Last edited 08 Apr 2021

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ICPMA Institute / association Website

Emotional Intelligence in Construction



Since the 1990s, the construction industry has often been criticised for its poor performance and failures. Low productivity and predictability, thin margins, adversarial pricing and financial fragility, restricted workforce size and demographics and lack of collaboration are some of the pitfalls.

For decades, performance of the industry has focused on time, cost and quality to measure success - namely, the “iron triangle” - with little interest to evolve. Projects continue to fail and project managers and teams struggle to meet deadlines, budgets and other requirements.

So what is missing from the recipe of success? Could emotional intelligence (EI) be a game changer?

Benefits of gender diversity

Construction is one of the most traditional and male-dominated industries, but change has picked-up pace of recent times with new technologies and innovations, increased environmental awareness and by welcoming a small, but significant, percentage of women in various roles. Although women continue to be under-represented in construction and face a series of barriers to entry, they create an heterogenous and diverse workforce that brings long-term benefits.

Gender diversity offers different viewpoints, new skillsets, advances decision making and leadership. It also supports the management of risk and governance, benefits innovation and creativity and improves stakeholder engagement and the overall performance of the industry. Moreover, women often tend to balance empathy and authority and exhibit emotional intelligence (EI).

Emotional Intelligence

The notion of EI is not new. Managing one’s emotionality was identified by Aristotle, who recognised the significance of its appropriateness and expression.

Scientific developments in the 1980s and the neurobiological study of the human brain also allowed a better understanding of how people think and feel. However, the construction industry took longer to focus on emotions and to shift from a “no-go zone” to an area of interest.

So, what is EI about? Mayer and Salovey, the two researchers who first measured EI in 1990, defined it thus:

“Emotional Intelligence is the ability to perceive accurately, appraise and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought, the ability to understand emotions and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth”.

Importance of EI in construction

EI can clearly benefit construction, since projects are unique, complex and temporary, increasing the need to establish good relationships between project actors quickly. This relationship aspect is also of growing importance for client satisfaction, with EI acting as a significant differentiator in the perception of service, commitment and project value.

EI is an ability that people exhibit differently with contrasting benefits. For construction project management, EI can be influenced both by gender and seniority.

Senior project managers (PMs) can often reflect on their hard-earned wisdom and use their EI to empower others or to establish stronger relationships. Importantly, male and female PMs are likely to exhibit their EI in different ways, which, in its complementarity, can drive project performance and increase project value. Lastly, EI can contribute to project value maximisation - both quantitatively (by saving time and money) and qualitatively (by achieving enhanced communication and understanding for the PM) - client interface or in the team context.

The pluralism and variety of ways in which EI can benefit CPM are of increasing interest. Specifically, the need for “soft” or “people” skills in the construction industry has been long recognised and is now even higher on the agenda by virtue of the 2020 global pandemic.

By combining proactiveness, effective relationship development, the recognition of opportunities along the way and motivation of a more effective team performance, it can be seen that emotionally intelligent PMs can surpass the value of the “iron triangle” and positively impact the construction industry moving forward.

This article is based on, 'The complementarity of male-typical and female-typical Emotional Intelligence as an enhancing factor of Project Value in the Construction Industry'. It was written by Eleni Vasiloudi and published in 2019.

If you would like to read more, contact Eleni Vasiloudi at [email protected].

--ICPMA 11:30, 28 Dec 2020 (BST)

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