The Psychology of Project Leadership

Peter Doyle
By | Updated March 8, 2016 | 4 min read
project management office

The psychology of project leadership is an emerging cross-disciplinary field that seeks to integrate the study and practice of project leadership with the fundamentals of human psychology.


Read more about leadership in our free project management handbook


This approach identifies the skills and perspectives necessary to meet the challenges of a Project Management Office (PMO) and emphasizes the need to understand both individual and group behaviors in order to achieve positive and long-lasting results.


Psychometric Analysis

The first step in approaching the psychology of Project Leadership is to consider the objective measurement of skills and knowledge, abilities, attitudes, personality traits, and educational achievement using psychometric analysis. There are many tools available for achieving this, the most popular being Myers Briggs or an assessment tool from the McQuaig Institute.

The McQuaig System is a simple and accurate talent assessment tool that facilitates the hiring, retention, and development of staff in an organization. By introducing systems like the McQuaig System, PMOs demonstrate maturity in this field by recognizing both the need and benefits for the psychological assessment of staff as a tool for assessing new hires and developing existing employees.


Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings, understand them, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.

Daniel Goleman (1998, p.2) summarized that while IQ and technical skills are important “emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership” and providing there is a sincere desire and concerted effort, EI can be developed by the project management team and indeed all project team members.

The opportunity for any PMO is for the management team to understand EI, its importance, and how, with coaching, they could improve their team management skills by employing the mechanisms of EI where appropriate.

According to research by Gratton and Erickson (2007, p.106) “the most productive, innovative teams were led by people who were both task and relationship orientated”. They also suggested the ability for the management team to use EI would improve the relationship aspect in team management.

In his article, Goleman summarized the 5 components of EI as follows:

1. Self-Awareness

With the ability to recognize and understand one’s own moods, emotions, and drivers, you build self-confidence and a realistic self-assessment so that you are better informed of the effects of these emotions on your team and peers.


2. Self-Regulation

The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods; to suspend judgment (think before acting), and build trustworthiness and integrity with an openness to change.


3. Motivation

The passion to contribute to the organization for reasons beyond money and status; the propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence which results in the strong drive to achieve with the infectiousness to influence employees.


4. Empathy

The ability to understand the emotional makeup of others, and the skill of treating employees appropriately to their emotional reactions, which results in the building and retention of talent.


5. Social Skill

The proficiency in managing relationships, building networks, and rapport with the result of improved influencing skills, building and leading teams, and leading change in the organization.

Similar to how organizations can use the McQuaig model for the hiring of new staff, PMOs should consider a separate psychometric analysis tool to assess the project management team’s emotional intelligence.

The Emotional Capital Report (ECR) developed by RocheMartin Ltd. is designed to provide a comprehensive interpretation of leadership potential based on EI. The approach recommends a “360” review where both peers and staff complete a survey for the manager as well as the manager themselves. This report shows how a project manager sees themselves and then compares the results with how others see them. The aim is to provide an objective perspective that will assist in identifying strong EI characteristics and more importantly, areas for improvement.



Goleman, Daniel (2004). “What makes a Leader?”, Harvard Business Review, pp.2.

Gratton, Lynda & Erickson, Tamara J. (2006) ‘8 Ways to Build Collaborative Teams’, Harvard Business Review, pp. 106.

Image credit 

Peter Doyle
Peter Doyle

Project Management Consultant, BrightWork

Read Full Bio
Don't forget to share this post!