1.3 Emotional Intelligence and Project Management Skills for the Instructional Designer

License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: Teaching With Emotional Intelligence Dr. Glynn Cavin  CEeT

Regardless of the professional environment in which an instructional designer works, academic or in the private business sector, project management competencies are critical. Combining project management abilities with   communication, leadership, and emotional intelligence competencies will increase the marketability of any designer who possess a mastery of these skills.

Learning Objectives

  • Define project management.
  • Identify necessary leadership skills required of a project manager.
  • Discuss Einsiedel’s five characteristics of an effective project leader.
  • Define emotional intelligence.
  • Describe people skills that are necessary for negotiation and conflict resolution.
  • Describe how project culture is developed.
  • Identify three differences in culture between stakeholders that can influence a project.

Often the difference between the project that succeeds and the project that fails is the leadership of the project manager. Each project team is a group of individuals who needs motivation and coordination. Planning is vital, but the ability to adapt to changes and work with people to overcome challenges is just as necessary. A project manager must master the skills that are necessary to be successful in this environment. The unique and temporary nature of projects creates a work environment that mandates a different management approach from that used by an operations manager.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotions are both a mental and physiological response to environmental and internal stimuli. Leaders need to understand and value their emotions to appropriately respond to the client, project team, and project environment. Daniel Coleman discussed emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) as a factor more important than IQ in predicting leadership success. According to Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumens of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence.”

Emotional intelligence includes the following:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Empathy
  • Relationship management

Emotions are important to generating energy around a concept, to building commitment to goals, and to developing high-performing teams. Emotional intelligence is an important part of the project manager’s ability to build trust among the team members and with the client. It is an important factor in establishing credibility and an open dialogue with project stakeholders. Emotional intelligence is critical for project managers, and the more complex the project profile, the more important the project manager’s EQ becomes to project success.

Project Managers

Project managers focus on the goals of the project. Project success is connected to achieving the project goals within the project timeline. Project managers apply project management tools and techniques to clearly define the project goals, develop an execution plan to meet those goals, and meet the milestones and end date of the project. A project manager needs a different set of skills to both define and successfully execute projects. Because projects are temporary, they have a defined beginning and end. Project managers must manage start-up activities and project closeout activities. The processes for developing teams, organizing work, and establishing priorities require a different set of knowledge and skills because members of the project management team recognize that it is temporary.

Project managers create a team that is goal focused and energized around the success of the project. Project team members know that the project assignment is temporary because the project, by definition, is temporary. Project team members are often members of organizational teams that have a larger potential to affect long-term advancement potential. They seldom report directly to the project manager and the effect of success or failure of the project might not affect their reputations or careers the same way that the success or failure of one of their other job responsibilities would. Therefore, project managers create clear goals and clear expectations for team members and tie project success to the overall success of the organization. Project managers are goal directed and milestone oriented.

While there are many skills needed by a project manager that are the same as an operations manager, because project managers generally operate in an environment that is more time sensitive and goal driven, the successful project manager requires additional knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Albert Einsiedel (1987) discussed leader-sensitive projects and defined five characteristics of an effective project leader. These characteristics were chosen based on some assumptions about projects. These characteristics include the project environment, which is often a matrix organization that results in role ambiguity, role conflict, and role erosion. The project environment is often a fluid environment where decisions are made with little information. In this environment, the five characteristics of an effective project leader include the following:

  • Credibility – the project manager is coming into an established organization and must have a reputation or presence of credibility to receive the respect and support of the client and team.
  • Creativity as a problem solver – projects are never “business as usual”.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity – a project manager can often be unfamiliar with the kind of work the client does and needs to be able to adapt and move the project forward, even if all aspects of the company aren’t understood perfectly.
  • Flexible management style – a project manager is constantly dealing with new people and environments and must adjust accordingly. They do not have the luxury of an established rapport with their project associates.
  • Effective communicating – because of the ambiguous nature of projects, good communication skills are crucial in understanding what is expected by the client and being able to convey that vision to the project team.

Hans Thamhain (1991) researched the training of project managers and, based on the finding, created a taxonomy wherein the qualities of a project manager are
categorized into the following three areas:

  • Interpersonal skills. These skills include providing direction, communicating, assisting with problem solving, and dealing effectively with people without having authority.
  • Technical expertise. Technical knowledge gives the project manager the creditability to provide leadership on a technically based project, the ability to understand important aspects of the project, and the ability to communicate in the language of the technicians.
  • Administrative skills. These skills include planning, organizing, and managing/ overseeing/ coordinating the work.

Traditionally, the project manager has been trained in skills such as developing and managing the project scope, estimating, scheduling, decision making, and team building. Although the level of skills needed by the project manager depends largely on the complexity of the project, the people skills of the project manager are increasingly more important. The skills to build a high performing team, manage client expectations, and develop a clear vision of project success are the type of skills needed by project managers on more complex projects. “To say Joe is a good project manager except he lacks good people skills is like saying he’s a good electrical engineer but doesn’t really understand electricity.” (Darnall, 1997).

Working With People On Projects

Few skills are more essential to the project manager than the ability to lead, inspire, and manage people effectively. By effectively managing relationship dynamics and enhancing communication among team members, a project manager can contribute enormously to the success of any given endeavor. Moreover, as project scope and complexity increase, these skills become increasingly important lest the project fall into a tangle of petty factions and unclear expectations.

Some of the key skills include:

  • The ability to work well with individuals. This includes skills such as responsiveness to the needs and motivations of team members and the ability to effectively negotiate and resolve disputes.
  • The ability to create effective team dynamics. The project manager must take the lead in ensuring that trust and accountability are engendered, developing goals, effectively managing meetings, and monitoring team progress.
  • The ability to create a project culture. Successful project cultures are characterized by a strong shared vision of success and a consistent set of values that guide members of the project team in their independent decision making.

Effective people management is perhaps more important within instructional design than it is within a more prototypical setting, such as within a software company or building construction business. Instructional design projects are often characterized by small teams, vaguely specified client deliverables, the requirement to work closely with many individuals who do not have a vested interest in the outcome of the project, such as the subject matter experts (SME) the content specialists in a specific academic discipline, and oftentimes a limited budget. Although no specific domain of project management has a monopoly on difficulty, the instructional design project manager has his or her own unique set of challenges and needs – especially when it comes to working with people.

Personality Types

Personality types refer to the differences among people in such matters as what motivates them, how they process information, how they handle conflict, etc. Understanding people’s personality types is acknowledged as an asset in interacting and communicating with them more effectively. Understanding your personality type as a project manager will assist you in evaluating your tendencies and strengths in different situations. Understanding others’ personality types can also help you coordinate the skills of your individual team members and address the various needs of your client.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of most widely used tools for exploring personal preference, with more than two million people taking the MBTI each year. The MBTI is often referred to as simply the Myers Briggs. It is a tool that can be used in project management training to develop awareness of preferences for processing information and relationships with other people. Based on the theories of psychologist Carl Jung, the Myers-Briggs uses a questionnaire to gather information on the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment. Perception represents the way people become aware of people and their environment. Judgment represents the evaluation of what is perceived. People perceive things differently and reach different conclusions based on the same environmental input. Understanding and accounting for these differences is critical to successful project leadership. The purpose of the Myers-Briggs is to understand and appreciate the differences among people. This understanding can be helpful in building the project team, in developing common goals, and communicating with project stakeholders. For example, different people process information differently. Extraverts prefer face-to-face meetings as the primary means of communicating, while introverts prefer written communication. Sensing types focus on facts, and intuitive types want the big picture. On larger, more complex projects, some project managers will use the Myers-Briggs as a team-building tool during project start-up.

Negotiation Skills

When multiple people are involved in an endeavor, differences in opinions and desired outcomes naturally occur. Negotiation is a process for developing a mutually acceptable outcome when the desired outcome for each party conflicts. A project manager will often negotiate with a client, with team members, with vendors, and with other project stakeholders. Negotiation is an important skill in developing support for the project and preventing frustration among all parties involved, which could delay or cause project failure.

Vijay Verma suggests that negotiations involve four principles:

  • Separate people from the problem. Framing the discussions in terms of desired outcomes enables the negotiations to focus on finding new outcomes.
  • Focus on common interests. By avoiding the focus on differences, both parties are more open to finding solutions that are acceptable.
  • Generate options that advance shared interests. Once the common interests are understood, solutions that do not match with either party’s interests can be discarded, and solutions that may serve both parties’ interests can be more deeply explored.
  • Develop results based on standard criteria. The standard criterion is the success of the project. This implies that the parties develop a common definition of project success.
For the project manager to successfully negotiate issues on the project, he or she should first seek to understand the position of the other party. If negotiating with a client, what is the concern or desired outcome of the client? What are the business drivers and personal drivers that are important to the client? Without this understanding, it is difficult to find a solution that will satisfy the client. The project manager should also seek to understand what outcomes are desirable to the project. Typically, more than one outcome is acceptable. Without knowing what outcomes are acceptable, it is difficult to find a solution that will produce that outcome.

Delegating

When developing the project team, the project manager selects team members with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to accomplish the work required for the project to be successful. Delegation is the art of creating a project organizational structure that can be managed and then matching the team members with the right skills to do that work. Typically, the more knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience a project team member brings to the project, the more that team member will be paid. To keep the project personnel costs lower, the project manager will develop a project team with the level of experience and the knowledge, skills, and abilities to accomplish the work. On smaller, less complex projects, the project manager can provide daily guidance to project team members and be consulted on all major decisions. On larger, more complex projects, there are too many important decisions made every day for the project manager to be involved at the same level, and project team leaders are the delegated decision-making authority.

Managing Team Meetings

Team meetings are conducted differently depending on the purpose of the meeting, the leadership style that is appropriate for the meeting, and the personality types of the members of the team. There are three types of meetings we will discuss here; action item, management and leadership meetings.

Action Item Meetings

Action item meetings are short meetings to develop a common understanding of what the short-term priorities are for the project, individual roles, and expectations for specific activities. This type of meeting is for sharing, not problem solving. Any problems that emerge from the discussion are assigned to a person, and another meeting is established to address the issue. Action item meetings focus on short-term activities, usually less than a week in duration. The project manager keeps the successful action item meeting short in duration and focused on only those items of information needed for the short-term project plan. The project manager will restate the common understandings of what activities are priorities and who will be responsible for the activities. The leadership approach to action item meetings focuses on data, actions, and commitments.

Management Meetings

Management meetings are longer in duration and are focused on planning. They are oriented toward developing plans, tracking progress of existing plans, and making adjustments to plans in response to new information. These meetings include focused discussion on generating a common understanding of the progress of the existing plan. the project manager invites discussion, includes people to offer their thoughts, and assures that disagreements are positive discussions about interpretation of the information and that disagreements do not become personal. The project manager allows and encourages conversation in developing and evaluating the goals but focuses the discussion on the goals and obstacles.

Leadership Meetings

Leadership meetings are held less frequently and are longer in length. These meetings are used by the project manager to reflect on the project, to explore the larger issues of the project, and to back away from the day-to-day problem solving. The project manager will create a safe environment for sharing thoughts and evaluations of issues that are less data oriented. The project manager’s meeting management skill includes creating the right meeting atmosphere for the team discussion that is needed.

Skilled project managers know what type of meeting is needed and how to develop an atmosphere to support the meeting type. Meetings of the action item type are focused on information sharing with little discussion. They require efficient communication of plans, progress, and other information team members need to plan and execute daily work. Management type meetings are focused on developing and progressing goals. Leadership meetings are more reflective and focused on the project mission and culture. These three types of meetings do not cover all the types of project meetings. Specific problem-solving, vendor evaluation, and scheduling meetings are examples of typical project meetings. Understanding what kinds of meetings are needed on the project and creating the right focus for each meeting type is a critical project management skill.

Developing Teams

Teams can outperform individual team members in several situations. The effort and time invested in developing a team and the work of the team are large investments of project resources, and the payback is critical to project success.

Teams are effective in several project situations:

  • When no one person has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to either understand or solve the problem
  • When a commitment to the solution is needed by large portions of the project team
  • When the problem and solution cross project functions
  • When innovation is required

Individuals can outperform teams on some occasions. An individual tackling a problem consumes fewer resources than a team and can operate more efficiently—as long as the solution meets the project’s needs. A person is most appropriate in the following situations:

  • When speed is important
  • When one person has the knowledge, skills, and resources to solve the problem
  • When the activities involved in solving the problem are very detailed
  • When the actual document needs to be written (Teams can provide input, but writing is a solitary task.)

A project manager must know when it is appropriate to develop a team of individuals to tackle a project, or, when it is best to delegate to an individual.  To develop the most efficient team, project managers must also understand what type of team will function best. There are also several types of teams.  We will briefly discuss just a few here.

Types of Teams

A functional team refers to the team approach related to the project functions. The engineering team, the procurement team, and the project controls team are examples of functional teams within the project.

Cross-functional teams address issues and work processes that include two or more of the functional teams. The team members are selected to bring their functional expertise to addressing project opportunities.

Problem-solving teams are assigned to address specific issues that arise during the life of the project. The project leadership includes members that have the expertise to address the problem. The team is chartered to address that problem and then disband.

Project Culture

Project managers have a unique opportunity during the start-up of a project to create a project culture. In most organizations, the corporate or organizational culture has developed over the life of the organization, and people associated with the organization understand what is valued, what has status, and what behaviors are expected. Edgar Schein defined culture as a pattern of basic assumptions formed by a group on how to perceive and address problems associated with both internal adaptation and external integration.  Schein also described organizational culture as an abstract concept that constrains, stabilizes, and provides structure to the organization. At the same time, culture is  being constantly enacted, created, and shaped by leadership behavior.

A project culture represents the shared norms, beliefs, values, and assumptions of the project team. Understanding the unique aspects of a project culture and developing an appropriate culture to match the complexity profile of the project are important project management abilities.

Culture is developed through the communication of

  • the priority
  • the given status
  • the alignment of official and operational rules

Official rules are the rules that are stated, and operational rules are the rules that are enforced. Project managers who align official and operational rules are more effective in developing a clear and strong project culture because the project rules are among the first aspects of the project culture to which team members are exposed when assigned to the project.

When project stakeholders do not share a common culture, project management must adapt its organizations and work processes to cope with cultural differences. The following are three major aspects of cultural difference that can affect a project: communications, negotiations, and, decision making. Communication is perhaps the most visible manifestation of culture. Project managers encounter cultural differences in communication in language, context, and candor. Different languages are clearly the highest barrier to communication. When project stakeholders do not share the same language, communication slows down and is often filtered to share only information that is deemed critical. The interpretation of information reflects the extent that context and candor influence cultural expressions of ideas and understanding of information. In some cultures, an affirmative answer to a questions does not always mean yes. The cultural influence can create confusion on a project where project stakeholders share more than one culture and hamper the negotiation and decision making processes. The barrier to communication can influence project execution where quick and accurate exchange of ideas and information is critical. Not all cultural differences are related to international projects. Corporate cultures and even regional differences can create cultural confusion on a project.

Innovation on Projects

Innovation is a creative process that requires both fun and focus. Stress is a biological reaction to perceived threats. Stress at appropriate levels, can make the work environment interesting and even challenging. Many people working on projects enjoy a high-stress, exciting environment. When the stress level is too high, the biological reaction increases blood flow to the emotional parts of the brain and decreases the blood flow to the creative parts of the brain, making creative problem solving more difficult. Fun reduces the amount of stress on the project. Project managers recognize the benefits of balancing the stress level on the project with the need to create an atmosphere that enables creative thought.

Key Terms

  • Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumens of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence.
  • Project managers create a team that is goal focused and energized around the success of the project.
  • Subject Matter Experts (SME) are the content specialists in a specific academic discipline.
  • Personality types refer to the differences among people in such matters as what motivates them, how they process information, how they handle conflict, etc.
  • The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of most widely used tools for exploring personal preference, with more than two million people taking the MBTI each year. The MBTI is often referred to as simply the Myers Briggs. It is a tool that can be used in project management training to develop awareness of preferences for processing information and relationships with other people.
  • Negotiation is a process for developing a mutually acceptable outcome when the desired outcome for each party conflicts.
  • Delegation is the art of creating a project organizational structure that can be managed and then matching the team members with the right skills to do that work.
  • Action item meetings are short meetings to develop a common understanding of what the short-term priorities are for the project, individual roles, and expectations for specific activities.
  • Management meetings are longer in duration and are focused on planning. They are oriented toward developing plans, tracking progress of existing plans, and making adjustments to plans in response to new information.
  • Leadership meetings are held less frequently and are longer in length. These meetings are used by the project manager to reflect on the project, to explore the larger issues of the project, and to back away from the day-to-day problem solving.
  • Functional team refers to the team approach related to the project functions.
  • Cross-functional teams address issues and work processes that include two or more of the functional teams.
  • Problem-solving teams are assigned to address specific issues that arise during the life of the project.
  • Project culture represents the shared norms, beliefs, values, and assumptions of the project team.
  • Innovation is a creative process that requires both fun and focus.
  • Stress is a biological reaction to perceived threats.

Key Takeaways

  • Project managers are goal directed and milestone oriented.
  • Project managers need skills such as good communication, team building, planning, expediting, and political sensitivity.
  • Project managers need additional skills in establishing credibility, creative problem solving, tolerance for ambiguity, flexible management, and very good people skills.
  • Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply emotions.
  • Negotiation and conflict resolution require skill at listening and an understanding of emotional intelligence and personality types.
  • Delegation is the art of creating a project organizational structure that can be managed and then matching the team members with the right skills to do that work.
  • Project culture is developed by communicating priority, status, and the alignment of official and operational rules.
  • Differences in culture between stakeholders can affect communications, negotiations, and decision making.

Exercises

  1. Imagine you are working with a group of faculty within a department at a higher education institution to design a “master” course to be used by all faculty within the department. We will pretend it is a graduate history course on American history. Your challenge, is that the faculty cannot agree on what the critical assessment points to the course should be, and are having trouble arriving at consensus.  How do you bring your negotiating and managing team skills to the table to help them arrive at some common ground? Describe how you might solve this problem.

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Experiential Learning in Instructional Design and Technology, Chapter 1.3 Emotional Intelligence and Project Management Skills for the Instructional Designer. Provided by: the authors under an Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

This chapter contains an adaptation of Project Management for Instructional Designers  by Wiley, et al. and is used under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license.

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Experiential Learning in Instructional Design and Technology by Joshua Hill and Linda Jordan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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