The socially intelligent project manager

IQ alone is not enough to determine project success. Good project managers also require social intelligence

IT project managers are continually charged with delivering dynamic, highly-complex, time-sensitive, politically-charged and technically cutting-edge projects. 

Acting “wisely in human relations” and winning the cooperation and faith of your team often entails a myriad of socially-challenging problems and situations, which include:

  • Acquiring available and appropriately-skilled resources and persuading them to perform required work assignments
  • Dealing with a challenging sponsor
  • Dealing with irate clients and customers
  • Managing third party suppliers, subcontractors and contracts
  • Managing and resolving cross-functional team conflict, issues and stress
  • Motivating the team and establishing positive and demonstrable momentum

Despite volumes of well-developed, documented and proven processes, formulas, tools and techniques, the IT profession finds it difficult to incorporate social intelligence into the workplace.

A person’s IQ is not enough to determine project success, it is also based on the project manager’s social intelligence. 

The good news is that social intelligence skills can be acquired and honed. Consider the following four key areas in which social intelligence skills can be improved, thereby setting the “socially intelligent project manager (PM)” apart from his or her counterparts.


What is social intelligence?

According to psychologist Edward Lee Thorndike, who founded the study of social intelligence, the term is defined as “the ability to act wisely in human relations." 

Further, Karl Albrecht, one of the world's leading authorities on human competence, defines social intelligence as “the ability to get along well with others while winning their cooperation. 

Social intellifence is a combination of sensitivity to the needs and interests of others – sometimes called your "social radar" – and an attitude of generosity and consideration.

Socially intelligent PM’s use leadership skills to drive the integration of resources and activities beyond traditional guidelines. These leaders lead by example and are in tune with the collective needs of the team. 

Collaboration and harmony are achieved through grace under pressure, self-confidence and a passion for personal and team betterment. In addition, these leaders consider and incorporate activities that foster team enthusiasm and passion.

Self –Awareness and control

Socially intelligent PM’s are aware of social, political and business dynamics, as well as their trigger points. In addition, there is a projected confidence, poise and inner-strength. Picture a samurai warrior entering a circle of foes – or a manager entering a semi-hostile boardroom.  

The competent warrior and manager seem to have “eyes” in the back of their heads and the ability to maintain a sort of peace and tranquility in face of chaos and danger, regardless of the situation. The ability to read and manage the team environment is essential.

Communication and conflict management

Socially intelligent PM’s are able to effectively communicate horizontally and vertically across all levels. Communication is largely about forming bonds and allowing individuals the time and space needed to openly share thoughts, feelings and emotions. The socially intelligent PM must also be an excellent “active” listener, problem solver and an effective and assertive speaker. 

Technical project management involves complex problem and issue management skills and obtaining a best-case scenario for multiple parties is a routine task.

Team Building

Alan_GarveyAlan Garvey

Socially intelligent PM’s are in tune with the fact that while projects are unique and finite, cultivation of positive relationships is what ensures long term business and program success. It is not by mistake, and no surprise, that the aforementioned self-awareness and control as well as communication and conflict management play pivotal roles in team building and development.

The socially intelligent project manager also understands and values the importance of cultural sensitivity and virtual team management and understands the challenges and opportunities culturally and geographically diverse teams face.

The aforementioned myriad of socially-challenging problems and situations calls for true introspection, personal knowledge and growth. Socially intelligent PMs who cultivate each of the four attributes described above will be immediately differentiated through their ability to confidently lead by example, resolve conflict and channel team energies into unified team spirit and direction.


Alan Garvey, Managing Director, EMEA and Asia, ESI International, leads a regional team of professionals who are responsible for all aspects of ESI learning programme development and delivery. Alan focuses primarily on identifying new markets and working with new and current clients to ensure ESI consistently exceeds expectations.

Read more on IT suppliers

Data Center
Data Management