Why top managers tend to play it cool

Senior executives are more likely to be cool, calm and collected than other managers and may give the impression that they don’t have any emotions, but this masks the truth.

This is the finding presented today to the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology in Chester by psychologists from OPP Ltd.

Led by Heather Coop, the researchers looked at the personality profile of senior executives and also specific workplace attitudes and behaviours in order to establish whether senior executives have a unique personality profile which enables them to cope more effectively with a highly demanding job. Questionnaires measuring a range of personality characteristics were administered to over 1200 employees working in various sectors.

Findings revealed that while senior executives reported the highest level of emotional investment in their work, they also experienced the lowest levels of stress across the managerial workforce. This apparent paradox may be the result of a greater balance between the high demands of their jobs, but also a high degree of control over their work environments. This degree of control is something that other managerial groups are unlikely to possess.

The typical personality profile of the average senior executive is an ‘independent’, ‘dominant’, and ‘socially confident’ individual who is ‘open to change’ and ‘innovation’, but who is less ‘apprehensive’ and less ‘sensitive’ than the general population. This suggests that senior executives are more effective at managing their emotions, allowing them more emotional space to focus on the major strategic issues. Senior executives also reported more job satisfaction and enjoyment from their work, and were less likely to think about quitting than middle or line managers.

Ms. Coop says:

“Our study found that there are specific personality traits which characterise individuals in Executive level roles. These characteristics may either either drive people to become senior leaders or they may adopt them to help them cope with the demands of the role. Senior executives invest a lot of emotional energy in their work but as the public face of the organisation they need to appear in control.”

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