The Maritime Professional Council of the UK (MPC) has published a summary report on Kind Leadership. This research was carried out for and on behalf of the MPC, triggered by the recent treatment of seafarers highlighted by the media, and the need to promote the professional standards required of leaders, both at sea, and ashore. The aim of this report is to stimulate industry debate and commitment on how training is transformed to focus on leadership skills and the ethos of same, rather than on today’s mostly technical focused training. The report has been compiled and authored by Steve Cameron CMR, and Capt. John Wright.

Executive summary

The MPC has found that stakeholders interviewed, including those associated with the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB), generally agree that Human Element, Leadership & Management (HELM) training, as it is currently delivered in the UK, and the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping as amended in 2010 (STCW), with its technical focus, are insufficient, and that leadership skills, with a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) pathway, are needed to support career progression from cadet to senior officer. Respondents complained that with shipping lines focusing on cost, rather than value, it’s difficult to get many of them to accept this need to invest in leadership training.

However, this initial research has already identified three examples of how leadership training can provide reduced risk, and/or increased profitability. From incidents onboard its ships, one shipping line has identified gaps in competencies and in management training. They
identified the need for management training to provide the skills to empower staff to challenge, question, intervene and stop work. One large shipowner, as part of the input into changing its culture, focused on ensuring employees’ felt that their welfare, and going home in one piece every night, was genuinely management’s priority. This translated into changes in operating approach, which improved performance and profit margins. The Loss Prevention Manager of a leading P&I Club stated that, “89% of collisions, and 90% of groundings are due to human error”. This provides evidence of the need to invest in leadership training and avoid fatigue.

The research has clearly identified that leadership is also about ethics. A group of leadership consultants, working across different industries said, “Start with doing no harm – this puts you in the lane of ethical leadership. It’s not score cards, and best practice: It’s investing in people that allows discussion and the capture and sharing of knowledge.”

This view was also shared by another group of leadership consultants, some of whom had worked with the MNTB, “We have many industries and academic studies that have identified all the issues our industry faces. Our training regulators need to look at the already available best practices and research and consider which best suits our future needs. We need to provide leadership & management courses that equip seafarers with the understanding and skills for future roles ashore. We need to train executives ashore, so they lead by example.”

A MNTB representative mirrored the conclusions from our research. They said, “We need to build transferable skills, critical thinking, strong management, and leadership skills. MCA / MNTB may not know everything, but they do have unique access to expertise across the board.” The also flagged that, “We make the mistake of cramming so much into the cadet programme, because the shipowners need the cadets to have the necessary skills to work on board, but in reality, there are certain elements that could be delivered on board by the shipowners, once the cadet has qualified.”

Another leadership consultant noted that, “Leadership includes the adoption of ethical principles, social justice and collaboration, human to human. It’s also about building trust not 3 transactional processes. These same leadership principles need to be adopted by stakeholders
ashore, so that with the same shared values, the relationship between ship and shore staff can succeed.”

A ship operator opined, “It’s key to get more representatives of shipping lines onboard at the MNTB to drive the change. There is an over-reliance on colleges, allowing them to set the training agenda, when this should be driven by the training needs and skills audits of shipowners. The current eight-to-ten-month long trips have produced fatigue. There is short termism by crewing agencies. How can you expect crews to take on ownership of responsibilities when employed on single trip contracts? There is too much disaggregated decision making.”

We conclude this summary with quotes from two respondents:
• “STCW is the bare minimum. It’s dull and not working, because it’s treated as a process, rather than something that adds value. It just creates greater learning requirements, but without delivering value.”
• “There are still too many people who don’t know how to lead. Leadership should be direction, inspiration, and guidance. Good leaders exhibit courage, passion, confidence, commitment, and ambition. They nurture their people and build teams committed to achieving common goals. It’s seldom one sails with these types of people.”

The Maritime Professional Council supports the majority views of the respondents replicated here, that leadership training is required at sea, and ashore, if our industry is to be fit for purpose. We need to inspire debate and construct a practical ‘passage plan’ for the future, which has the genuine capacity to allow our industry to successfully progress. To that extent, the MPC needs your feedback to this report and ideas on how we move forward.

Download the full report: MPC Summary Report on Kind Leadership

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