Created by Ingo Baur, Mai 2023.
Effective project management is strongly connected to self-awareness. It allows project managers to understand their strengths and weaknesses and recognize how they influence the project team and other stakeholders. Self-awareness is the ability to identify one's feelings, behaviors, and characteristics to comprehend their cognitive, physical, and emotional self. This also makes it a crucial part of emotional intelligence, which in turn is a key skill for an effective and successful project manager. Through an increase in self-awareness, project managers can improve their communication skills, form better relationships with their teams and stakeholders, identify strengths and weaknesses for efficient resource allocation, and also manage conflicts more efficiently.
Self-awareness is also a crucial aspect in helping project managers address their blind spots. Blind spots can be harmful as they can create biases and limit one's perspective. In project management, this can translate into a lack of empathy towards team members, disregard for their input, and potentially missing critical details. This helps project managers to recognize their limitations and biases, leading to more objective decision-making. It also enables them to appreciate diverse perspectives and create an inclusive work environment. Developing self-awareness is essential for project managers to lead teams effectively and achieve project success. This helps to build a more inclusive and diverse project team and to make fair and equitable decisions.
There are several strategies that project managers can use to develop self-awareness. Some examples are mindfulness practices, feedback from others, and self-reflection. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation can help project managers become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which can help control stress and anxiety. Feedback from team members, friends, or stakeholders can give project managers valuable insight into how others perceive their work practices and whether they are well or poorly received, which can provide opportunities for improvement. To improve their own perceptions, however, project managers can also resort to other methods such as keeping a diary, learning to listen actively, or having regular conversations with a mentor.
In conclusion, self-awareness plays a crucial role in the success of project management. When project managers understand their emotions, actions, and impact on the people that they are dealing with, they can find ways to improve the way they communicate with them, build better relationships, and manage arising conflicts more effectively. Therefore, developing self-awareness has significant benefits not only for the project manager but also for the success of the projects they manage.
Definition of self-awareness
Self-awareness is a substantial component of emotional intelligence and is considered essential for personal and professional development. Being able to recognize and comprehend one's own emotions, thoughts, and actions is vital for developing self-awareness. In doing so, it is important to look at oneself objectively, without judgment or prejudice toward things or the people a person is dealing with. By achieving this skill, a person can learn to understand how they are perceived by their surroundings and how their behavior affects others.
Continuous self-awareness development is essential to a successful work and personal life. However, this means a constant effort to adapt to the influences of a constantly changing environment. But the benefits of developing good self-awareness outweigh the effort. People with higher self-awareness are, among other things, better at recognizing their strengths and weaknesses. As a result, they are able to better recognize and assess their limitations and biases, which also allows them to control their emotions and reactions more easily. This, in turn, can lead to building stronger relationships and making smarter decisions allowing new challenges and situations to be handled better.
Types of self-awareness
Inner and outer self-awareness are two crucial components of self-knowledge that project managers should develop as early as possible. Inner self-awareness is the ability to recognize and also understand own feelings, values, and thoughts. It is indispensable for project managers because it helps them to align their actions with their values and to make strategically important decisions in order to stand behind them. External self-awareness is the ability to understand how others perceive one, which is critical because it helps them to recognize how their behavior affects the reactions and actions of others. This helps to communicate more effectively with team members and stakeholders as this allows clearer and more comprehensible communication, which also makes it easier to avoid conflicts and build stronger relationships. The different kinds of awarenesses that develop out of inner and outer self-awareness can be seen in the following Figure 1. The aim of every project manager is to develop a high internal and external awareness to get to the state of “aware” as seen in Figure 1.
However, cultivating both types of self-awareness can be challenging, and it might take some time and help to move from the state of an “Introspector” or “Pleaser” to being actually “Aware”. Project managers can use different strategies to improve their self-awareness. Some of them are seeking feedback from others, practicing mindfulness, and journaling to reflect on their thoughts and emotions. Seeking feedback from others is an effective way to develop external self-awareness. Project managers can ask their team members and stakeholders for feedback on their leadership style. This can, for example, be the way they communicate or the way they make and pass on decisions. By understanding how others perceive them, project managers can make necessary adjustments and improve their relationships with others. On the other hand, practicing mindfulness and journaling are effective strategies for developing internal self-awareness. Mindfulness helps a person to become more aware of their own thoughts and emotions, which can help them understand their motivations and values. Journaling on the other hand provides a space for reflection and self-discovery, allowing project managers to identify patterns in their thoughts and behaviors. Depending on the type of person some of the strategies to develop self-awareness might work better than others, resulting in an uneven distribution of internal and external self-awareness of a project manager. If the project manager or the team recognizes this, the focus should be on improving the weaker awareness part.
Importance of self-awareness in project management
As mentioned before, self-awareness is an important part of professional development and a crucial component when it comes to effective project management. It is the ability to recognize and understand one's own emotions, behaviors, and impact on others. Project managers who possess self-awareness can better manage their emotions, communicate more effectively with team members and stakeholders, and build stronger relationships. They are also more likely to identify and manage biases and blind spots that could impact project outcomes. A study by the Project Management Institute (PMI) found that emotional intelligence, of which self-awareness is a key aspect, is one of the top five skills that successful project managers possess.
The importance of self-awareness in project management was also highlighted by Forbes. Again, it was emphasized that it enables managers to improve their decision-making, build stronger teams and achieve better results. In summary, self-awareness leads to a deeper understanding and a clearer perception of the surroundings through which project managers can better respond to their employees and work with them in a more goal-oriented and less emotionally charged way in order to successfully complete the project.
Benefits of self-awareness in project management
Improved communication skills
Self-awareness is an important tool to improve one's communication skills. By actively understanding one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, one can communicate more effectively with others. First of all, it allows an individual to identify and understand his or her communication style and preferences, which can help tailor the intentions and goal of the conversation to different situations and audiences. Furthermore, it can help to recognize emotionally charged topics in order to address or navigate around them appropriately during communication, thus avoiding conflict and misunderstanding. Likewise, self-awareness can improve active listening skills, as self-aware individuals are better able to focus on the speaker and understand their message. Finally, self-awareness can promote empathy, which can help people to better put themselves in the other person's position and build stronger relationships through purposeful conversations.
Building stronger relationships with team members and stakeholders
Self-awareness is an essential characteristic necessary for building better relationships. It enables individuals to categorize, understand and manage their emotions and behaviors. As a result, one is better able to understand how one's emotions and behavior affect relationships with others. Having a better understanding of what the other person is trying to say and how one´s own statement resonates with them makes communication with them more effective. This can lead to more honest and therefore deeper and more meaningful communication, which in turn can improve the relationship. In addition, self-aware people are usually better at emphasizing with others. This makes it easier for them to understand the other person's feelings, which can build a higher level of trust and thus enhance the relationship if properly addressed. Self-aware individuals are more prone to sharing their thoughts and feelings with others, which can help to foster honesty and vulnerability. This openness in turn leads to more intimacy and closeness in relationships. The ability to gain a deeper understanding of oneself and others allows people to form stronger relationships, whether they are personal or professional. This results in more satisfying and rewarding partnerships.
Effective conflict management
Managing conflicts is one of the most needed traits of a project manager. When trying to solve project-related problems, it is also important to have a certain level of self-awareness. People with higher self-awareness are better able to recognize and regulate their emotions. Avoiding emotionally charged statements or intentionally escalating an argument can create a more respectful interaction and resolve conflicts more effectively. By recognizing personal values, strengths, and weaknesses, it is possible to communicate more effectively during a conflict. This, for example, allows to understand what triggers emotional reactions and makes it possible to better control the reactions if the cause is known. By avoiding emotionally charged responses in a conversation, it is easier to contribute to actually resolving the conflict. The development of self-awareness can increase productivity in addition to helping resolve conflicts. By recognizing limitations, it is possible to seek help or improve the necessary skills through which problems can be avoided or upcoming conflicts can be managed more effectively. In general, self-awareness is a key component of conflict management, allowing for better communication, a higher level of empathy, and more effective emotion regulation.
Identifying strengths and weaknesses for efficient resource allocation
Effective resource allocation is critical to the success of individuals as well as organizations. Resource allocation is about distributing the available resources, such as time, money, and labor, in such a way that certain goals can be achieved. To do this, however, it is necessary to know the desired outcome, as well as the available resources and potential obstacles that may occur along the way. Self-awareness can play a significant role in resource allocation, making conscious decisions about the use of certain resources. In this regard, a self-aware individual can better identify whether he or she needs support in certain areas and in which areas he or she can contribute most effectively or could provide support. Thus, a self-aware person can use his or her resources in a project in such a way that the best possible results are achieved.
For example, a confident leader may recognize that their team needs more training in a particular area to achieve their goals. Supporting employees through training allocates resources that can rebound positively later in the project. Or the project manager recognizes that too much time is being spent on administrative tasks and more resources need to be allocated to complete them in a timely manner and move on to more important tasks. However, self-awareness can also be used to identify areas where resources are being wasted. By understanding one's own tendencies and behaviors, time-wasting activities can be identified, and strategies developed to complete them more efficiently. By using resources to develop such strategies, greater productivity can be obtained and in the long run, better efficiency is achieved. Overall, self-awareness is a vital component of effective resource allocation and utilization. When individuals and organizations know their own strengths and weaknesses and how they affect their ability to achieve their goals, they can make reasoned decisions about how to allocate available resources. This can lead to more effective use of resources, better performance, and greater success in achieving set goals.
Strategies for developing self-awareness
Self-reflection describes the process of observing oneself in order to get to know more about oneself and to recognize one's own personal level of knowledge. It plays a key role in developing self-awareness since project managers must learn certain skills to be able to successfully deliver the project they manage accordingly to the set specifications, regardless of the area in which a project is being conducted. A successful project manager must, among other things, know all the phases and end goals of a project, identify and solve problems, represent and motivate the team as well as continuously improve the workflow. In order to achieve this, a project manager must learn to be self-aware. Self-reflection is one way that can help a project manager to develop and improve self-awareness in multiple ways. Through this, one can learn how their actions impact the team they guide and how their own motivations and attitudes affect the way they make decisions.
One way self-reflection helps a project manager to become more self-aware is by reflecting on past experiences and reactions received in certain situations. Through this one can recognize the values and beliefs one stands for. This insight can contribute to a more carefully chosen decision-making process and help to align their actions with their values. Through reflection, a project manager can, for example, recognize the importance of teamwork in certain situations so that this trait can be promoted stronger in the future.
Secondly, self-reflection can help project managers to find out more about their strengths and weaknesses. Through reflection on past projects, meetings, or tasks one can gain a better understanding of what was handled well and where improvement is needed. By doing so tasks can be delegated more efficiently and seek help early enough if needed. An example here could be the communication style of the project manager and if it fits with the tasks and the team. It is useful to compare the results of different parts of the project, whether they were successful or not, and to examine them in terms of how and with whom the details were communicated. From this, conclusions can be drawn as to how communication should be changed in order to achieve better results.
Third, self-reflection can help project managers to recognize the impact their actions have on others involved. By understanding how their actions affect others project managers can change their way of dealing with situations or people to better support the team. This can lead to strengthened relationships between project managers and their teams, which can ultimately lead to greater project success. An example of the impact of a project manager's decisions would be workload distribution. By reflecting on it, a potentially unfair workload distribution can be avoided and a fairer distribution, adapted to the worker's skills can take place.
Seeking feedback from others
Seeking feedback is a critical aspect of developing any person's self-awareness, especially as a project manager. The feedback can come from colleagues, supervisors, or team members, and can include constructive criticism and suggestions about one's own behavior, actions, and decisions. In this way, project managers can gain valuable insight into their strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots, to further develop their leadership skills.
Feedback from others can give a more objective view on the actions and behaviors of a person. Often people and also project managers have a distorted perception of their own strengths and weaknesses. Through feedback, they can understand how they are perceived by others and correct or use this perception to their advantage. The questions can for example be about how a certain situation was handled or what could be done differently.
Through feedback project managers can also develop a growth mindset. That means they are open to learning new things, receiving continuous further feedback, and making new experiences from which they can profit in their role as a project manager. By showing interest in their team’s opinion project managers display the will to improve which can also have a positive impact on the morale of the team. Cultivating this growth mindset through the use of feedback can ultimately lead to better project outcomes.
Also, it might help project managers to identify blind spots which they would otherwise not have noticed. Through the feedback, they can get an insight into these blind spots and address them accordingly. These blind spots can for example be biases, assumptions, or other limitations that affect them. The feedback that focuses on things that the project manager might overlook or areas that he or she needs more training in can help to unveil them.
When it comes to relationships, whether private or professional, communication is key. Often, however, only the explanation of one's own opinion or problems is meant as communication, whereas active listening already helps to avoid misunderstandings. Listening is usually seen as a simple task, but the quality of how you listen and the depth to which you understand your counterpart can make a dramatic difference in your relationship. Active listening means not only paying full attention to the other person, but also making sure that the message is received, understood, and appreciated from their perspective.
However, being an active listener also means breaking down internal communication barriers by recognizing your own emotions and managing them. Often people react defensively to information that goes against their own ideas. They then stop listening to the other person and resort to assumptions, which are based on their emotions. To develop active listening skills self-awareness is required and therefore this skill goes hand in hand with self-reflection and seeking feedback from others to gain knowledge about one’s own strengths and weaknesses as well as topics that make one react emotionally.
Active listening is a difficult task which takes time and patience to develop but it can be cultivated through different techniques. First one has to be honest to themselves and acknowledge their own biases and weaknesses. This can be achieved through self-reflection and feedback from others to see what makes one emotional and what limits the understanding of others. In the same step, one can practice perspective-taking to better understand how others see one in a situation or conflict to see the bigger picture.
A simple way, which should always be used, to improve active listening is to create a suitable environment for the conversation. Besides one's own biases, which need to be managed, there should be a calm environment in which the opposite person can be well understood. During the conversation, personal motives, such as a dislike of the person or one's own intentions, should also be put in the background. Language barriers should also be addressed where necessary. For example, if a person is talking very fast, you should ask them to slow down so that you can understand everything they are saying.
Another way is to develop curiosity about others´ perspectives by asking questions about their point of view and giving affirmative feedback if they share their point of view. By sharing their point of view, one can thus gain a better understanding of the person's position and thus avoid communication errors. Also through imagining what the reaction to one’s own statement should be, one can behave accordingly toward the other person when they make a statement.
Since all the people involved in a project come from different backgrounds and also have different interests and perspectives, communication mistakes offer a high potential for disagreements. Active listening proposes a wide range of advantages, which are of great benefit to project managers. Upsides include possible increased cooperation since the intentions of the people are better understood, improved insight through specific inquiries allowing knowledge gain and heightened negotiation skills, through leaving behind the need to be right, other persons are encouraged to open up and are more willing to accept external ideas. Project managers build the center of the project’s information flow and therefore active listening is one of their most important tasks. Especially with complex projects active listening is important so that the project manager can identify possible risks and issues early enough. Through understanding one’s barriers and addressing them as well as an active application of the methods mentioned a project manager can benefit from the aforementioned advantages through active listening, which ultimately also contributes to a successful project.
Mindfulness practice aims to focus attention on the present moment while being open and non-judgmental. The aim is to be fully present in the moment and not drift away to the future or the past. Practicing mindfulness daily can improve overall well-being and improve stress management and concentration. Known exercises to practice mindfulness can be meditation or mindful breathing. During meditation, the focus also lies on the breath but the mind is observing the thought without judging them. In mindful breathing on the other hand the attention is focused on the actions around, while the breath is used as an anchor in the present moment. When it comes to project management, mindfulness practices can reduce stress during work when managers are faced with tight deadlines, problems, or complex tasks. It can also help to improve attentional control, which in turn can help with active listening and decision-making skills resulting in better leadership effectiveness when decisions must be made under pressure.
Regular check-ins with a mentor or coach
Coaching is a widely known way for performance improvement in a variety of areas such as project management. It involves working through set goals, developing a plan for improvement, and receiving valuable feedback on the way. When it comes to project management, coaching can, among other things, help to improve self-awareness. Through constructive feedback on things like leadership style or communication skills, coaches can then help to improve those weaknesses.
To get coached, a project manager can seek out a coach through the organization they are working for or on their own. The coach aims to provide a supportive environment in which they can explore the leadership style of the manager and try to find areas for improvement. Since being a project manager requires a wide set of skills like communication, collaboration, or conflict resolution a coach can help to find the way around these skill sets and improve it. Regular check-ins allow for a progress tracking of the set goals and the chosen strategy can be reconsidered. Coaching can therefore be a valuable tool for developing self-awareness and improving leadership effectiveness in project management.
Self-awareness and decision-making in project management
Making informed decisions based on self-awareness
Making informed decisions is an essential skill for a leader in any field, including project management. An informed decision is based on a thorough understanding of the situation at hand including potential risks and their consequences. Through sound decisions, project managers are better able to achieve the set goals and mitigate potential risks. Self-awareness gained through the previously described methods allows a project manager to assess their strengths and weaknesses and thus make informed decisions based on their goals and values.
Informed decisions are essential to achieve the different project goals and to ensure the success of the team. A project manager must be able to weigh the risks and benefits of different options in the best interest of the project and the team behind it. Without self-awareness, project managers are more prone to biases and make decisions that are not in line with their goals or the needs of the team. An example can be project managers taking on too much of a workload and therefore not being able to fulfill their management duties. A project manager who is aware of their bias of taking on too much work may be more likely to delegate work to others to still fulfill their assigned duties. Similarly, a project manager who is aware of their bias is more likely to seek different perspectives and make inclusive decisions. Informed decision-making is a major component of every project to achieve the project goals and ensure team success.
Improving project outcomes through self-awareness
Self-awareness is one of the most important components of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is used by project managers to create a climate in which parties such as team members, clients, or management can communicate with clarity, deal more effectively with challenges, and make swift sound decisions. Therefore, a project manager must be able to build strong relationships with all parties to lead them to a good collaboration for better results.
Emotional Intelligence consists of five key components, of which self-awareness builds the foundation of it on which the other components are built. The components and examples can be found in Figure 2 below.
Self-awareness is the first step to building emotional intelligence, which is the next step to improving project performance. Through sensing, understanding, managing, and applying the information of emotions a project manager can use it as a source to motivate, connect and influence the people around them.
Throughout a project, it's crucial for a project manager to have the ability to detect when team members are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. By doing so, they can take preventative measures to avoid burnout and efficiently guide the team forward. Additionally, this attentiveness can promote stronger collaboration and superior problem-solving skills within the team. When project managers prioritize emotional intelligence and self-awareness, they effectively steer their team towards success and deliver high-quality results to stakeholders.
Self-awareness as key to successful project management
Because of the extensive properties and influences of self-awareness, it is an essential trait for project managers. They have to cultivate both, internal and external self-awareness in order to see themselves clearly. It enables them to understand their strengths, weaknesses, values, and biases, which when it comes to project management, allows them to recognize their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and how it impacts people around them. Understanding how the actions and decisions affect the team dynamics and the project itself again helps project managers to adapt their leadership style to meet the needs of the project and the team. By empathizing with their team members project managers can value different perspectives and experiences, build stronger relationships and foster collaboration, which creates an inclusive work environment. Through implementing strategies to develop self-awareness like self-reflection, seeking feedback from others, active listening, mindfulness practices, or regular check-ins with a coach, project managers can make more informed decisions and therefore ultimately improve their project management.
To lead their team and project to success, project managers require self-awareness as it helps them build better relationships, make informed decisions, and lead more effectively. An inclusive work environment can be created and areas of growth can be identified if project managers are self-aware. They can also adjust their leadership style according to the demands of the project and team. Developing emotional intelligence is an integral part of project management that contributes to nurturing an environment of perpetual growth amidst imminent changes. The journey to achieving this is lifelong and requires a consistent commitment.
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- ↑ Landau P. (2022). What Is Resource Allocation? 12 Resource Allocation Tips for Projects. ProjectManager.com. (Accessed: 14 February 2023). https://www.projectmanager.com/blog/resource-allocation
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