Generally it was found that more senior individuals place far more emphasis on political skill. This is perhaps no surprise, but does provide focus for developing more junior staff, particularly those with talent and potential. In addition to these differences being noticed at a dimension level, several individual items showed significant differences.
For instance, directors and above considered that developing clear objectives, sensing the feelings of others and being aware of their own emotions are far more critical than their junior colleagues. Some of the qualitative interviews allow us to elaborate on some of the potential reasons behind this evidence.
Firstly, at a more senior level, managing ambiguity is commonplace. At lower organisational levels, far more task specification is provided and there is less potential or even need to engage in the social task of influencing. This means that, to achieve success, different skills are required, so the need to be able to sense what is going on and how we are reacting to it at an emotional level becomes more critical.
Secondly, the development of self-awareness, deemed by seniors as more critical, often only comes at a more senior level. Training and development interventions change as people rise within the organisation and often self-analysis opportunities are encouraged and paid for at senior levels. We believe that everyone can benefit from greater self-awareness, but in reality this is not easily available at all levels. One interviewee put it well when she said that “I didn’t realise how important self awareness was until I went on a course”.
It should also be noted that no divergence appeared on the basis of age. It is suspected that age is not correlated with seniority and that this is reducing in the commercial world today. The quantity of CEOs in their thirties is rising annually.
We believe that it is critical for organisations to be clear about the requirements of the role and hence the level and type of political skill sets that need to be available. For individuals who aspire to higher levels, developing self-awareness and certain areas of political skill will likely lead to greater success and career achievement.