Original Research

Is the leadership performance of public service executive managers related to their emotional intelligence?

Shanil J. Haricharan
SA Journal of Human Resource Management | Vol 20 | a1773 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v20i0.1773 | © 2022 Shanil J. Haricharan | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 September 2021 | Published: 19 April 2022

About the author(s)

Shanil J. Haricharan, Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, Faculty of Commerce, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


Orientation: Growing evidence indicates a positive relationship between emotional intelligence (EI) and leadership performance. However, in non-Western public service contexts, scholarship on the nature of this bivariate relationship trails behind.

Research purpose: Using the behavioural EI model, this study examined the relationships between EI competencies and leadership performance of executive managers in the South African public service.

Motivation for the study: A significant bivariate relationship using the behavioural EI model implies empirical significance and practical implications for policy and leadership development in the public service.

Research approach/design and method: The multi-rater Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI) measured EI competencies of 35 executive managers rated by 230 respondents. Multi-source nominations from 371 respondents measured leadership performance. Five study hypotheses were tested using Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients and analysis of variance.

Main findings: The results indicated significant positive correlations between leadership performance and all four EI clusters of competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Of the 12 EI competencies, adaptability, inspirational leadership, emotional self-awareness and positive outlook displayed the strongest correlations. Also, a significant negative relationship between the managers’ competency gap and (self-other agreement) their performance was observed.

Practical/managerial implications: The results have implications for management and leadership development and recruitment in the public service.

Contribution/value-add: Using the behavioural method, this quantitative study validated the positive relationship between EI and leadership performance in the South African public service.


emotional intelligence; emotional and social competence inventory; competencies; executive managers; public service; leadership performance; self-other agreement; South Africa


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