Home Blog EMS Developing Emotional & Social Competence as Leaders

Developing Emotional & Social Competence as Leaders

In the first installment of this series, we discussed how the physiology of your brain impacts your emotional response in the workplace. Understanding how our biology influences our emotions and reactions can help us improve our interactions with others.

There are 4 specific skills that will help you keep your own emotions from hijacking situations as well as prevent others from emotionally hijacking situations and conversations. These 4 skills fall under 2 domains: personal competence and social competence.

Personal competence focuses on you—how you relate and manage your own emotions. Social competence is about how you relate to the emotions of others.

Personal Competence

Personal competence involves 2 separate skills: self-awareness and self-management.


Self-awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies and how you react to situations. This takes reflection and practice. It is only truly effective if you can recognize your emotions in real-time so you can modify the expression of those emotions as needed.

This skill is so critical that 83% of people high in self-awareness are also top performers and just 2% of bottom performers are high in self-awareness. Ironically, just thinking about self-awareness helps you improve your skill. Initially, you will most likely focus on the things you do “wrong.” With time and further practice, you will learn how to recognize your reactions in real-time (and sometimes in advance) and adjust your expression of these emotions as appropriate.


There can be no self-management without self-awareness. Self-management is how you act or do not act. It is dependent upon your self-awareness and is the second major part of personal competence. Simply put, self-management means managing your emotional reactions to situations and to people. True results in personal competence come from being able to pause, place momentary needs or wants on hold, and pursue larger and more important goals.

Social Competence

Social competence similarly encompasses 2 skills: social awareness and relationship management.

Social Awareness

Social awareness is your ability to perceive what is happening and accurately detect emotions in other people. This also means perceiving what other people are thinking and feeling—even when you disagree. It is easy to get caught up in your own emotions and not consider those of other people. Listening and observing are the most important elements of social awareness. This takes practice. Not only do you have to stop talking and listen but you also have to stop the ongoing soundtrack in your mind. Stop your assumptions and focus on communication, both verbal and nonverbal. An important part of self-awareness and self-management is managing the “filter” through which you observe the world, including the expression and communication of other people.

Relationship Management

Relationship management is your ability to use your self-awareness and social awareness to manage interactions successfully. People who manage relationships well are able to connect with many people, including those who they don’t necessarily agree with or get along with. The stronger connection you have with someone, the easier it is to communicate with them.

Once you’ve established that relationship and connection with someone, the more likely they will be to communicate openly with you, making the social awareness portion easier. Remember, the difference between interaction and a relationship is how frequently you connect with this individual. A relationship is a product of the quality, depth, and time you spend interacting with others.

This tends to be more difficult in the workplace because people frequently lack the skills to initiate a direct yet constructive conversation. Constituents may struggle to have those difficult conversations with other people, allowing frustrations to accumulate to a breaking point. The ability to have those difficult conversations is critical to workplace success.


Emotional intelligence is a deep field of study, but it is one that you can manage and master to improve your effectiveness in the workplace. At the end of the day, building emotional intelligence is about honesty with yourself, clear communication with your coworkers, and the ability to manage your reactions to these stresses. Recent studies of surgeons have shown a correlation between high EQ, improved leadership skills, improved non-technical skills, and improved relationships with other staff members.

For more information on how to build your leadership skills, explore CareerCert’s leadership courses for EMS and fire professionals.


Bradberry T, Greaves J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. San Diego, CA: TalentSmart.

Chick G. (2018). Corporate emotional intelligence: Being human in a corporate world. ProQuest Ebook Central https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu.

Ingram A, Peake WO, Stewart W, Watson W. (2019). Emotional intelligence and venture performance. Journal of Small Business Management, 57(3), 780-800. doi:10.1111/jsbm.12333

Venera TA. (2019). leadership and emotional intelligence. Analele Universităţii Constantin Brâncuşi Din Târgu Jiu : Seria Economie, (6), 160-166.

Sharp G, Bourke L, Matthew JFX. (2020). Review of emotional intelligence in health care: An introduction to emotional intelligence for surgeons. ANZ Journal of Surgery, 90(4), 433-440. doi:10.1111/ans.15671

Scott Arthur headshotScott M. Arthur, MBA—Scott Arthur has worked in the EMS and fire industries for 20 years as a paramedic and later as a director and senior director of operations. He currently works as a CareerCert instructor and as a business consultant helping organizations improve their safety and team leadership skills. Scott has a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. As an educator, Scott has presented at EMS conferences across the nation and enjoys connecting with first responders to improve department outcomes.


3 Critical Problems Facing First Responders + One Solution
Building Awareness as Leaders: 4 Mistakes to Avoid
EMS & Fire Leadership: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence