In a conference room surrounded by a half-dozen captains and mates, Capt. Scott Conway leads a discussion of leadership needs aboard their vessels — and what can go wrong when communication is poor.
Conway notes that the consequences of leadership failures in the maritime industry are often “written in blood or oil.” He emphasizes lessons from admired leaders including Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Lou Holtz. Earning trust and staying positive are critical to inspiring crews, he says.
“Praise in public. Admonish in private,” Conway tells the gathering. “That carries a lot of weight. … Very high in terms of motivation and keeping people involved.”
Conway is not a port captain and he’s not giving orders to newly hired officers for any single fleet. He is an instructor and department head at Maritime Institute of Technology & Graduate Studies (MITAGS). He is speaking at a relatively new course – “Management Level: Leadership and Communications.”
All captains, chief mates, chief engineers and second engineers who sail internationally will become familiar with the course soon. As of this year, it’s a requirement under the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW).
MITAGS, in Linthicum Heights, Md., and its sister institution, Seattle-based Pacific Maritime Institute, have begun offering the instruction as a five-day seminar-based course. Because so many of the participants already will have had years of experience in leadership roles, the sessions include plenty of group discussions about behavior they have observed aboard ship.
In the U.S., the regulation instituting the STCW 2010 Amendments went into effect in March 2014. Existing senior officers will need to take the course by the end of 2016 for their STCW endorsement to remain valid. Operational-level officers — second mates and officers in charge of the navigation watch or engineering watch — are required to take a one-day course called “Leadership and Teamworking Skills” or equivalent.
“This is a major corner we’re turning in STCW training,” said George Trowbridge, owner of Quality Maritime Training in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Literally everyone will have to do the managerial and leadership skills training by the deadline. It’ll be one of the qualifications they’ll have to do if they want the STCW endorsement on their national credential.”
Before this summer, Quality Maritime’s course was called “Management, Communications and Leadership – Management Level,” sometimes abbreviated MCL. The Coast Guard recently began using the name “Leadership and Managerial Skills.”
Mariners renewing their Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) this year are already receiving documents with STCW endorsements that will remain in effect only until the end of 2016, not five years from now. Under the “Limitations” section, the National Maritime Center is adding the notation “Not valid after Dec. 31, 2016.” No further explanation is included.
Many mariners already know about other new STCW training requirements — particularly the basic safety and firefighter refreshers and ECDIS. Those have received a lot of attention at conferences and in the maritime press. Too many licensed officers, however, are still unaware of the leadership-course provision, which hasn’t been discussed as much, except in the union halls, said Andy Hammond, a Massachusetts-based maritime licensing consultant.
“Many mariners that work in sectors where STCW may not be fully required, such as the towing industry, will not fully understand these new requirements,” Hammond said. “There is still a very large population of mariners that wish to hold and maintain their STCW that will not receive updates on these changes unless they are renewing or upgrading their MMCs this year and noting the limitations placed on them.”
Mariners need to realize that they must take an MCL course, even if they don’t need to renew their credential until after 2016. Hammond suggests they plan ahead to ensure that they can schedule the course in plenty of time before the last-minute crunch.
“I recommend exploring options over the next 12 to 18 months and not waiting until 2016 before they start finding out what they need or obtaining the required training,” Hammond said. “2016 could be a busy year.”
(Photo courtesy Andy Hammond Consulting)
U.S. mariners renewing their credentials this year may receive STCW endorsements that are not valid after 2016. There are new course requirements that must be fulfilled first.
The leadership course curriculum focuses mainly on how to command, manage and inspire in a maritime environment. Skills may include decision-making techniques, workload management and how to develop standard operating procedures. Quality Maritime’s course covers the pillars of leadership and even delves into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and McGregor’s Theory X — two subjects more commonly found in psychology or MBA programs.
“We get into how to motivate people, so we get into human nature,” Trowbridge said. “Some people are just naturally inclined to leadership roles, but most leaders are trained and not born.”
At MITAGS, Conway synthesized several different definitions of leadership, concluding that it’s a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others to achieve a common goal. He emphasized establishing a direction, being fair-minded and not being afraid to challenge the status quo.
One enrollee in the MITAGS course in May was Conor Sullivan, a second mate on containerships who is aiming for chief mate/master level this year. Sullivan, of Long Beach, N.Y., said the course is helpful for communication skills. The group used their own experiences at sea to identify management styles that are effective and ineffective.
“We are having a dialogue about what people think a good leader is and the qualities that you want in a good leader,” Sullivan said. “You take the best ideas from everybody, and talk about the things you don’t like and leave those behind, and you try to make yourself into a better seaman all around.”
Conway bluntly presented a list of ship names that have become synonymous with leadership failure: Titanic, Andrea Doria, Exxon Valdez, Queen of the North, Costa Concordia, Sewol.
He said there are five main causes of maritime leadership failures: arrogance; inability to predict and manage risk; a high tolerance for risk; lack of study, analysis and calculation; and poor decision making. These factors have a tendency to be very costly in terms of lost lives, property damage and environmental harm.
Arrogance regarding potential accidents may be the most dangerous — the attitude that “it’ll never happen to me. I’m too damn good for it to happen to me. I’m too smart to have it happen to me,” Conway said. A captain, mate or chief engineer must set an example for a crew by constantly “asking that critical question, ‘What if?’ and ‘If this, then what?’”
The group discussed the attributes of effective leaders including Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton and Pope Francis. They systematically examined all 18 lessons in Gen. Colin Powell’s Leadership Primer. Among them are showing concern for people, being proactive and having a can-do attitude and empowering others.
Conway has served for many years as chief mate aboard bulk, tanker, supply and LNG vessels. He recounted a firsthand story about a “bosun with attitude problems.” Sensing a need for involvement and mentoring, the senior officers put the bosun in charge of a crewwide emergency response drill involving an explosion that hypothetically kills the captain and chief mate. The bosun and others were forced to imagine how they would handle the crisis and take responsibility.
“The level of morale just skyrocketed,” Conway said. “All of a sudden we had 27 people walking around with a higher level of awareness.”
Most of the large maritime training schools are preparing or augmenting their five-day and one-day leadership courses as the Coast Guard provides more guidance and the 2016 deadline approaches.
“We’re anticipating the market for it to pick up very soon, but so far not that many mariners have figured it out,” Trowbridge said. “I’m going to try to offer it every month.”