As you progress in your career at sea, you  will find yourself responsible for leading a team. 

Effective leadership is vital for the smooth operation of vessels; ensuring that your team is encouraged to perform to the best of their abilities whilst maintaining their health, safety and wellbeing. Your approach to leadership will underpin the implementation of the ship Safety Management System and have a direct impact on the motivation of the officers and crew.

But what do effective leaders do? 

The general answer is they set strategy, they motivate, they create a mission, they build a culture. 

What should leaders do? 

If you are asking an experienced and effective leader you’ll likely hear one response; get results.  Shipping is a complex business and there are a number of ways that ‘getting results’ is measured in a ship board context. As a leader you may find your performance measured in terms of vessel operating efficiency, number of accidents reported, cargo claims against the vessel or crew retention to give a few examples. These reflect the multi-layered role of the leader and the different skills and attributes you should possess or look to develop.

Effective leaders are  emotionally intelligent. For leaders, having emotional intelligence is essential for success.  Who is more likely to succeed – a leader who shouts at their team when they are under stress, or a leader who stays in control and calmly assesses the situation?  

The fundamentals of leading at sea has not changed over the years.  It is still about mobilising people on a vessel around common goals, achieving results whilst being safe.

The Harvard Business Review recently reviewed the HBR Leader’s Handbook.  They reviewed several decades worth of articles to understand the recurring messages from academics and practitioners.  Their conclusion from this research was that the best leaders almost always deploy these six classic, fundamental practices:

  1. uniting people around an exciting, aspirational vision;
  2. building a strategy for achieving the vision by making choices about what to do and what not to do;
  3. attracting and developing the best possible talent to implement the strategy;
  4. relentlessly focusing on results in the context of the strategy;
  5. creating ongoing innovation that will help reinvent the vision and strategy; and
  6. “leading yourself”: knowing and growing yourself so that you can most effectively lead others and carry out these practices. (HBR, Nov 2018)

Granted, sometimes the starting point will be different or one of the six areas require a heavier weighting than the others. Some leaders will go about these practices in different ways due to personality or situation; but they are always present no matter whether it is a shore-based or shipboard environment you are working in.

Leading at sea will come in a variety of scenarios, in an emergency, resolving conflict or preparing for and executing a project or passage.  A calm and composed attitude will build trust and confidence which will allow you to deal with most situations.  Remaining impartial is a crucial part of allowing you to deal with conflict quickly and fairly; particularly in times of stress, leading with your head and not emotions will gain the best results.  Recognising your team’s strengths and using them effectively will not only motivate your team but ensure that they perform to the best of their ability.

Onboard Maritime are pleased to offer management/leadership courses and individual coaching to encourage you to reflect on your skills as a leader, learn how to manage resources efficiently and explore how to build and maintain a motivated and productive team.

Find out more about our Leadership/Management courses and coaching, as well as our MCA preparatory courses here: https://onboardmaritime.com/courses-page or contact us by email at info@onboardmaritime.com