by Suzee Connole

The work of a project manager is all about facilitating communication and coordination among groups of people. That’s why CiWPP alum Ruth Pearce, who has been a project manager for 25 years, was surprised to discover that project managers tend to rank quite low on the VIA character strengths scale in social intelligence—while scoring high in hope, prudence, and appreciation of beauty.

“What stood out most for me during the Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology course was character strengths,” Ruth says. So, while leading projects, Ruth asked countless team-members and project managers to take the VIA survey. Ruth has now conducted three independent studies into project managers—examining their role from the perspective of the project manager and from the perspective of non-project managers, exploring the part that they play in team engagement and identifying their most prevalent and least common character strengths.

In response to the results, Ruth has made it a point to focus on enhancing her emotional and social intelligence—and help each person on her team tune in to their own strengths. “When utilizing strengths, we started performing better and everyone was engaged,” she says. Colleagues heard about how great her project environment was through word of mouth and reviews from bosses. “This is what engagement is like,” Ruth reflects. “When individuals do well, the team does well, and the organization is bound to do well. The effects ripple.”

That research and experience informed Ruth’s book, Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management, which was published by Berrett-Koehler in November 2018. The book is designed to engage and motivate people in the project management field to call on their natural talents and strengths to achieve success. Ruth uses strength lessons and positive psychology teachings to aid colleagues in identifying their dominant traits, like humor, gratitude and fairness, and exploring how these qualities can support their work.

During her quarter century in the field, Ruth has witnessed the project management industry evolve from being focused on the process to being increasingly focused on the people. “It should be about the people who work in the field as much as it is about the people we serve. Everyone needs to feel engaged,” she says. She believes that the role of the project manager must change to become more pivotal in this time of “accelerating change and disruption,” she says.

Ruth taps into her positive psychology education to identify ways to improve a work experience from the inside out, for project managers and all team members. For example, in a number of projects, she’s observed that managers feel disconnected. “I understood the implications of a person not being engaged at work—a Gallup poll found that at least 75 percent of the reasons for voluntary turnover can be influenced by managers. I was curious to see how that truly impacted a team overall,” she said.

Both at work and while writing her book, Ruth asked questions like, “If you are not finding meaning in the goals of your project, what model are you setting for team members?” and “How can you get people engaged and stayengaged beyond a deadline?” Her book “is the cumulative work of the hundreds of people I have worked with over the years. I would not have experienced any successes without my teams,” she says. Her teams helped her realize there is a huge opportunity for project managers to elevate their positions in organizations by lifting their skill set. “Project managers can contribute more then just delivering a product. There is more innovation and proactivity that can be achieved when strengths are harnessed,” she notes.

This year, Ruth is taking her strengths-based project management approach on the road. She will be presenting at the Project Management Institute EMEA Congress in Dublin in May, and has engagements scheduled with, and other forums, including conferences and online radio shows dedicated to project managers.

“I am excited for the opportunities to talk about this!” Ruth says. “Project managers have the chance and obligation to change employee experiences in the workplace and to build better organizations for the future.”

Learn more about the Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology.

Ruth Pearce is CEO of Project Motivator, an author and speaker, and a practicing project manager. Her 25 years’ experience is in a variety of industries, including financial services, state government, and non-profits. She is an energetic and engaging speaker with a track record of bringing the new science of positive psychology to the world of project management. Ruth is a contributor to PMWorld 360 and a regular presenter at PMI chapters and online project manager forums.

Suzee Connole is the Marketing Assistant for Wholebeing Institute. Part of her role at WBI involves highlighting how alumni, faculty, and guest speakers are taking positive psychology principles and applying them in the communities where they live and work.