Seagull Rises to Leadership Challenge

A new suite of leadership training modules by Seagull takes a head-on approach to a key challenge over the chain of command onboard commercial ships today

By MarEx 2014-07-07 15:56:00

Posidonia 2014 offered one more opportunity for downturn-chastened shipowners to let off steam on rising costs, but whether the talk turned to fuel, the communications bill or new investments demanded by law, issues on crew were never far from the conversation. 

At a time when shore-based equipment suppliers are only too eager to promote new technology as the all-embracing answer to any question concerning operations, owners are keenly aware that the seafarers ultimately responsible are a changing breed. Only 25% of the senior officers from OECD countries are over 50 years of age, while very few of Asian origination remain stay at sea beyond this age.

BIMCO analysis of manpower trends concluded that, in 2010, the demand for officers (637,000) had outstripped total supply (625,000). The shortfall is known to have increased in the years following, with the tanker and offshore supply sectors affected in particular.

Roger Ringstad, Managing Director at training specialist Seagull AS, says that while focus often falls on general unwillingness among the young people of today to commit to a life at sea, developing the qualities of leadership among those who do has emerged as a separate industry concern. 

“People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers,” Ringstad observes. “As trainers, we deal with the age profile of seafarers as it is. Therefore, while training is not age specific as such, it needs to take account of the fact that those in charge might have fewer years’ experience than has been the case in the past.

“Handling a ship is a zero error operation. Investing in hardware, structure and procedures is critical, but the people responsible for safe, efficient operations also require commitment, and that should also be seen as an investment – not simply an expense.”

In response, Seagull has extended the range of leadership modules within its computer-based training library and refined the entire suite for use as an onboard training tool. The CBT specialist has drawn on its long-term partnership with Green Jakobsen, which focuses on ‘soft skills’ training, to develop the DNV-GL certified onboard package.

“It was leadership training that originally brought us together with Green Jakobsen back in 2007,” says Ringstad, “and that resulted in the development of the original 8 module CBT course on leadership training. The years that have followed have seen leadership become a central theme running through the entire culture of Competence Management Systems. Leadership should not only instill, but inspire discipline and diligence in every aspect of ship operations.” 

According to Bjarke Jakobsen, Partner at Green-Jakobsen: “In order for leaders to become effective they need to have an organisational foundation, which defines what has to be achieved. It is of paramount importance that shipping companies explore, develop, structure and manage on-the-job training to improve the effect of the learning and development spend.

“Setting the leadership strategy and direction also involves definition of leadership skills, rating and evaluation of leadership competencies, goal setting, on-going leadership learning, and performance feedback.”

Fair and accurate corrective feedback on a day-to-day basis is of paramount importance onboard ship, Jakobsen says. “It encourages an environment where areas of improvements are openly discussed and work performance is clearly improved.

“The 2010 Manila Amendment of the STCW Convention (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) acknowledged the need for leadership training in the context of ship operations,” says Ringstad. “But there is more to this issue than compliance.”

Jakobsen concurs: “If you develop compliance minded leaders your company will never become better than your competitors,” he says. “When people go ‘above and beyond’ in their jobs it is because they have a personal interest or they clearly see the purpose, believe in their work and see the higher meaning of it. Good leaders need more than STCW compliant leadership training – one that will focus on interpersonal leadership. They need direction, clear understanding of company expectations, the goals to be achieved and constant evaluation of leadership performance.”

Within the regulatory framework, the STCW 2010 amendments prompted the development of the 20 hour IMO Model Course ‘Teamwork and Leadership’, approved in May 2013, which targets deck and engine officer competence. 

Again, though, Ringstad emphasizes that leadership training is not simply one more box requiring a tick on a growing list of owner regulatory requirements. “Shifting the emphasis to an onboard leadership training package and expanding the portfolio addresses requests that we now get on a routine basis from owners,” he says. 

“People without the potential to lead cannot learn to be leaders as such, but the onboard course brings a common language on leadership to those working at sea, disseminating a basic understanding to those on board of their responsibilities within a hierarchical structure. Being familiar with this language provides the foundation for the leaders of tomorrow to be identified and selected for future training based on the workshop approach – and that would be where Green Jakobsen would come in.”

Ringstad also points out that including leadership training modules in the onboard CBT library represents a long-term and visible commitment to the concept. “We know from experience that senior managers at shipping companies can be enthusiastic about leadership training but that initiatives can come and go. Whether market conditions are favorable or otherwise, CBT modules can be retained onboard as a low cost, on-going commitment that can be built on at any time.” 

The original eight modules remain ship-focused, are accompanied by a maritime specific workbook and are tailored to focus on the different tools that both senior and junior officers can utilize in handling multicultural environment issues and needs on board. 

“The concept is based on customized modules based on the daily work life of seafarers and office staff and we make an effort give the trainee the opportunity to integrate, test and utilize the new knowledge and tools when performing his or her everyday work tasks,” says Jakobsen. Separate units include conflict management, active listening, corrective feedback, question techniques and stress management. 

Reflecting the evolution of training needs within the industry, six new onboard leadership training modules from Seagull focus on:

- Communication for Maritime Leaders

- Maritime Conventions

- Shipboard Management and Training

- Task and Workload Management

- Effective Resource Management

- Decision-making Techniques

In addition, five supporting modules, developed over the last 18 months, deal with seafarer appraisals, behavior-based safety, mentoring, and both assessment principles and onboard assessment. 

“As the world fleet continues to grow, senior management in the shipping industry need to respond to the fact that their own senior officers may have been fast-tracked through promotion,” Ringstad concludes. “It will be to these officers to whom the junior officers look for mentoring. Leadership training creates a career structure that maximizes retention within a changing demographic, as well as embedding competence in the ship operations of today. 

“By the same token, when we look towards encouraging those with real experience of seafaring to be the shore-based managers of tomorrow, our objective is for them to come ashore equipped with the leadership skills they will need to command the respect of those still at sea.”

The products and services herein described in this press release are not endorsed by The Maritime Executive.