How To

Emotional Regulation And Project Management


Have you ever worked on a project? If so, you will know that due to the pressure to deliver, projects and programmes can be extremely emotional environments.

Also, you might have people on your team that are not used to this kind of working and so it’s important to provide them with additional guidance and ensure they understand everything and get extra care if necessary.

Project managers therefore need to have a special kind of skills – emotional regulation. This refers to the ability to control the environment while also ensuring objectives are met.

But this is not only about knowing your team’s behaviour. Effective emotional regulation is the ability to unlock your team’s maximum capabilities while also keeping the business objectives in mind.

Business objectives are being affected by a series of factors which impose further pressure to be successful on project managers. From the AXELOS 2019 PPM Benchmarking Report the following was observed:

  • 53% of surveyed project and programme managers said that stakeholders expect projects to deliver greater competitive advantage; a significant increase of 20% from 2017 to 2019
  • 46% said that the business environment has become more competitive; another significant increase of 13%
  • 47% said budgets and timelines are tighter as stakeholders seek more project value (increase of 13%)
  • 51% said that they are expected to deliver more projects over a shorter time frame (increase of 16%)
  • Communication remains the number one challenge for PPM teams (according to 35% of project managers)
  • Eight out of ten project managers say that PPM is becoming a more fundamental aspect of overall business success.

Also, from the report, specific “soft” skills were mentioned as being increasingly important for successful project managers such as communication, negotiation, influencing and conflict resolution. These are becoming business essential skills not just for project managers but for the whole organization. Coupled with emotional regulation they provide a robust toolkit for the project managers to use.

Key steps to keeping control

Demonstrate empathy: Put yourself into your team’s shoes. It always helps to look at things from their perspective. You need to accept that working under extreme pressure is not ideal for everybody. And as the majority of projects need to be delivered quickly as they are driven by a level of change that isn’t business as usual (BAU) your team needs to know that they can rely on you and that you understand their worries. Nevertheless, you also have to constantly ensure project objectives.

If you are working on a business-critical project and you don’t do this then very quickly you have a group of scared people who can’t perform rather than a project management team coping with a demanding high-profile project. And who would want that?

Achieving the right balance is key: You need to be honest and consistent right from the start. Show your team that you understand their concerns about the challenges ahead and that you take them seriously. However, you also need to show strong leadership.  Explain the vision and make sure the team understands it, also explain why it’s important to the organization. But keep telling them that you have faith in their ability to get the job done.

It is important to show to the team that you know what you are doing. But more important is that you have confidence in their abilities and your own as well. You need to believe in what you are doing and this in turn helps communication. In projects, honesty and consistency from the project manager gives the team confidence and this is required to get the project delivered for the organization. If the project manager doesn’t have this balance, then the team can lose confidence and very quickly the project can run out of control.

Convey information in the right way: Have you ever been in a situation where your message was misunderstood? If the answer is yes, you probably already know that the way you communicate with your project team is just as important as the actual message.

The language used, the overall narrative as well as the communication channels are key. Everything you communicate needs to be clear, concise, and understandable.

However, it also needs to be delivered in a way that gives the team confidence – use “we” instead of “I” to build a common purpose.  If you are in face-to-face meetings, the right body language, keeping eye contact and not distancing yourself can make all the difference.

Personally, I have been involved in a project where the project manager did none of this. His language was vague, he preferred sending emails rather than just talk to people and he used “I” a lot even though everything was a project team effort. In the end, he distanced himself so much from the team that he lost all support and guess what…he ended up being replaced. I’m sure you can understand that these were important lessons I never forgot.

Be on top of your game: This is actually much easier than it sounds because it’s all about being well organised. There is nothing worse than a project manager who can’t find the right document or sends out an old version.  So always make sure all your information is up-to-date and you know exactly where you saved them.

At the same time, things like double-booking meeting rooms or not inviting key team members might not seem like a big deal, but if this happens repeatedly it can become a major issue for your team and also for you as a project manager.

Over time, this kind of behaviour can undermine any confidence they have in you. And winning back confidence is quite hard. You may also find it leads to tension and confusion within the team.

It is vital for the project manager to get these basics correct. Project teams take all the administrative tasks including correct documentation as given, if this starts to fail then questions will be asked by the team. In project management the small and relatively simple-sounding things can make all the difference.

Why emotional regulation matters

When it comes to projects, there is always a lot at stake for businesses as they can be high value and high risk. Projects are vital and can cause a lot of worry for stakeholders.

Obviously because of that they want a calm and confident project manager who is in control. Emotional regulation gives the project manager an added ability to deliver by taking the following into consideration:

  • If you don’t demonstrate empathy towards your team you might lose it
  • There needs to be a balance for team and organizational needs since the project manager and the team need to achieve the project objectives together for the organization
  • Convey information the right way since communication is still the number one challenge for project managers
  • Be on top of your game since this will give the team confidence in your ability.

Projects are demanding environments but when managed well can be rewarding and enjoyable experiences for the project manager and the project team. Emotional regulation supplies the project manager with another important tool to use to succeed in this.

Allan Thomson is PPM Product Ambassador at AXELOS.

Allan Thomson
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