Session 15: Health and Safety

velociraptor

The second half day optional module on the Leading from the Middle programme and the final session. Rather than a straight up session on health and safety itself, the focus was on our responsibilities as leaders in ensuring a culture of workplace safety and our responsibilities and obligations under law, specifically as pertains to the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974.

The session was divided into five units of work. The first unit was on the roles and responsibilities of line mangers in ensuring that the university’s commitment to health and safety is fully cascaded to all staff, and the need for us to lead by example in embedding this culture throughout all of the university’s activity. Leading on from this, the second unit covered the university’s policies and procedures relating to health and safety and what responsibilities we each have for ensuring that the university environment is safe for all. For myself, this includes leading on risk assessments for my team, monitoring the office environment, and resolving any potential hazards as they are discovered or arise.

Unit 3 went into the detail of how to assess and control risk. For a practical exercise in this we were presented with a scenario, a picture of a large kitchen area that you would see in, for example, a hotel, and were asked to identify all of the potential hazards, e.g. open flames, hot surfaces, sharp corners, water near electrical outlets, etc. There was something about the image, perhaps the angle, that reminded me of the scene in Jurassic Park where the velociraptors got into the kitchen in pursuit of the kids. We were then introduced to the university’s risk assessment matrix which scores the risk of an activity by assessing the likelihood of an accident occurring against the severity of the potential injury on a scale of 1 to 25. I had to concede that though rampaging velociraptors are highly unlikely, there is a good chance of fatality in such a scenario, therefore warranting a score of 5 on our matrix. According to our guidelines, with such a low score no corrective action needs to be taken to lower the risk, but the activity should continue to be monitored.

Unit 4 covered how to investigate accidents and incidents. First we were introduced to two conceptual models on how accidents happen. The Swiss Cheese Model posits that when an accident happens it is because of a series of holes in barriers and safeguards which align, and the Domino Theory which depicts an accident as a cascade of events. We then discussed how to investigate an incident in order to uncover both the direct and root causes, and the university’s obligations under RIDDOR, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations.

Finally, unit 5 covered how health and safety performance is measured at the university. This includes both proactive methods such as audits and inspections which are informed by our policies and procedures, and reactive activities such as recording accidents and near misses.

Session 5: Emotional Intelligence

Today’s session began with a discussion of organisational culture, using Johnson and Scholes’ Culture Web as a starting point, then breaking us up into groups to explore each of the six factors making up the organisational paradigm and how they are expressed and represented at the university. Those factors were broken into two groups, representing soft and hard aspects of the organisational culture, soft being:

  • Ritual and Routines;
  • Stories;
  • Symbols;

and hard:

  • Control Systems;
  • Organisational Cultures;
  • Power Structures.

This was followed by a discussion on the differences between, and the problems caused by the discrepancy between how the most senior management wishes an organisation to be perceived and what it is actually like and how it is perceived by others, internal and external. Of particular note was the problems that arise when management tries to change or impose a new set of values.

We were then asked to reflect on our personal values and how those link to, or are in conflict with the values of the university. This wasn’t too difficult for me. I know myself, and there are some pretty core values which came to mind instantly, including inclusivity, openness, honesty and trust, and I’m pleased to be able to say that these are fitting in very well with my team and the culture at the University of Sunderland in general. It’s been almost two years now and I’m still very happy here and glad I made the leap from Northumbria, an institution where they tried to change the organisation’s culture and values from the top with results that decorum prevents me from commenting on.

This all led into the core topic for today’s session, emotional intelligence. The concept of emotional intelligence, henceforth EI, was popularised in the mid-90s by Daniel Goleman, based on the work of Mayer and Salovey. In his 1996 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Goleman defined EI as “… abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.” A great deal of research was introduced to us, much of it as post-session reading, going into the history and developments of EI as a concept, and showing that the ability to manage our emotions and relationships has been consistently linked to effective leadership.

A number of self-assessment exercises to measure EI have been developed by psychologists and we were asked to complete one of these, the Schutte Emotional Intelligence Scale, which provided a global EI score and scores in the four individual capabilities:

  • Perception of emotion (self-awareness);
  • Managing emotions in the self (self-management);
  • Managing other’s emotions (social awareness);
  • Utilization of emotions (social skill).

My global EI was 123, with a mean of 125, but my scores in the related capabilities of ‘managing emotions in the self’ and ‘utilization of emotions’ were above the mean, and in the remaining two capabilities a little below the mean. That is a result that rings true to me, and accords with my personality as an introvert and my Insights Discovery profile which pegged me as a ‘Coordinating Observer’.

EI can be developed and improved upon and the session gave us some tools and ideas on how to do this, one of which was to keep a reflective journal, which is handy for me, as that is one of the reasons I keep this blog! Although I must admit that, being public, posts here are edited and tailored for an audience, rather than just being for myself and thus completely candid, and while I do also keep a private journal, work related things rarely make it in there.

The session linked EI back to transformational leadership by introducing us to the Betari Box, showing the cycle of how your attitude affects your behaviour, which affects the attitude of others which affects their behaviour, and that comes back to affect your own behaviour; and highlighting the body of research that shows a strong link between high EI and successful managers.

Finally, Goleman’s work on types of leadership was discussed and we performed an exercise to divulge our own leadership styles and preferences. The six leadership styles identified by Goleman are:

  • Coercive – demands immediate compliance;
  • Authoritative – mobilises people towards a vision;
  • Affiliative – creates emotional bonds and harmony;
  • Democratic – builds consensus through participation;
  • Pacesetting – expects excellence and self-direction;
  • Coaching – develops people for the future.

Goleman argues that all of these styles are of value in different situations, but cites evidence in the form of case studies and surveys that shows that generally some are more effective than others, with a coercive style being least effective and authoritative the most. Note that authoritative in this context doesn’t mean leading by command, by asserting authority, but leading by example and being able to articulate a clear, achievable goal, while giving people the trust and freedom to find their own means of getting there. The self-assessment exercise revealed that I lean towards the affiliative and democratic styles, but shows an interesting gap in how comfortable I feel using an authoritative style and how often I actually use it. Something to work on I think. Something else I’ll take away from the session is a sense of responsibility to be more proactive in setting the mood of the team on a daily basis to help make the university a positive and happy place to work.

Session 4: Strategic Leadership, and Culture and Context Part 2

Part 2 on the themes of strategic leadership, and culture and context started with a group discussion on the exercise to seek feedback on ourselves as leaders, for which I used the Johari adjective list as previously discussed, and then a return to values. This time we discussed the importance of expressing your values and not leaving any gap between your values and your actions, as part of being a good leader means being seen to be living the values you extol.

Something else we revisited and discussed in more detail was leadership types and the role of middle managers. On leadership types, the focus this time was on the dangers of dysfunctional leaders and how that can come about from the ‘loneliness of command’, having doubts about what to do, and an inability to discuss fears and doubts with others. On the flip side was what works – sharing leadership, distributing responsibilities and collaboration across organisational and professional boundaries.

On the value of the middle manager role we talked about how this has changed over time as the increased use of computing and automation has taken over traditional ‘managing’ style tasks such as monitoring workload, becoming instead about coaching and leading your team, having the ability to move between layers and boundaries within and even outside of your organisation, and in tying together strategic objectives with operational issues. I enjoyed this discussion as I came to realise, as others were talking about problems they have had with their teams, that I am lucky to have such a well-established and functional team who know what they are doing and always deliver very high quality customer service. Something else that came out of this discussion was some research about the value, or lack thereof, of traditional performance reviews which people find demotivating due to their backwards looking nature. What does work is putting the focus on coaching and looking forward to what is to be achieved over the next review period. This is something I want to keep in mind when the next appraisal cycle comes around.

The final part of the morning session was on the power of using influence rather than command to achieve your objectives, particularly the Cohen-Bradford Influence Model which argues for the use of reciprocity to gain influence with others, and that this is more sustainable and works better than when tasks are completed by commanding.

Our afternoon session began with an introduction to the concept of stakeholder management, a methodology designed to help ensure the success of projects by getting you to think about who the stakeholders are at the start, how to categorise and prioritise them, the influence they can have on the success of your project, and how to tailor your communications with them based on where they fall in your stakeholder analysis. The technique that was introduced to us was the power / interest grid of prioritisation, a simple chart that places stakeholders in one of four quadrants which shows whether you need just to monitor them, if they have low interest and low power, keep them informed in more detail, if they have high interest but low power, keep them satisfied if they have low interest but high power, and finally manage them closely if they have both high interest and high power.

As an exercise to put this into practice we were asked to create a stakeholder grid for a project we are currently involved with or which is on the horizon. I chose a VLE review, and the three images attached to this post show the grid I produced at different stages. The first is the shockingly poor finger painting I drew on my tablet during the session, the second is a polished version of this with one or two additions, and the third is the one I developed a few days later when I had the time to give it some more detailed thought. An additional detail shown in the second two grids is a categorisation of stakeholder using different colours; green for those who are likely to be advocates, blue for supporters, orange for possible critics and red for anyone who may have the power to be a blocker.

Finally, the concept of the action learning set was introduced, along with our first task. Action learning sets are a form of peer-to-peer learning with small groups arranging their own work between sessions. Our first task, to be completed before the next session, is to meet to discuss progress on our work-based projects for the course and to help each other work out any issues we may be having. To help we were given an introduction to some coaching models: GROW – Goals, Reality, Options (or Obstacles) and What’s Next; and OSKAR – Outcome, Scaling, Know-How and Resources, Affirm and Action, and Review. Also included was the concept of powerful questions which should, if they work, help to shift the perspective of the person being coached and have an impact on them.

Other homework to be completed before the next session is to read up on constructive development theory and to submit our project proposals.

Session 3: Strategic Leadership, and Culture and Context Part 1

This was the first of two days covering the topics of strategic leadership, and culture and context, with today’s session also having a distinctive theme of reflection running through it. This started with a pre-sessional task to complete a short template document reflecting on an issue of leadership which you had faced at the university, this was then used as a basis for discussion in a group task on the day. I chose the integration of the Turnitin LTI into our VLE, a project which had stalled at the point at which I joined the university, but picked up and drove through to completion. The template we were asked to fill in was very helpful for getting me to think about this issue as a problem of leadership, rather than something technical to be overcome.

The first photo attached to this post shows the result of our morning group exercise, to create a visual depiction of what it means to us to be a middle manager. As a group effort there are various things going on in our drawing; to the bottom left is a comfortable paradise which we are shown to be leaving on our journey to become leaders, the kind that can conquer wild dire wolves. In the middle is someone on a boat, caught in a storm and frantically bailing out water which symbolises the pressures we can be put under, and for some reason there are a couple of people having a birthday party on the beach, celebrating success I think.

One part of this session that I particularly enjoyed was learning about different management styles, the various management theories that have come and gone over the past century or so, and talking about the differences between managing and leading, and how leading can inspire a team and be used to build people up, something we’ll be returning to during the sessions on coaching later in the year. As an aside, I also learned that the origin of ‘leadership’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘laedhere’ meaning guide, and the oldest known written record of this comes from Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ written in Monkwearmouth!

In the afternoon we turned to culture, values and contexts, with topics including the intersections between personal and corporate values, how cultures are defined or formed organically in organisations and the difficulties they face if they wish to change their culture, and how cultures and values can change or be forced to change as the result of external pressures such as, in an HEI context, governmental drive for a return on investment and increasing marketisation, and the changing perceptions, values and desires of students.

The day ended with a discussion on why and how to seek feedback on yourself as a manager and leader. One of the techniques introduced to us was the Johari Window – a concept which defines four aspects, or windows, to knowing ourselves. In the first window, or room, there is that which is public and which we also know about ourselves; secondly, there is that which is public but which we don’t know about ourselves, our blind spot; thirdly there is that which is known to us but no-one else, our private space; and finally the mysterious window of things about ourselves which are not consciously known to either ourselves or anyone else. An exercise we were given to shed light into the blind spot window was a list of adjectives which you give to trusted colleagues and ask them to pick the seven words they think best describe you. I used this technique after the session, giving the list to all of my team and another half dozen people I work closely with, and then collected the responses anonymously. Those responses were then collated to produce the rather re-assuring Wordle above.

The final image for this post is a photo of a disconcertingly simple chart that was drawn during the session showing how managers spend their time, with less time ‘doing’ and more time managing or leading the higher up you go. This has resonated and stuck with me because it helps to make sense of some of the tensions I’ve had in my new role as I am no longer able to spend as much time as I would like doing content creation style work and customer support. How to resolve this tension? Time, experience and this course is helping. It’s helped to define and demonstrate the value and need for my role which is making me more comfortable leading my team and in doing the kind of work that now takes up more of my time. Another option for me, looking a little further ahead, is to cross the line into academia proper, a minor career realignment that I’ve seen many people in my position doing.