It was the 2010 Manila Amendments to the STCW Convention which, for the first time, prescribed that both leadership and management should be a mandatory educational requirement for seafarers. The fact that neither tended to be formally taught with the marine educational syllabus structure struck some people as odd; others suggested that both were elements “you picked up with the increase of your experience”.

Leadership is important, both ashore and afloat, but it is often said that its absence is recognised rather more than its presence. Once, a form of leadership could be exerted merely by a leader shouting at his subordinates; today, more subtle strategies are required in an age where hierarchies are less settled and unreasonable behaviour open to challenge. Even in the military, where leadership is provided with the full force of discipline, the “qualities” of leadership are the subject of intense training from the junior ranks upward.

The old saying that “leaders are born and not made” is now hopefully redundant and the development of leadership training under STCW is a recognition that much can be done to incentivise all ranks and ratings with its principles. It is important that it is bound up with safety and risk management and ethical behaviour as much as techniques. After all, an Able Seaman who exercises leadership to stop somebody taking a dangerous short cut in the daily work on deck is every bit a “leader” as a shipmaster determining the passage plan with his navigator.

Leadership is also strongly bound up with management and perhaps closing the “ship-shore divide” which often disfigures the relationship between those in the office and those aboard ship. Brilliant communications has made it much easier to exercise a greater degree of control over the operation of ships from the office ashore, but there are great risks in “management by e-mail” in that it can discourage those aboard ship from their own exercise of leadership, and because authority is exercised remotely, the wrong decisions may be taken. And for those in junior ranks aboard ship, their ambitions to get to the top will scarcely be encouraged if they see their own senior officers diminished by their orders being countermanded by those ashore. Leadership and effective management require power and authority to be “cascaded” downward. The word “empowerment” is much more than a fashionable nostrum advocated in business manuals!

Effective management and leadership are not easy and it is often the case that bad management stems from a failure to do anything other than what appears to be the simplest course. Those with the best expertise in leadership training know that the leader who is encouraging, unafraid of taking difficult decisions and is fair will be the most effective. An ability to understand that different human beings require different strategies to bring out the best in them is also a sign of the leader that others will willingly follow.

But how do you develop these qualities? Once it was up to the individual to sort out in his or her own mind what patterns one followed, taking up what appeared to be the best in one’s superiors and rejecting what was obviously ineffective or simply wrong. Today, it is a little more complicated, but it will be fascinating to see the results of leadership and management training filtering into the industry.

Author: The Watchkeeper                                        Source: BIMCO