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Staff learning and development at Durham

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To increase job satisfaction, productivity and career progression routes, and create communities of practice within which colleagues can develop their professional expertise, are just some of the goals of our University Strategy.

One of the priorities of our People Strategy is to ‘develop leadership at all levels ensuring that all staff are supported to realise their full potential’.

To achieve these goals our Human Resources and Organisation Development department (HROD) is offering a range of leadership programmes for grades 4 – 10. These will support the development of colleagues’ leadership capabilities and skills, support career development aspirations and help achieve personal and professional goals.

Deputy Director/Head of Communications and Engagement Claire Whitelaw
Deputy Director/Head of Communications and Engagement Claire Whitelaw

On 11 July our Annual Staff Learning and Development event took place at the Business School as an acknowledgement of the many leadership development programmes completed by staff to assist in their personal development and career progression. This was the first time this event had taken place in over two years.

The event celebrated the hard work and achievements of the 134 members of staff who participated in certified programmes organised by HROD in the academic year 2021/22. Forty-two members of staff from across the University attended the event and were presented with certificates by our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Karen O’Brien.

Deputy Director/Head of Communications and Engagement, Claire Whitelaw, was one of 14 members of staff who undertook the Matariki HE International Leadership programme.

Dialogue caught up with Claire about her experience:

Dialogue: You've undertaken the Matariki HE International Leadership programme, a new programme delivered in 2021 in conjunction with the University of Otago (New Zealand), Queens University (Canada) & Uppsala University (Sweden). What encouraged you to take part in the programme?

Claire: This was a great opportunity to enhance my strategic skills through getting to grips with global leadership challenges alongside senior leaders at Durham University and at three of our key international partners. I was also able to expand my professional networks with some very interesting and engaging individuals working in a range of university roles.

Dialogue: How has the programme developed the leadership skills you already have? And has it taught you any new skills?

Claire: The course encouraged us to gain a deeper understanding of complex leadership subjects, like sustainability and change management, through online resources before a two-hour, interactive session on Zoom with the module leader. I exchanged reflections and views with delegates from all four universities. Actively participating in the large and the small group sessions served to develop my presentation and discussion skills in leadership circles.

My favourite session focused on leadership reflection. It provided a useful framework for reflective practice, which I try to make time for.

Dialogue: How have you applied the learning from the course to your job so far?

Claire: In the session on sustainability, led by a colleague from the University of Otago, we learned about ‘wayfinding leadership’, based on ancient Maori journeys of discovery on watercraft called waka.

Wayfinding leadership involves stepping into the unknown, developing sharper powers of observation, being more comfortable with uncertainty and leading teams to new horizons, even if you need to change course several times to reach your destination. Wayfinding leaders focus on discovering and unleashing everyone’s potential, with the belief that we are ‘all in it together’. 

This particularly resonated. In the current higher education climate and in my professional area of strategic communications, we are constantly facing uncertainty, change and complexity. Rather than being discouraged by uncertainty, I believe leaders have an opportunity to find new ways of doing things, motivating and collaborating with diverse teams to achieve successful outcomes.  

Dialogue: What would you say to somebody thinking about taking part in the programme in the future?

Claire: If you’re interested in learning about global leadership challenges with an international and diverse cohort of senior leaders, and expanding your knowledge, horizons and networks, I’d say go for it!

Leadership programmes

The leadership programmes are in addition to the range of learning and development workshops organised by HROD, including workshops on respect, values and behaviours, and personal development workshops.

During 2021/22 over 1,240 members of staff attended one of these workshops.

For more information on the many leadership programmes offered through 2022/23, visit the HROD web pages.



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