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STCW mariners to receive mandatory leadership training

Jul 31, 2014 10:55 AM

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(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.”

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