Social Competence: The Importance of Organisational Awareness By Dr Paul Robinson

Emotional and Social Intelligence

Recently there has been increased interest by mangers and leadership commentators in the area of ‘Social Intelligence’. Our own ‘Emotional and Social Intelligence’ model and 360 profile (as depicted above) includes feedback on this topic. Typically a manager and around six key interface relationships will each provide numeric and written feedback via an on-line questionnaire (anonymous except self and supervisor).

This short article extract from the research and the resultant 50 page 360 profile report covers some typical advice but will have as its primary focus the capability of ‘Organisation Awareness’.

Intelligent Leaders need to develop insight into the workings of their organisation. This requires deliberate inquisitiveness over time and the development and maintenance of critical network links, how they function together and how that impacts on the organisation's culture.

However, this is easier said than done. Achieving this competence is rather like making cheese. It requires a composite of skills and the benefit of time. So this awareness is only achieved to a high level of competence after years of demonstrating this wider insight. Clearly some individuals will be quicker than others but once accomplished such awareness helps decision-making and charting the best strategy.

So to achieve this level of ‘social insight’ implies effective constant scanning of the changing political, social and cultural environment, keeping abreast of significant changes in it and ensuring that such considerations are reflected in strategic and operational decisions.

Achievement of this level of awareness is gained by first mastering the one-on-one network by use of interpersonal and relationship management skills. This implies that some network links are more important than others. Having personal impact plays a part too in forging these relationships.

From these personal links organisation knowledge is incrementally increased over time. This one-to-one dynamic is followed by, and overlaps with, a one-to-many perspective. Also over time the network is developed to include a wider set of alliances and is further enriched by team, group and wider organisational exposure.

These ongoing interactions provide that deeper insight of an organisation's key components, structures, past, present and possible futures, and, how these components fit together functionally, emotionally, politically, and strategically.

Integrating Culture and Structure: how do these components fit together functionally, emotionally, politically, and strategically?

This level of understanding will draw heavily on a manager’s experience with the leading of teams and groups. The meld of insight developed between "the way we do things around here" (culture) and "the way we are organised and why" (policy and structure), opens up enhanced possibilities for a leader’s ability to have social intelligence. By integrating these key ideas they will be better able to understand what is really going on, and how it can be improved.

Developing the capacity to integrate requires sound judgment and an intuitive grasp of political factors, key issues, opportunities and patterns or connections between culture and structure. There are two simultaneous mental processes involved: analytical (left brain) and intuitive (right brain).

An effective manager will use analytical processes to break problems and situations into smaller pieces, and trace the implications in a step-by-step common-sense way, making systematic comparisons of different features and reaching conclusions about cause and effect relationships.

However, the socially competent manager also uses a right brain intuitive skill, a 'sixth sense' or 'nous' which is an ability to instantly integrate (often sub-consciously) a complex milieu of factors in the process of developing or achieving new and different insights, or envisioning different outcomes or potential strategic scenarios.

This interplay between the analytical and intuitive, when honed, assists in the management of priorities, the solving of problems and developing an appropriate strategic response.

It is also important to develop an in-depth understanding of the broader political context and how it impacts on a manager’s work area, key stakeholders and the organization at large. A pre-requisite for such integration is having a firm grasp on the current operating environment and the future possibilities. A constant useful question is to ask ‘what needs to be different?’.

A major source of conflict is often the unintended consequence of not being inclusive. It is important to make sure that all the right people are being consulted and kept informed. There is a need to develop an ability to resolve conflict using appropriate strategies. Confront conflict in a timely manner, aiming for a win-win solution through negotiation and discussion.

Routinely getting out into other parts of the organisation on an informal basis to get acquainted with people will help master the informal influence network. So, by taking responsibility for bringing people together by ensuring cross-departmental and team co-operation much can be achieved. Exploring ideas that might enable networks to better accomplish their goals and hence contribute to the organisation overall will also reap rewards.


Deriving organisational awareness is governed by an individual's need to be more socially competent. It requires that a person's social radar is tuned-in to their organisation such that they achieve synchrony with it. The insight progression is typically self, one-on-one, team, group and then organisation. For most this is an unconscious and natural process. By making it a goal and a conscious process social competence can be accelerated and become more effective.

Authors Details:

Telephone: 02 833 26138;
Mobile/Cell: 04 10713879;
Suite 12, Level 1, 488 Botany Road, Alexandria, NSW 2015, Australia

Dr Paul Robinson