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How project managers can emotions in
encourage and develop positive project teams
emotions in project teams
Morten Emil Berg and Jan Terje Karlsen 449
BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway

Purpose This study provides insight into how project managers can use leadership tools to
encourage and develop positive emotions among the project team members toward greater overall
project success. The purpose of this paper is to provide the engineering industry with a closer look at
how positive emotions can create good team member relations, reduce stress, develop clearer roles,
creativity and joy at the workplace.
Design/methodology/approach The empirical data were obtained using in-depth interviews
of three experienced project managers.
Findings The empirical data give insight as to how project managers can use their signature
strengths. Additionally, the data also show how they can evolve and draw on positive meaning,
positive emotions and positive relations. Various examples of positive meaning, positive emotions,
positive relations and signature strengths have been identified and discussed.
Research limitations/implications Future research should apply a more comprehensive
research design, for example a survey using a larger sample, so that these findings may be generalized.
Practical implications The paper contributes to portray and analyze positive psychology in a
project management setting. Additionally, the paper assists understanding the connections among
positive meaning, positive emotions, positive relations and signature strengths by presenting and
discussing a model.
Originality/value This research extends current understanding of how project managers use their
signature strengths to encourage and develop positive emotions in project teams.
Keywords Case study, Project manager, Positive emotions, Project leadership
Paper type Research paper

1. Introduction
During the last decade, we have experienced an engineering industry where more
and more companies organize their work as project tasks. For instance, information
technology management and construction work are largely a project driven exercise.
Throughout the industry, projects are under enormous pressure to complete complex
and uncertain tasks in the shortest amount of time without sacrificing the cost and
quality criteria or leaving the customers and users dissatisfied. To get the job done,
resources must be identified and allocated, and activities must be properly organized
and structured in accordance with business and technical requirements. The project
management approach to solving these challenges and opportunities involves both
leaders and team members, in addition to defining activities, plans, milestones and
responsibilities. In the project, the project manager and his/her team are important
players in making the most of the potentials of the project (Larson and Gray, 2011).
But what makes the teams performance a success or a failure? There must be some International Journal of Managing
factors within the project structure that either contribute to or inhibit the team process? Projects in Business
Vol. 7 No. 3, 2014
One such factor is emotions. According to Peslak (2005), the effect that emotions have pp. 449-472
r Emerald Group Publishing Limited
on team performance has been studied by past researchers, though there has been little 1753-8378
consensus on the exact role that emotions play in the success or failure of projects. DOI 10.1108/IJMPB-01-2013-0003
IJMPB He also argues that there has been much less research done on how emotions change
7,3 through the duration of a project.
Hence, the purpose of this paper is to study how project managers can encourage
and develop positive emotions among the project team members. More specifically, this
paper focusses on how project managers can use leadership tools such as positive
meaning, positive emotions, positive relations, signature strengths to create positive
450 results. It is also the aim of this paper to address how these leadership tools can be
related. Researchers such as Peslak (2005), Glinow et al. (2004) and Sy et al. (2005)
have shown that emotions among team members can play a significant role in project
success. For example, Turner and Lloyd-Walker (2008) find that the results of case
study and survey indicate that developing skills in emotional intelligence contributes
to greater success in project management. In another study Turner et al. (2009)
examines the differences between leadership styles used by project management and
leadership style used by functional management. Results show that solid training
in emotional competencies must be present to achieve success as a project manager and
as a functional manager. Emotional competence is closely associated with emotional
intelligence (Turner et al., 2009).
For the purpose of this paper, we endorse the position of Gallwey (2000) that
behavior can be changed and adapted, while traits are relatively stable during lifetime
(Mattews et al., 2009). Dainty et al. (2004) identifies 12 core behavioral competencies
that underpin effective project management performance. One of these is composure.
The composed manager restrains from negative actions when tempted, even
when faced with opposition or hostility from others or when working under stressful
conditions. Dainty et al. (2004) believes this term is closely related to emotional
intelligence. According to Clarke and Howell (2009) emotional intelligence can also
contribute to develop project managers to better manage relationships within the
project team.
Emotional intelligence will also be of importance to our approach in this paper.
However, we will consider emotional intelligence as a signature strength, representing
an ingredient of positive psychology (Seligman, 2002a). Positive psychology puts more
weight on positive emotions than emotional intelligence does. By strengthening the
emphasis on positive psychology and reducing the focus on emotional intelligence as a
construct, we might gain a broader comprehension of positive emotions.
Another theory that is considered to be of importance to this study is transformational
leadership. Transformational leadership involves the use of positive emotions (Sosik and
Jung, 2010). However, in this paper transformational leadership is considered as a part
of positive leadership which in turn forms part of positive psychology (Walumbwa et al.,
2008). As a result, in this paper transformational leadership will be included in a
framework that may prove to be useful in project management, particularly with regard
to how positive emotions can be developed in the project team.
The paper draws on several case histories from interviews with engineering and
construction project managers based on qualitative data. Our aim is to provide the
engineering industry, practitioners and researchers with a closer look at how positive
emotions can create good team member relations, reduce stress, develop clearer roles,
creativity and joy at the workplace. Often team members work under high pressure,
unclear roles, conflicting expectations from the project and the line, and vague
goals, situations causing stress, burnout, personal conflicts and high turnover.
The study includes theories from positive psychology (Seligman, 2002b; Seligman and
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). It is our view that this is an interesting and important
research focus since Peslak (2005) argues that an understanding of how positive Positive
emotions evolve can be important to both researchers and practitioners alike, with a emotions in
goal toward greater overall project success. This is also underlined by Brink and
Kohler (2011) who argue that little empirical research has been conducted on positive project teams
psychology in project management.

2. Theoretical framework positive psychology 451

The beginnings of positive psychology in modern time can be traced back to 1998.
As newly elected President of the American Psychological Association, Martin E.P.
Seligman urged psychologists to explore what makes life worth living, i.e. the factors
that foster the thriving and flourishing of individuals and communities (Seligman and
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Psychology had, since Second World War, been mainly
occupied with malfunction and deficits and Seligman thus called for a more balanced
approach to the study of man (Seligman, 2002b). Since then, we have witnessed a
growing number of research and publications.
According to Brink and Kohler (2011), a part of the research is specifically focussed
on the relation between positive psychology, work and organization. An increasing
number of approaches and conceptualizations have emerged, such as positive
organizational behavior (POB), psychological capital (PsyCap), positive organizational
psychology (POP) and positive organizational scholarship (POS), making the landscape
somewhat chaotic. In the following we will briefly describe the different movements.

2.1 POB
POB implies an approach focussing on improving employee performance and the
competitive advantage of the organizations by concentrating on the strengths and
psychological capacities that are both developable and performance related (Linley
et al., 2010). Thus the idea of strength and performance is underscored in this
approach. The assumption is that by developing positive psychological strengths, one
may enhance performance. This is reflected in the definition of POB as: the study
and application of positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological
capacities which can be measured, developed and effectively managed for performance
improvement in todays workplace (Luthans, 2002, p. 59).

2.2 PsyCap
The concept of PsyCap describes the core POB resources that impacts behavior (Avolio
et al., 2010). These resources include confidence (self-efficacy), optimism, resilience and
hope. According to Luthans et al. (2008), all of these capacities are trait-like, thus
implying that they can be developed by training. For example optimism implies a certain
cognitive pattern leading to hope for the future (Seligman, 1998). Further, hope entails a
will to succeed and the ability to find ways to actually achieve a goal (Snyder, 2000).
Studies of Luthans et al. (2006) indicate that leaders high on PsyCap promote higher
commitment and satisfaction. PsyCap is also associated with higher job performance
(Luthans et al., 2005), reduced absenteeism (Avey et al., 2006), higher engagement and
reduced cynicism and deviance (Avey et al., 2008). PsyCap is also found to be associated
with fewer stress symptoms and fewer intentions to quit work (West et al., 2009).

2.3 POP
The overarching umbrella of POP, encompasses all the above approaches of POB,
PsyCap and POS, as well as other lines of studies focussing on positive psychology
IJMPB applied in the contexts of work and organization (Ko and Donaldson, 2011). POP is
7,3 described as the scientific study of positive subjective experiences and traits in the
workplace and positive organizations, and its application to improve the effectiveness
and quality of life in organizations (Donaldson and Ko, 2010, p. 178).
2.4 POS
452 POS may also serve as an umbrella term providing a macro level frame for current and
future research on positive states, outcomes and generative mechanisms in individuals,
dyads, groups and societies (Cameron et al., 2003). According to Roberts et al. (2005),
the main assumption is that understanding the drivers or mechanisms of positive
behavior at work will help organizations realize higher levels of achievement. POS
thus depicts the dynamics in organizations that lead to the development of human
strengths, foster resiliency in individual, make possible healing and restoration and
cultivate extraordinary individual and organizational performance (Cameron et al.,
2003). Such organizations are characterized by strengths such as appreciation,
collaboration, virtuousness, vitality and meaningfulness where creating an abundance
of human well-being are key indicators of success (Bernstein, 2003, p. 267). Key
ingredients of POS include positive meaning, positive emotions and positive relations.
Positive meaning. According to Steger and Dik (2010), there seems to be a
correlation between positive meaning and leadership. For example ownership of the
vision will increase the perceived importance of reaching the goal. Leaders influence
the atmosphere in their organization; they set goals and visions, and inspire employees
to contribute along the way. Positive meaning at work can be derived from knowing
one-self and how work is carried out in a specific organizational context, and at the
same time knowing what one can accomplish in the organization (Steger and Dik,
2010). Further, Seligman (2002a) argues that positive meaning may also stem from
using your signature strengths.
On the organizational level, studies of Wrzesniewski et al. (1997) and Wrzesniewski
(2003) indicate that perceived work meaning lead to higher commitment to the
organization, and more time spent at work, in addition to more faith in management
and better teamwork. Lockes (1996) investigations on goals resulted in four findings:
(1) goals should be clear and challenging to promote the best implementation;
(2) the more challenging the goal, the higher satisfaction when reaching the goal;
(3) highest commitment to the goal is gained when people are convinced that the
goal is important and that it is achievable; and
(4) goals are most effective when feedback points to progress.
Very often the goals will unconsciously strengthen the effort, focus and commitment of
the individual and lead to more persistence and better implementation strategies
(Latham and Locke, 2007). Goals increase the work motivation because they are
infused with positive meaning (Grant Halvorson, 2010).
Positive emotions. Positive emotions create positive development spirals that extend
and increase our thought and action repertoires, including intellectual, physical, social
and psychological resources (Fredrickson, 2001). Examples of positive emotions are joy,
optimism, gratitude and self-efficacy. Positive emotions are associated with superior
job achievement as well as flourishing social climate (George, 1998). According to
Fredrickson (2001) experiences that evoke positive emotions, also diminish negative
emotions. In addition happy people are more persevering with tasks that are unpleasant.
Furthermore, happy people are also better at doing several things simultaneously Positive
(multi-tasking) and are also more systematic and attentive (Diener, 2001). Positive emotions in
emotions are correlated with performance-enhancing variables such as creativity, less
negative stress, better health, holistic thinking and emotional resilience (Fredrickson, project teams
2001). The broadening and building effect may spiral outward beyond the individual
level to affect group and organizations (Fredrickson, 2003).
Positive relations. According to Goffee and Jones (2006), leadership is performed 453
through relations. Several researchers suggest that a leaders ability to communicate a
clear vision, ensure the realization of visions by use of, e.g. transformational
leadership, is positively associated with performance, well-being and meaning in the
work context (Arnold et al., 2007; Kirkpatrick and Locke, 1996; Piccolo and Colquitt,
2006). Richardson and West (2010) offer a model for positive teamwork based
on a positive input-process-output model. The inputs are inspiring team task, team
diversity, clear and evolving team roles, positive team relations and team attachment.
The driving processes are optimism, collective self-efficacy, sharing of learning,
trust, supportive leadership and social support. These processes may produce better
team performance, better team member well-being as well as better inter-team

2.5 Applied positive psychology

Several single interventions or tools within the field of positive psychology may prove
useful for leaders and organizations. We describe them as follows.
Flow. Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p. 4) states that flow is a state in which people are so
involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The experience itself is
so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
To achieve flow, certain conditions are required: a clear goal; clear and immediate
feedback; and balance between challenge and skill where both elements contains
a stretch (Csikszentmihalyi et al., 2005). For leaders such as project managers the
working conditions seem favorable for flow experiences. This is because project
managers have the opportunity for a high degree of control over their own work
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1997).
The reasons why organizations and leaders should be interested in facilitating flow
experiences are twofold. First, through concern for their employees, their intrinsic
motivation and well-being, as in flow, the employee will experience more control
and enjoyment in their work task (Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre, 1989). Second, out of
concern for organizational outcomes. Examples are improved effectiveness and work
relationships and higher job satisfaction as well as reduced anxiety (Goodman, 1996),
contributing to higher job performance and job satisfaction (Csikszentmihalyi and
LeFevre, 1989).
Positive leadership. Positive leadership is an umbrella for approaches such as
authentic leadership (e.g. Avolio et al., 2004), transformational leadership (Walumbwa
et al., 2008), ethical leadership (Brown and Trevino, 2006) and spiritual leadership
(Panday and Gupta, 2008). According to Brown and Trevino (2006), these approaches
have three things in common concern for others, integrity and role modeling. The
concept of authentic leadership is the root of the others (Avolio and Gardner, 2005).
Authentic leaders are characterized by self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, self-
efficacy, hope and resilience. They make use of positive role modeling to influence
employees attitudes and behaviors which eventually leads to beneficial organizational
performance (Wernsing, 2010).
IJMPB Coaching. Linley and Joseph (2004) include coaching in their perspective on
7,3 applied positive psychology. Indeed, coaching has been called a natural fit to positive
psychology; they are both focussing on the individuals resources and are solution
focussed (Linley et al., 2009). Coaching is about helping people enhance performance,
skills and achievement. Douglas and McCauley (1999) argue that coaching is a service
provided to those in business who want individual assistance to enhance their
454 performance, skills and achievement.

2.6 Signature strengths

To understand the mindset and behavior of a leader, it is useful to consider personality.
However, personality can be expressed in several ways. According to Brink and Kohler
(2011), an important element of positive psychology is the focus on what goes well and
nicely. This means that there is an emphasis on strengths rather than on weaknesses.
Linley (2008, p. 9) define strengths as a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of
behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user, and enables
optimal functioning, development, and performance. Strengths are developed by
frequent practice turning them into habits. Strength is not simply present or absent,
but present in varying degrees in all people. The characteristics at which one is best
and which are energizing are identified as signature strengths. Examples of signature
strengths are courage, self-discipline, holistic thinking and wisdom. An individual
typically experiences motivation, energy, happiness and joy when using signature
strengths. According to Seligman (2011), the use of signature strengths can be
beneficial in several ways: first, a perception of ownership and of being authentic;
second, a strong urge to continue to use ones strengths; third, accelerated learning,
experience of more joy, motivation and enthusiasm; and fourth, a feeling of being
infused by new energy when using signature strengths.

3. Research methodology
The focus of this research is on the encouragement and development of positive
emotions among project team members and how this can stimulate the performance of
engineering and construction projects. We seek to understand subjective experiences
and meanings among project managers. For this purpose a phenomenological
investigation was chosen, which seeks to describe the meaning of lived experience
about a concept or phenomenon (Creswell, 2007). This method is a qualitative approach
and the method included use of in-depth, semi-structured interviews as well as a
content analysis of data (Smith and Eatough, 2007). It is a method that emphasizes
sense making by both the participants (managers) and the researcher. This is a
particularly suitable approach when the research is seeking to throw light on how
managers perceive a specific situation they are facing, how they act and the effect
of this behavior on the teams and projects performance.
We selected cases from three project-oriented organizations for our study using
information-oriented (purposeful) sampling (Flyvbjerg, 2006; Patton, 2002). These
three organizations represent three different industries: oil and gas, construction and
information systems. The empirical data were obtained from three project managers,
one from each organization. The three respondents were selected as a result of an oral
evaluation of several potential candidates. The evaluation focussed on the project
managers experience, reputation and leadership qualities, in addition to their expected
capacity for knowledge about effective project team development. It was also a goal to
choose cases that had a good chance to replicate each other and thus extend theory Positive
(Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 2009). emotions in
We have applied a semi-structured interview guide which was built on Seidmans
(2006) three-stage interview process with the following purposes: setting the context project teams
and background; providing details of the experience; and reflecting on meanings.
Furthermore, Seidman (2006) argues that collecting personal experiences, opinions
and meanings from those intimately involved is the only way of getting near the 455
truth. Additionally, the semi-structured interviews were chosen because of the
methods flexibility (Drever, 1995), while it also allows for a degree of standardization
(Gilham, 2000).
Three persons were interviewed in this study. To gain full cooperation of the
interviewees, they were promised that their names and the names of companies would
not be disclosed. The duration of each interview was about two to three hours.
The same two researchers conducted all the interviews to assure consistency in
interview processes. The interviews were conducted face-to-face on site, and, when
necessary, follow-up telephone interviews were scheduled to discuss unclear data.
Examples of interview questions asked were such as: What characterizes a project
team that is successful?, What are the most important leadership tools you use to
lead your project team successfully?, How do you encourage and develop positive
meaning in your project team?, How do you encourage and develop positive emotions
in your project team?, How do you encourage and develop positive relations in your
project team? and How will you describe your signature strengths? Most of the
questions included in the interview guide were open-ended, in other words, the questions
were structured to require rich and context-heavy responses. As a result, follow-on
questions were often asked, as well as questions to clarify responses provided by the
respondents. We tried to avoid asking leading and multiple questions, and at the end
of the interview the respondent got a chance to make comments on subjects that may not
have been covered in the interview. The recorded interview was transcribed after each
meeting. For evaluation purposes, the researchers asked the respondents to read the
transcribed interviews to guarantee a correct understanding of the data.
For the purpose of this study, we used a content-analysis approach since data
needed to be analyzed and interpreted (Patton, 2002). The analysis of the data involved
a highly iterative process of within-case analysis and cross-case comparison
(Eisenhardt, 1989). In the analysis, we looked for differences, nuances, patterns and
similarities in the responses. The data were analyzed as an interplay between empirical
findings and theoretical concepts, where critical questions were asked and new
conclusions made. For example, answers which we perceived as particularly clarifying
in relation to the research focus have been quoted in the paper. The rationale for
selecting these quotes was that they represent the participants view, they support and
highlight findings, and they make the discussion richer and more interesting.

4. Data analysis and results

In this section of the paper we present data analysis and results from the three case
stories/interviews. Since the interviewed persons preferred to be anonymous, we have
changed their names to Ann, Bill and Cate.

4.1 About the interviewees

Ann. Ann is about 50 years old and has a long project management career. First she
worked with projects in the oil and gas industry for several years. Later she has been
IJMPB involved in many IT/IS projects as a consultant and project manager. She has also had
7,3 experience as a line manager in a consultant company with personnel responsibility.
Ann grew up in a home where her parents were divorced and her mother was an
alcoholic. At the age of 14, she decided to be happy when she walked out of her home.
Before leaving the house, she looked at herself in the mirror and talked positively to
herself. According to herself, this experience has been significant in her life.
456 Bill. Bill is about 60 years and has a masters degree in civil engineering. He has
worked on projects within the construction industry for nearly 40 years both in
Norway and internationally. For the last 25 years, he has been a project manager.
The projects he has been engaged in are normally on the order of 30 million euros or
more. The biggest projects he has been responsible for had more than 2,000 employees.
Cate. The third interviewee, Cate, is also about 60 years and has a masters degree in
civil engineering. For a period of nearly 30 years, she has been working with projects
in the oil and gas industry. She has been the project manager for several major
projects. Cate grew up as quiet and modest, but was a sporty and dynamic girl.

4.2 Positive meaning

Ann has Pippi Longstocking as her role model. Pippi shows creativity, courage, a lot of
care and no inhibitions. Taking care of others is a deeply ingrained attitude of Ann.
Since she was young she has looked after her little brother. Responsibility gives her joy,
security and a positive meaning. It seems to be a part of her identity. Concern for others
and role modeling are two key features in authentic leadership (Avolio et al., 2004) and
transformational leadership (Walumbwa et al., 2008).
Ann also states that she experience positive meaning when she works closely
with others:
Good working relationships are important to me. I thrive and feel comfortable when
I can trust my surroundings. It suites me well to work in good and effective teams.
Bill perceives that a project manager is often positioned between the devil and the
deep blue sea. The client wants good quality at the lowest cost, but often the budget is
fixed and requires a tight cost control. Being a project manager is a role associated with
a lot of cross-pressure. The client, subcontractors and project workers will all try to
promote their own interests. At the same time, it is important to keep all the stakeholders
satisfied. Bill claims that working in a project can be compared to a psychological game.
One has to present things in the right order and not be petty. Such balance is suggestive
of wisdom (Reznitskaya and Sternberg, 2004). This requires cooperation and flexibility
from both sides. Project management is often about putting common sense into a system.
It is a role that is challenging, but also stimulating and motivating, he claims.
According to Bill, there are also two other conditions that give him personal
meaning in being a project manager. First, he highlights the collaboration with his
The most important is that you enjoy yourself in your daily work environment: This means a
good tone, good companionship, good cooperation, and that you succeed in the job you do.
The above statement underscores his faith in his employees capacities and resources; a
fundamental assumption both in positive psychology and in coaching (e.g. Grant and
Cavanagh, 2007). As the second condition, he underlines the importance of producing
something concrete, and states:
It makes me proud when I can point at a building and say that I participated in building this.
Collaboration is what gives Cate great meaning in the role of project manager: Positive
I want to be close to others. I want to be accessible and be hands on. For example, I always emotions in
eat lunch with the team. project teams
It is our interpretation that Cate experiences positive meaning when she is working in
close collaboration with her colleagues and there is a clear deadline and a goal. It gives
meaning to her helping others. Findings also indicate that the feeling of positive
meaning is increased when the task to be solved is important for the organization
and society.

4.3 Positive emotions

Ann states that a characteristic of many IT projects is that they do not target as agreed.
The reasons are several; the cost is too high, the time of delivery is exceeded and the
quality is too low. Moreover, stress among employees is a demanding challenge.
She also says that in her experience, there are many burnt-out people in the industry.
Ann believes that many projects lack creativity and have too much structure.
She has often experienced team members that are too focussed on the project goals.
Ann suggests an alternative approach. She is more interested in working with the
processes that lead to goal achievement, especially positive emotions such as humor
and joy.
According to Sjvold (2007) project managers invest a lot of time and money in team
building activities, such as rafting, mountain climbing, sailing, etc. Such team building
activities can be very expensive, while humor, e.g. to laugh, is both important and
inexpensive. Ann argues that humor and joy is like a force in the project that produces
the necessary progress. Further she states:
I decided to use humor as a tool in project management. It started a little unconsciously.
However, it requires courage to introduce and actively use humor in a project. I had the
necessary courage and I think it made it easier for me to introduce humor.

When you cry or laugh together, it creates a strong bond with others. I decided that we should
have a lot of humor as a redemptive mechanism and bring it into the project culture.
These quotes show that it is important to Ann that the project team has fun.
When they laugh together they form a foundation to build on. According to Ann, she
has experienced this development several times:
The result is a stronger team, where we care about each other. We know each other and the
role of each one. We utilize and help each other. As a consequence we have avoided negative
internal competitions in the team.
Ann believes that humor is a great way to create optimism. The mood that occurs
when one laughs also helps to create self-efficacy:
If you trust the team, then the self-efficacy will increase further. The team feeling is
important. The collective self-esteem will then get stronger.
Furthermore, Ann has experienced that this way to lead the team has resulted in several
positive consequences:
. A positive mindset in the team: we have no problems. We only have challenges
that can be solved by creative solutions.
. Everybody had their specific milestones to achieve. however, all contributed
when it was burning somewhere in the project.
IJMPB . It created a very positive atmosphere: This project will be a great success!
7,3 . Participants in the team were highly motivated. Several members finished the
project with higher motivation than when they started.
. Many team members went to new, exciting jobs after the project.
According to Ann, this leadership style requires much energy and attention. However,
458 she argues that she has also received a lot of energy back from the team. An interesting
observation is that this use of humor has created two different reactions from other
colleagues in the organization. One was that the team was perceived as exclusionary;
Who do they think they are? The second was inclusive; I wish to work with you!:
Having gentle, positive colleagues affects others, about 80% will experience a positive spill
over effect in the organization. The remaining 20% of the employees will not experience
any positive spill over effect. That people have different reactions is something we have
to live with.
Findings from the interviews show that Bill makes active use of praise and feedback in
the relationship with his employees:
One must always give more praise than criticism. It must be allowed to make mistakes.
It is better that five things are done right and one thing wrong, than nothing is done due to
fear of failure. If one has the courage to present ideas, one must also be allowed to come up
with something stupid. Constructive criticism is given in private, not when others are present.
Praise may be given when several are present.
According to Fredrickson and Losada (2005), the optimal ratio for positive vs negative
emotions is 3:1, e.g. when giving feedback one should give at least three positive
comments to every negative comment.
Bill emphasizes that the project manager must understand his/her team members
and why they react as they do. The project manager must be able to read and interpret
the situation. This requires emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1998). Data analysis also
indicates that Bill is aware of the emotional aspects of conflicts, and he states:
One should not be personally angry. Sometimes you must accept that you lose. Let the
opponent feel that he/she has won.
Data results show that Cate is conscious about creating positive emotions in the
project team:
We shall have a good time during the project. It is important to me that we are happy
together. There must be a good tone and atmosphere in the team.
Her use of we in the quote indicates that this is something that cannot be created by
the project manager alone, but everybody in the team. She seems to underline
cooperation and community. Positive emotions occur when people get to know each
other, which will also have a positive impact on the result (Fredrickson, 2001). Analysis
of data shows that Cate is particularly interested in three positive emotions; commitment,
job-satisfaction and flow.
Cate is involved in project tasks and her co-workers. By using participation and
empowerment she creates interest and engagement. In other words, Cate develops
commitment by giving responsibility, trust and freedom:
When I show confidence to team-workers, they get more room for maneuver. I show
confidence and give responsibility. Team-members are given control over their own work.
The result is high commitment and self-management.
High commitment and self-management may be indicative of intrinsic motivation Positive
derived from feelings of freedom, competence and relatedness. Ryan and Deci (2000) emotions in
posit that when those three needs are met, motivation and well-being will be
enhanced. project teams
According to Cate, building a well-functioning team is critical to getting the job
done. Then, once the team has done a good job, it is important that they get
recognition: 459
My colleagues receive a lot of praise from me. I am quick to say that something is good.
She also mentions that the team should use appropriate occasions, e.g. accomplishment
of milestones, to celebrate. It is important to have a good time during the project.
Findings from the interview indicate that Cate is often in a flow situation, where she
experiences a balance between the challenges she faces and her expertise/skills.
Often she uses her intuition to find solutions, so that the project can proceed. An
explanation to this is that she has been through a lot, both privately, in associations,
and at the workplace. Cate is not negative in advance, but shows courage and optimism.

4.4 Positive relations

The interview revealed that Ann often tries to get colleagues to do playful and frisky
things. According to her it started a little unconsciously. However, it requires courage
to introduce and actively use humor. She uses a variety of devices, which at first glance
may seem ridiculous, such as:
. Starting meetings with a wig on her head.
. Not allowing the eating of Danish pastry.
. Telling stories.
. Buying candy and putting it in a common pot every time someone was traveling.
. Creating a footprint on the project plans when they have been approved. But it
must be shown if it is to be effective.
. Conducting informal meetings: there was a need to meet completely informal,
without an agenda. Here, the team members talk about what they think and
what is on their mind.
. Telling stories by team members at informal lunches to relieve tension.
. Meetings where the participants were not allowed to present problems, only
good solutions.
According to Ann, the use of these devices in a project gave three positive effects.
The participants had fun and they laughed together. She also experienced that the
participants developed stronger team cohesion, more collaboration and team members
that cared about each other. Third, the team was more creative and developed many
new and good ideas.
Findings show that Bill tries to create positive relationships with his team members
by emphasizing collaboration, involving them by delegating tasks, being available, and
using a coaching leadership style.
Bill claims that it is always important to know the team members strengths and
weaknesses, so that he can help them succeed. In particular knowledge about their
weaknesses is essential to avoid putting them into a situation they cannot master.
IJMPB In a worst case scenario, the latter may lead to negative consequences for others and
7,3 they will start blaming each other:
At the start of a new project, we focus on getting to know each other. This might entail going
away for a few days in a boat or a cottage. On such occasions, we talk about the goals of the
project, discuss ground rules for the team collaboration, how to proceed in the project, and
agree on how we will notify each other when needed.
460 Knowledge of each other, clear goals, working rules and procedures form the basis for
security, predictability and a positive atmosphere. According to Bill, achieving a good
team member relationship is not easy. It requires a conscious effort to collaborate,
agree and get to know each other. Data results show that conscious effort is part of the
management task. Although Bill believes that if they are to succeed, he must avoid
the trap of general positive thinking, namely, believing that they will succeed easily
(Dweck, 2006). To achieve success, the project is dependent on both the quality of their
employees and the quality of the interactions among employees.
It is our interpretation that Bill creates positive relationships with team members by
showing confidence in the allocation of responsibilities and by providing training in
person or by others. Responsibility results in employees being more involved and
feeling a sense of ownership of the project. Data show that Bill takes ownership for the
project as a project manager, and also provides ownership to the employees, which are
essential points of team coaching (Hawkins, 2011). It implies that he empowers his
team. As stated by Bill, the employees must be given new challenges through guidance
and quality assurance. When they show that they master the task, they will progressively
get more responsibility. Training is given by pairing/putting inexperienced employees
together with people who have experience, a practice that generally secures a win-win for
both parties. This can provide good learning, he underlines:
As a project manager, you learn twice: when you acquire new knowledge and when you teach
the knowledge to others.
Bill argues that project managers need to be present where things happen. Employees
must be able to ask for advice and information. He also emphasizes that they should
get quick answers:
The project manager should be present at the work site. It is not my style to just drop in once
in a while. I have to work at least as much as the others. I must be a good example of work
ethic. I want to be informed and involved.
Most of the time Bill has his office door open. When team members come and want to
discuss and ask for advice, it shows that you are useful and helpful, he says. He claims
that approximately 25 percent of his work-time is spent in discussing and answering
ad hoc issues:
When a team-member comes, I forget what Im doing and focus on the matter he/she wants to
discuss. I ask questions and want them to convince me that they have chosen the best
solution. If they fail to convince me, it will be me who decides. We usually agree.

Bill is fully present when meeting with his employees. The above quote reflects his
mindfulness, a capacity deemed necessary for organizations facing constant change
and pressure to perform (Marianetti and Passmore, 2010).
Bill uses a template of questions to help carry out appraisals. This makes it easier to
raise more sensitive issues. Topics addressed are: Are you satisfied with the collaboration?
To what extent do you enjoy working in the project? How can the project manager help
you to do a better job? He uses primarily open-ended questions to get their opinions and Positive
ideas open-ended questions being an important characteristic of coaching (Berg, 2006): emotions in
The leader must try to help, primarily by asking questions and suggesting ways to reach project teams
the goal.
Data analysis indicates that Cate creates positive relationships with her team members
by emphasizing coaching, problem solving, collaboration and feedback.
Cate states that she tries to apply a coaching leadership style by asking questions
when things are unclear in the project. This way of working shows that she invites
comments and new ideas for her drafts and proposals basically because she knows
that things can always be better. This approach has two effects: tt helps her in solving
problems and involving employees:
When colleagues come with their problems, I put everything aside, listen and ask questions.
I try to be service-minded and focused on their problem. I wish to be a contributor to my team.
Experience has taught me that a coaching leadership style has a significant effect.
Cate also reveals that sometimes she experiences issues that seem completely stuck.
Then she often suggests: Lets go and have a quiet talk. In such a meeting, she says
that they first have to acknowledge that they have a problem. Just the fact that
someone begins to talk about it, may lead to considering the problem from new angles.
Then, a brainstorming session may bring up new ideas and solutions. During such
a problem-solving process, the team members can experience involvement and thus
gain ownership.
Cate believes that a project manager is nothing without collaboration with the team.
No one is sovereign alone. She underlines that the best way to exercise her leadership
role is in partnership with the team members. This is an example of transformative
cooperation created by processes that are beneficial for all participants (Sekerka and
Fredrickson, 2010):
We need interaction and collaboration in the project team. People shall challenge each other.
For example, when a solution is suggested, it is discussed thoroughly in the team. It is
important to me that everyone contributes and helps to improve the solution.
It is also Cates experience that employees must be followed-up. She argues that the
whole project is dependent on each individual employee does a good job. A leader
cannot just be kind. A project manager must also be critical when it is necessary.
Feedback to team members is important because even small errors in quality can have
serious consequences:
I am interested in quality and know that I can be easily seen as critical. However, sometimes
you have to withhold negative feedback. People cannot handle such information. Much
depends on how you say it.

4.5 Signature strengths

Data analysis indicates that Ann has four signature strengths that characterize her
thinking and behavior (Seligman, 2002a):
. humor/joy;
. creativity;
. courage; and
. leadership/responsibility.
IJMPB The interviews show that Ann is highly aware that she has humor, is creative and
7,3 show courage. Because of Anns light-hearted and tension-relieving activities,
she has often received feedback from other colleagues saying to her: Oh so brave you
are. She claims that it was natural to be herself and be able to demonstrate integrity.
Integrity is closely related to authentic leadership (Avolio et al., 2004) and ethical
leadership (Brown and Trevino, 2006). She is also aware of her capability to take
462 responsibility:
One thing that sits deep in me is to take a lot of responsibility. I have had it with me from my
childhood. Im a little insecure if I do not take responsibility. But taking responsibility does
not feel like a duty. It creates joy. I get very happy when I see people around me feel good.
This forms the foundation of Anns leadership style. A leader may be very skilled and
receive much praise for doing a good job. However, if a leader is not able to practice his/
her signature strengths, the leader will feel uncomfortable (Linley et al., 2010). This is
why Linley et al. (2010) underline that a leaders unrealized strengths are his/her most
important area for development.
Analysis of data has identified that Bill has five signature strengths:
. courage and perseverance;
. honesty;
. creativity and holistic view;
. judgment; and
. optimism.
Our findings show that he seems balanced in his judgments when he describes how he
uses his signature strengths in his leadership role. He says clearly what he means, but
avoid being too detail oriented when the task is delegated. According to Bill one should
be open, honest, fair, cooperative and solution oriented. All of this helps, but sometimes
you do not reach the goal anyway. Then you have to be a little bit stricter. In doing that,
he shows strength of perseverance to achieve goals in spite of internal and external
resistance (Peterson and Seligman, 2004):
If you feel like youre right, you have to endure. In negotiations, for example, you have to give
and take to reach the goal. Im not conflict-shy and can take a fight when necessary. Then I
will try to stay the course. But I will not be a quarrelsome person or too finicky, especially
when tasks are delegated.
Honesty is largely about ethics and rules of life. Bill decided early in life that he would
be an honest man and not cheat:
It is important for me to keep my path clear. What ever you do, you have to stand by it.
Another principle of mine is that you shall say what you mean. Honesty is the best
The above statement reflects the integrity component in authentic and ethical
leadership (Brown and Trevino, 2006).
Bill is aware that he acts as a role model for his employees in relation to ethical
behavior, and he clearly expresses that this is a role model he wants to hold.
For example, he has made it clear that shortcuts are not appropriate or acceptable.
He also says that he wishes to be a good example to the stakeholders when it comes to
working morals and ethics. On the other hand, Bill is also aware that absolute honesty
can lead to problems and seem harsh in some situations. Timing and position is Positive
therefore important for the practice of the signature strength of honesty, and he adds: emotions in
[y] you should also know when to keep your mouth shut. project teams
Bill says that showing creativity and that finding new areas of project improvement
gives him joy. In brainstorming sessions, openness to suggestions and discussion to
find the best solutions is important: 463
I am always trying to improve the projects, for example, by finding solutions that are just as
good but cheaper. I do this by throwing out ideas or asking questions. I always discuss
my own ideas with others. The purpose is to identify objections, especially on risk, quality
and cost.
He also underlines that the discussion partners should act as devils advocates to come
with counter-arguments, which can prevent the trap of group think ( Janis, 1972).
Bill believes he has good judgment skills, and states:
I apply a systematization of common sense. It is a mixture of firmness and sense of justice.
This requires that I work hard and try to obtain necessary insight into things. For example,
once we had a difficult and unclear contract. However, all parties were eager to find a solution,
although it meant a give and take approach. My opinion is that we must allow others to make
money, but there needs to be a balance.
Considering optimism, Bill regards himself as pragmatic and realistic, not super-
optimistic. He believes his colleagues experience him in a similar manner. One must try
to be positive even when one is faced with problems. He believes he has become more
relaxed with age:
It is my view that one should not exaggerate difficulties. However, what is important is to
have good belief in oneself and that the difficulty can be managed.
Our findings indicate that Cate has four signature strengths:
. emotional intelligence;
. kind and helpful;
. courage; and
. leadership/responsibility.
Cate claims that she is a good listener, really seeing other people. She also argues that
she has the strength of empathy which is a component in the signature strength of
emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence involves self-awareness, self-control,
self-motivation, empathy and social skills (Goleman, 1998). By actively using emotional
intelligence, one is approaching the virtue of humanity (Seligman, 2002a). It is our
findings that Cate shows self-awareness regarding her strengths and weaknesses. For
example, she admits that she is not funny, that she may react too quickly, she can be
too direct and that she has become less patient with age. Self-awareness is an attribute
of the authentic leader (Avolio et al., 2004):
Im not funny. Getting people to laugh is less important in a project. But I am concerned about
Her humor is not obvious. However, it is our view that her genuineness, warmth and
interest in the project employees, combined with her experience and dedication, make
her a good leader (Avolio et al., 2004).
IJMPB Cate says she listens and cares for her team members, which often result in the
7,3 development of good relationships. She sees and senses when her employees are upset,
and then she makes contact. Findings indicate that Cate cares about her co-workers a
characteristic of the authentic leader (Avolio et al., 2004). Helping and supporting is
important for the experience of security and trust. Lencioni (2002) believes that the
biggest pitfall in a team is lack of trust:
464 One of the most important things I can do as a project manager is to help my co-workers
Cate is a leader who is not afraid to speak her mind. For example, when she thinks that
something is wrong, she expresses her opinions clearly to customers and superiors.
Also when it comes to protecting the employees and the project, she is fast to react.
This may be because she is brave. We will describe her as hard upward and soft
I am not afraid to say what I mean. It may be a little tough for some. I am direct about what is
the problem and people get honest feedback.
Such honesty can be antagonistic to emotional intelligence and empathy (Biswas-
Diener and Dean, 2007). According to herself, sometimes she may seem a little brusque
and her commitment can make her tone somewhat sharp. It is our view that timing and
balance is important when signature strengths are used. For example, speaking out
clearly and being honest can hurt some people.
Further, findings indicate that Cates perseverance and sedulity springs from her
commitment and responsibility. She says that she rarely gives up before she is finished.
She admits that she tries to act as a role model for work ethic and discipline:
I feel commitment because I think it can make a difference. It is an important part of me
and has something to do with responsibility. It makes things meaningful and makes
me turned on.
Our findings and results, summarized in Table I, show that we have observed positive
meaning, positive emotions and positive relations among all three project managers
that have been interviewed. Furthermore, data results show that all three project

Ann Bill Cate

Positive meaning Care Creating something Collaboration

Concern for others Collaboration
Role model
Positive emotions Humor Praise Commitment
Optimism Feedback Job satisfaction
Self-efficacy Flow
Positive relations Several devises Collaboration Coaching
Feedback Delegation Problem solving
Being available Collaboration
Coaching Feedback
Signature strengths Humor Courage Emotional intelligence
Joy Honesty Kind and helpful
Table I. Courage Creativity Courage
A summary of Creativity Judgment Leadership/responsibility
observations Leadership/responsibility Optimism
managers, Ann, Bill and Cate, are consciously using their signature strengths. Positive
The signature strengths we identified include, among others, courage, creativity, emotions in
emotional intelligence, optimism, humor and responsibility. According to Burkus
(2011), these observations are examples of strengths-based leadership. project teams
5. Discussion
Based on the interviews and theories drawn from positive psychology, we will outline a 465
model that suggests how project managers can influence, encourage and develop
positive emotions among team members in order to achieve successful results.
The model is a contribution toward developing an overview of how the several
different leadership tools are related. Our ideas of how this model works are still at a
conceptual stage.
According to Govindji and Linley (2007), people who actively use their signature
strengths have more energy and vigor (e.g. they reach their goals faster) (Linley, 2008),
they are more committed (Harter et al., 2002) and they perform better at work than
others (Smedley, 2007). This strengthens the assumption of correlations between
signature strengths and positive emotions and efficiency. Signature strengths and
positive emotions can thus be a powerful resource for the individual.
As identified among the interviewed project managers, we will point out that all
project managers should use their strengths, namely their signature strengths; that is,
a combination of values and skills (Seligman, 2002a). The effect of identifying and
using signature strengths is the feelings of positive emotions such as joy, energy
and job commitment. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) argue that the signature
strengths are one of the pillars of positive psychology.
Further, Seligman (2011) argues that the use of the signature strengths is about
helping the individual, the team and the organization to flourish. The result is a
situation where the individual experiences well-being. According to Seligman (2011),
there are five processes that lead to such a state of well-being: positive emotions;
positive meaning; positive relationships; engagement; and achievement.
Embedded in positive psychology theory is an optimistic human vision (Grant and
Cavanagh, 2007; Linley et al., 2009). People are curious, vital and self-motivated.
They wish to learn new skills, use their talents and realize their potential. According to
Ryan and Deci (2000), the challenge then is to promote social conditions that optimize
individual development, achievement and well-being. It is our view that this is a central
task for skilled managers. Individuals need not only to experience competence
development, good relationships and autonomy to function optimally, but also
experience social development and personal well-being.
Further development of positive psychology should include items such as positive
emotions, engagement, meaning, accomplishments and positive relations (Seligman,
2011). However, the number of items can be consolidated. For example; engagement
can be interpreted as feelings and positive relations is a narrow term and can be part of
positive behavior. As a result, we will suggest a model using the terms positive
meaning, positive emotions, positive relations and positive results (see Figure 1).
In a project, it is the project members themselves who decide how they will act
(Neck et al., 1997). However, it is the role of the project manager to lead and influence
his/her employees. In our study, we found that the respondents emphasized collaboration.
In Figure 1 it is assumed that this can be done by influencing the team members
meaning, thoughts and self-talk. Bass and Avolio (1994) argue that managers can do this
by promoting appealing vision, goals and milestones. Project managers can also achieve
IJMPB this by giving employees specific tools such as knowledge or courses on stress
7,3 management, personal effectiveness and the ability to set their own goals (Berg, 2011).
Further, we argue that project managers should act as role models, as two of the project
managers we interviewed did. They can, for example, show how team members can
implement problem solving in practice. Project managers can also help employees to
identify and use their signature strengths.
466 In Figure 1, we assume that positive meaning can lead to positive emotions such as
humor, joy, happiness, optimism, self-efficacy and commitment, as identified in the case
study. According to Luthans (2002), this builds PsyCap. Interestingly, findings from
our study concurs with research by Fredrickson (2001, 2003), and Peterson and
Seligman (2004) showing that there is a correlation between positive emotions such as
humor and joy, and employees who are more creative, more productive and have better
health and thus less sickness absences.
Further, positive emotions can lead to positive relations and behavior (Fredrickson,
2001, 2003; Peterson and Seligman, 2004). In our study we identified positive relations
such as collaboration, delegation, feedback and being available for discussions.
The interview data also revealed that two of the interviewees applied coaching in
their relation to the team members to foster learning and behavioral change (Douglas
and McCauley, 1999). These are findings in line with transformational leadership
focussing on individualized consideration, treating each project team member as
valuable and unique, and aiming to aid his or her personal development (Sosik and
Jung, 2010). Helping subordinates develop to their fullest potential is an integral part of
transformational leadership.
In the model in Figure 1, it is assumed that positive relations will lead to positive
results in terms of reaching milestones, goal achievement, project success, customer
satisfaction and personal development. In turn, this can lead to positive meaning,
positive emotions, positive relations, etc. It is our view that this is a track to develop a
gradual and continuous learning process in the project team. The learning process is
characterized by good relationships, continuous feedback, behavioral change, personal
development and goal achievement.

6. Conclusion and future research

This paper has examined how project managers can encourage and develop positive
emotions among team members. More specifically, we have studied how project
managers can use leadership tools such as positive meaning, positive emotions,
positive relations, signature strengths to create positive results. Based on a literature
review and empirical data from interviews with experienced project managers, several

3. 2.
Positive Positive
relations emotions


Figure 1. 4. 1.
Development of Positive Positive
positive results results meaning
results are presented and discussed. First, the paper contributes to portray and analyze Positive
positive psychology in a project management setting. Positive psychology represents emotions in
an interesting focus since it provides useful knowledge to improve the understanding
and practice of project management. Second, the empirical data give insight as to how project teams
project managers can use their signature strengths. Additionally, the data also show
how they can evolve and draw on positive meaning, positive emotions and positive
relations. Various examples of positive meaning, positive emotions, positive relations 467
and signature strengths have been identified and discussed. Additionally, the paper
assists understanding the connections among positive meaning, positive emotions,
positive relations and signature strengths by presenting and discussing a model.
Several proposals for future research are suggested based on the concerns and
limitations of the current study. First, we suggest that the model presented in Figure 1
should be studied further to determine whether there may be correlations among
positive emotions, positive relationships and positive results in the project. A step further
would be to examine whether positive emotions can lead to positive relationships, which
then lead to positive results. Second, we suggest more research into how positive
emotions can be developed and what the specific characteristics of these projects are.
One assumption is that positive meaning can lead to positive emotions. It should be
investigated whether there is a relationship between the experience of positive meaning
and positive emotions in project. It should be investigated, especially for project
managers, whether using their signature strengths can influence positive opinions of the
team members in the project. Third, it may be interesting to get more insight into how a
project can help team members identify and develop their own signature strengths.
Additionally, determining if there are gender differences in how the managers use their
specific signature strengths looks interesting.

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