Corporate Social Responsibility Leadership

Jo Watson, Director of JW Associates NI and a champion of responsible business recently completed her Masters in Executive Leadership at Ulster University Business School and shares her latest research on Corporate Social Responsibility Leadership – when doing good is good for business

Much has been written about Corporate Social Responsibility and whether there is a connection between doing the right thing versus creating profit and can the two be intertwined?  Professor Michael Porter makes the case that ‘Corporate Social Responsibility encompasses not only what companies do with their profits but also how they make them’.  Porter’s theory of “shared value” takes the concept further, as he argues that companies should use their interactions with society and address society’s problems to drive new business opportunities.

Rather than repeat this well-rehearsed debate I want to encourage you to think about it from the perspective of leadership style, emotional intelligence, ethics in business and stakeholder management.   Recently I explored whether Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has potential to improve Northern Ireland’s small to medium enterprise (SME) business performance through ensuing business benefits.

My research went on to determine if CSR advocates had specific leadership qualities and traits versus the motivations of leaders who did not adopt CSR practices.  The research was made up of twenty-five SME leaders from across several sectors broadly representative of the NI economy.  Results showed that the effective and successful leaders displayed higher than average emotional intelligence with a strong moral compass that guided their ethical and responsible business style.

In the research the primary motivation for effective leaders was not largely financial but rather ethical in keeping with their authentic leadership style making them natural advocates of CSR and they were able to articulate the business benefits and see the strategic value to the triple bottom line. The top four drivers for adopting CSR were closely grouped in two, first, ethics in business decision making and business reputation, secondly supporting employee education and training followed by community involvement.

A clear connection was made by the business leaders on how their CSR practices had created a positive organisational culture where staff better understood the needs of customers, stakeholders and wider community. It should be noted that conversely it cannot be said that if CSR is not adopted that the leader is not ethical or have values be rather that they do not see a direct connection between the two or the resultant benefits.

Top four business benefits that emerged during my research:

  1. Creating new products, skills and new markets business leaders who are championing strategic CSR can meet social needs and in turn create business solutions.
  2. Corporate reputation and brand: It was evident from this study that strategic CSR practices helped Northern Ireland businesses to build a strong brand reputation and image.
  3. Meeting change in customer behaviour: Consumers are becoming discerning of CSR and endorse businesses which are not only more socially responsible but also share their core values. According to a survey conducted by Gills and Spring seventy percent of consumers in the United Kingdom (UK), made purchasing decisions based on the CSR characteristics of the company.
  4. Attraction and retention of employees: Like consumers and investors, employees want to be associated with socially responsible firms with strong ethical practices, particularly prevalent for those under forty. The leaders saw CSR practices bringing out the best in employees and creating wellbeing, and providing employees with the opportunity to display leadership behaviours.

In conclusion the wider debate must now take account that there is a growing tangible connection between CSR practices and business benefits which ultimately leads to improved competitive advantage. Consumer, employee and stakeholder behaviours and expectations are changing, companies who fail to embrace CSR practices are at substantial risk of alienating them to the detriment of the business.

In a global economy where innovation is the life blood of business and CSR practices that meet social needs are closely aligned with businesses that innovate.  Doing good really is good for business.

 Jo Watson, Director of JW Associates NI and a champion of responsible business recently completed her Masters in Executive Leadership at Ulster University Business School.  She regularly guest lectures at the Ulster University and conference speaker on CSR and the social economy. JW Associates NI help businesses integrate their CSR strategy with their business development opportunities and develops innovative income strategies for charities and community groups. Contact

If you would like to hear more about how you can “Shape your Future” with our Developing Managers Programme leading to the BSc Hons Management Practice or the MSc in Executive Leadership [contact Janette Sheerman or 0779 353 9280.

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