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​Stress Management: Emotional Mastery for Project Managers

Stress management is critical for Project Manager, especially focused on our emotional behaviour. Many of us have those days at work where we want to pull our hair out and yell at the top of your lungs, but I strongly believe that PM’s not only have more of these ‘days,’ but that they have to learn to manage it in order to stay sane, on focus and on target.

​So how does a PM keep their composure during challenging projects?  What does it take to be ‘uneffected’ emotionally and have emotional mastery day in and day out​?

​A PM or PMP’s job is not only about getting the project completed on time, within budget and with high quality, it is all about people management as well.  Or as sometimes the situation calls for, ego management (including our own)!

While each job has it’s own specific challenges and issues that arise, a project manager is really lucky because the scenery changes, the projects are different, and each project calls the PM to rise to his or her best.  If we could see it in this light all the time then emotional mastery wouldn’t be needed.​

​Projects ​require a person to have a cool mind and leadership strengths in order to guide the team in the right direction.  After all, it can be very hard to make the right decisions, come up with concepts and solutions, and communicate with all the stakeholders when stress is high.

But before we look at how to keep a cool head, why is this emotional component so darn important in project work? ​Project management requires people with strong nerves and the capability to stay calm.  In other words, not everyone is cut out for project management work.  One must be able to ‘stand the heat and not get burned.’

From my own experience in projects, especially the large scale projects, where it can take year to complete, people can become extremely nervous towards milestone dates or the final completion date because there might be penalties involved. And as nervousness increases, so does the stress.  ​That’s the time when finger pointing and emotions ​begin climbing to the boiling point.​   The following items can help to calm down these situations and get your project delivered in a controlled atmosphere ​ AND support you in not reacting emotionally when a situation or conversation becomes heated​:

  1. It is important to understand that the Client or End-User wants a system that works​, and if they feel like they aren’t getting just that they may become a bit cross about it​.
    ​So focus on the integral, important and necessary items first.  Don’t just get the easy stuff done, get the system completed first.  ​Even if there are some issues pending or not fully resolved, as long the system works, it is already good. Therefore, have a snag list or punch list with the open remaining items or issues which need to be completed or fixed after the commissioning. A good way is to categorize the issues whether they are severe or not severe. So it is possible to focus on the severe issues before the project completion and the “cosmetics” can be solved later. With this documented approach it can calm down the panic tremendously, but it must be managed properly from the start.
  2. As an emotional control factor, understand that in many cases after the project completion you may work again with the same people in another project​, so you want to build relationships with them.​ I have had the experience where my former boss suddenly became my subcontractor in a different project. It is therefore of personal interest to manage the emotions and look forward with good team work and leadership to find solutions to become the solution provider for troubles or issues in projects. ​ It is important to remember that when issues arise DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY!​
    ​Mainly because it isn’t and when a person does take communication, a conversation or a challenge personally, it errupts emotionally.  Some of the top CEOs and leaders in the world have learned to master their inner emotional states which is why they are promoted to such high positions.  They can ‘stand the heat’ so to speak.​ This will increase your credibility many-fold. Being emotional and finger-pointing is focusing on the issue and doesn’t solve the problem.  You can either focus on who created the problem or how to solve the problem.  And in projects, where time is of the essence, it is wise to focus on the latter. Taking responsibility and showing leadership is focusing on the solution. Ultimately the choice is up to you, but only one gets the results everyone is looking for.
  3. In case there is really a disturbing situation in a project and you are “cocking” or find yourself reacting (when you feel your face grow hot and you notice your body tenses up)​ it is best to simply shut up and sleep over it. Really! I know they say don’t go to bed angry, but sometimes a nap is the best cure for a challenge you are experiencing.​ Then, with a fresh view to the problem, take a virtual step back and look at the whole situation and analyze where the issue is. Many factors can play a role, but typically it is a communication issue or misunderstanding of the situation which is causing emotions. At least that
    ​is ​my experience. Once you underst ​and​ the issue and gain clarity how to proceed, then and only then have you aligned yourself to a solution!

Of course, we could go on with this topic.

​ I have participated in meditation and emotional wellness practices for many years, and I have to say that after years of practicing emotional mastery, I am now more calm, focused and collected during otherwise stressful situations.​

For now, you ​have ​some ideas how to manage emotions in troubled projects.  Stay centered, stay grounded, and don’t take anything personally.  Focus on solutions instead of the problems, and respond to them accordingly!


Peter Wyss