Striking a balance — The project manager's tightrope between emotional detachment and emotional investment

Project Management
Work culture

In the fast-paced world of Project Management, leaders often find themselves torn between two equally valid schools of thought.

One camp emphasises the need for emotional distance to ensure rational decision-making and the ability to pivot without remorse. The other argues that genuine care and investment in a project are the cornerstones of its success.

So, which is it? Should project managers become impassioned advocates for their projects, or should they maintain a level of emotional detachment? The truth, as is so often the case, lies somewhere in the middle.

The value of emotional distance

Objective Decision Making: Emotionally distancing oneself from a project allows a project manager to make decisions based on facts, data, and a clear understanding of the project's goals. This objectivity can prevent the 'sunk cost fallacy' where managers may pursue a doomed direction simply because of the emotional and financial investments already made.

Preventing Burnout: Emotional detachment can also act as a safeguard against the inevitable ups and downs of the project life cycle. By not tying one's self-worth and emotional well-being too closely to the project, managers can weather setbacks more easily and ensure longevity in their roles.

The power of genuine care

Inspiring Teams: A project manager who genuinely cares about the project can serve as an inspiration for their team. This investment can foster a shared sense of purpose and increase overall team morale.

Attention to Detail: Managers who are passionate about their projects often demonstrate a keen attention to detail. They're more likely to spot potential pitfalls or areas for improvement because they're deeply invested in the outcome.

Stakeholder Relationships: Authentic care and passion can be contagious. When stakeholders see a project manager who believes in a project, they too are more likely to offer support and become champions for the cause.

Striking the balance

The key is to strike a balance that maximises the benefits of both emotional detachment and genuine care. Here are some strategies on how to achieve that:

Define Clear Boundaries: While it's essential to care about a project, it's equally crucial to recognise when to step back. This might mean setting specific times for 'unplugging' or regularly revisiting the project's objectives to ensure decisions are made in line with them.
Seek Feedback: Regular feedback from team members, peers, and stakeholders can help project managers gauge whether they are veering too far towards emotional detachment or becoming overly invested.
Practice Self-awareness: Recognising one's emotions and understanding their impact on decision-making is crucial. This doesn’t mean suppressing emotions but being aware of them and using them as one of many tools in the decision-making process.

In conclusion

The tightrope that project managers walk between emotional detachment and investment is not about choosing one over the other. It's about leveraging the strengths of both for the benefit of the project.

By recognising the values and potential pitfalls of each approach, and by employing strategies to strike a balance, project managers can navigate this challenging terrain with grace and efficacy.

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Adam Lawrence
January 24, 2024