Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


It is widely accepted that the success of schools is dependent on effective leaders and leadership practice. School leaders manage an increasingly complex set of demands, including policy transformations, advances in technology and ongoing curriculum changes. Acknowledgement of the importance of educational leadership roles and the recognised complexity of such positions has resulted in considerable research interest in identifying the skills of successful school leaders (Holmberg et al., 2016). There is now growing evidence to support the proposition that emotional intelligence is strongly linked to effective school leadership and an ability to navigate the complexities of contemporary school environments (Doe et al., 2015; Dabke, 2016) However, the current body of research provides limited descriptions of what emotional intelligent skills look like in the everyday practice of school leaders, and how they have been supported in the enactment of these skills.

A qualitative case study approach was used to explore how four school leaders understood and enacted emotional intelligence in their practice. Observations, debriefing discussions, interviews and participant reflection diaries provided the material for detailed narrative accounts of the leaders’ understanding and enactment of emotional intelligence. Key themes in terms of their enactments of EI in practice were identified. Drawing on models of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1998; Mayer & Salovey, 1990), theories on emotional regulation (Gross, 2014), as well as models of conflict management (Rahim & Bonoma, 1979) and literature on leading change (i.e., Fullan, 2011; Issah, 2018), this study investigated how these four leaders (Principal, Deputy Principal, Assistant Principal and Head Teacher), ranging in seniority and leadership experience, understood and applied emotional intelligent skills in their individual contexts.

This research inquiry responded to the need for greater understanding of the nexus between emotional intelligence and school leadership practices. The findings support the premise that emotional intelligence is highly relevant for effective leadership in educational environments. A key conclusion drawn from the study’s findings was that a leader’s management of their own and others’ emotions influences the ways in which they present and facilitate organisational change in their context, as well as how they approached and managed conflict. The findings present practical illustrations of the leaders practice and point to specific areas of professional learning for middle leaders as well as senior executive positions, including greater opportunities for mentoring and professional development in emotional intelligence.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.