Decision making under stress – advice for project leaders

Advances in Project Management Series

By Dr Kaye Remington



At some stage or another in their careers all project leaders are forced to make decisions under conditions of stress. Project management is time dependent. We are governed by schedules, milestones and deliverables. As projects become more complex, with increasing demands from stakeholders, changing markets and technology, we need to consider how effective we are when making decisions under stress.

Stress has an interesting effect on our ability to make good decisions. However stress is not necessarily all bad. The jury is out on exactly how stress affects our decision making capability but research is starting to raise some interesting questions, and there are even a few answers.

The idea that stress might have an effect on judgment has only recently been formally explored. The subject was raised during a Congressional hearing in 1988 during investigations for compensation for the victims of Iran Air Flight 655, which was shot down by the US Navy cruiser Vincennes over the Persian Gulf (Hammond, 2000).

Performance and stress

For over 100 years behavioural scientists have been interested in the subject of arousal (through stress). Many will be familiar with the so-called Yerkes-Dodson principle (1908) which is often incorrectly represented as the simple U-shape published by Hebb in 1955. It suggests that performance increases with arousal to a point of optimal stress and then performance declines.


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About the Author

Dr Kaye Remington






Kaye Remington, PhD is author of Leading Complex Projects (Gower Publishing, 2010) and co-author of Tools for Complex Projects (Gower Publishing, 2007). With over 25 years of senior management and project experience she is also a former Director of the Post-graduate Project Management Program at the University of Technology Sydney. Kaye now runs a small consulting firm that works internationally to help organisations to develop their capacity to deliver complex strategy and projects.  Kaye Remington can be contacted at [email protected] or visit her website at www.elefsis.org.

Note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower in the UK.  Series editor Prof Darren Dalcher is also the editor of the Gower Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  For more on Gower project management, visit http://www.gowerpublishing.com/default.aspx?page=2063.