PMI PMBOK guide and go on to get certified as a PMP, are they more successful?  Does everyone believe that the PMP certification will help them to be a better PM?  Otherwise, why did over 220,000 project managers seek and achieve certification from PMI? 

Interestingly, the Muller and Turner article cited work by Lee-Kelley and Leong which found a link between the project manager’s knowlege (perhaps of that PMI PMBOK Guide) and project success.  What they found was that the PM’s knowledge lead to self-confidence which actually caused the PMs to be more successful – a self-fulfilling prophecy.  So apparently, PM knowledge is at least one factor in project success.      

Other Factors?
Finally, I wanted to draw your attention to a recent article written by Elizabeth Harrin on Projects@Work.  The article is called The Good PM and it talks about some of the skills and competencies of good project managers.  The bottom line, according to Elizabeth, is that there is no consensus or definitive list of skill or competencies that make a project manager good.  Moreover, Elizabeth asserts that the characteristics of good project managers would vary by the type of project and environment.

(BTW I was also delighted to find Elizabeth writes a blog on PM called the Girl’s Guide to Project Management.  You don’t have to be a girl to read the blog apparently as I just wandered into the site and started looking around.)

And so my quest to find out what makes PM successful continues.  I would love to hear what you think about this topic.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. You’re right, you don’t have to be a girl to read my blog!
    I think there is a lot to be said for the role of EQ in project success. And, as 97% of successful projects are led by PMs (according to the Standish Group) in being a successful PM too. Perhaps people don’t yet have the vocabulary to equate EQ to soft skills to successful projects – but I’m sure with the work you are doing here and your book that will eventually change! Thanks for the mention.

  2. Hello Anthony:
    I really like the way that you’ve used your critical thinking to delve more deeply into the causal connections (or otherwise)between project management success and EQ. I look forward to you sharing your follow up findings on your blog.
    Your approach reminds me of the need to remain rigorous in one’s approach, even whilst one may remains an EQ enthusiast. That’s the way to deliver the right results to clients, by continuing to ask questions, rather than taking research at face value.
    You might end up swimming against the tide, but you’ll certainly keep your credibility.
    Good work Anthony!!

  3. Great ideas Anthony. And your question and question has moved a response over at my own site.
    Thanks also for the challenge and for using EI – rather than just writing it:-)
    Congrats on the book! All the best with this good work!

  4. Smart Skills for a Project Manager’s Success

    Anthony Mersino asked – over at EQ4PM – What makes project managers successful?Along with Anthony, I too am interested in the question of what makes project managers successful. Id like to add a few words to Anthonys challenging question …

  5. Smart Skills for a Project Manager’s Success

    Anthony Mersino asked – over at EQ4PM – What makes project managers successful?Along with Anthony, I too am interested in the question of what makes project managers successful. Id like to add a few words to Anthonys challenging question …

Comments are closed.

Close Menu