The role of emotional competence on the effectiveness of natural resource management committees

  • Tara Schalk

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Natural resource management in Australia over the past 40 years, in part, has been influenced by the need for global public sector reform. These reforms have provided the foundation for the development of the current Australian natural resource management model which is based on the establishment and operation of locally driven natural resource management committees. These committees operate in an environment where decisions are often complex and contentious, and where leadership and community engagement are vital for achieving long-term natural resource management outcomes. As these newly formed committees began operation it was observed by the community and stakeholder groups that some committees were more effective than others. This observation prompted a review of the natural resource management model by the Australian Government focused primarily on the economic and environmental aspects of the model. The evidence in the literature supports the importance of emotional competencies in the effectiveness of both individuals and committees, although this was overlooked in the development of the review process for the Australian natural resource management model. This study investigated what influence both individual and group emotional competence has on the effective operation of natural resource management committees. This research project was a case study of seven natural resource management committees. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected by surveying committee members of each of the seven natural resource management committees and two observers of each committee. Three sets of survey data were collected to facilitate data triangulation and to provide detailed emotional competence profiles for the seven natural resource management committees. The first and second sets of data collected targeted individual committee members on each of the seven committees, and the third set of data collected targeted two observers from each committee. Additional data, which has provided supplement to the survey data, was collected from individual committee member follow-up interviews, state and federal reviews of each committee and committee annual reports. The emotional competence profiles for each of the seven natural resource management committees were then analysed against a set of outcomes to determine whether there was a relationship between the effective operation of each committee. The findings of this study showed that there was a very strong relationship between group emotional competence and the operating effectiveness of natural resource management committees. Committees with an overall higher rating of group emotional competence ranked higher in achieving their ten natural resource management criteria. Examples of the criteria used are developed systems and processes for the facilitation of open learning, long term project outcomes documented and implementing stakeholder engagement processes. All seven committees reported the use of emotionally competent group behaviours from a moderate to large extent, and while the emotional competence profiles were all statistically significantly different, the profile trends were consistent. The behavioural norms of creating emotional resources,confronting members and team self-evaluation were ranked the lowest, along with the dimensions of group management of members, group self-awareness and group self management. All committees perceived that the use of emotionally competent group behaviours were higher at both the individual and cross-boundary levels when compared to the group level. There was no statistical relationship between committee emotional competence and the emotional competence of individual committee members, even though there were significant differences among the emotional competence profiles for individual members. The statistical results indicated that the emotional competence of the Chair did not impact on the level of emotional competence within the respective committee, although, the qualitative results did suggest that there were linkages between the behaviours adopted by the Chair and the ability of the committee to develop emotionally competent behavioural norms. Finally, specific team characteristics and behaviours associated with committee emotional competence profiles were identified, and when related to the natural resource management governance principles that contribute to the effective operation of these committees, the results suggested that a number of committees had well developed accountability, adaptability, capability and networking skills. The results also suggested that all but one of the committees had poorly developed legitimacy, transparency and inclusiveness and integration skills. There were a number of identified delimitations of this study in which the first was the small sample size. Due to the tyranny of distance and the perception by committee members that the results of this study would be used negatively by government, only seven of the current 59 natural resource management committees operating across Australia volunteered to participate. The study relied predominately on the collection of quantitative data from questionnaires which measured an individual’s perceived emotional competence and not their actual emotional competence. The measurement of committee performance was based solely on independent, state and federal government reviews, reports and audits and can be considered the third delimitation of this study. These documents could potentially result in bias due to their development by government and therefore it would be useful for future research to complement these outcomes with performance data and perceptions from the wider community. The fourth delimitation of the study was that contextual factors, such as the developmental phase of the committee and the organisational climate in which the committee is operating was not considered. A future area for research should examine the effects of committee developmental phases and the public sector organisational culture on the development of individual committee member and committee emotional competence. The study relied mainly on the collection of quantitative data from individual committee members and observers and can be considered the fifth delimitation of the study. It would have been beneficial to engage the committees in focus group discussions to explore the use of emotional competent behaviours. The final identified delimitation of this study is that data collected represents a single snapshot in time. Emotional competence can be learned and changes in the development of committees and their potential for delivering effective outcomes can occur across multiple time scales. As a result, it would be desirable to collect individual and group emotional competence, and committee effectiveness data over a period of time to enable a dynamic interpretation of the emotional competence and the possible attribution of causal relationships. In addition to those areas already mentioned, future research must ‘bridge the gap’ and move towards identifying the structural and cultural components within the public sector framework that prevent or suppress the development of emotional competence in natural resource management committees. This area of research should also endeavour to examine the effects of the public sector organisational culture on the Chair’s emotional competent behaviours and the development of individual emotional competence. Finally, future researchers may wish to investigate the different ways that educational and training programs can improve the emotional competencies for both individuals and committees. From both an Australian and international perspective, the results from this study have practical implications for natural resource management.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra
SupervisorFrancesco Sofo (Supervisor), Simon Leonard (Supervisor) & Robert Fitzgerald (Supervisor)

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