Collaboration: a key competency for future leaders - a tale of two organizations

Mar 04, 2014

WSPS is fortunate to work with two innovative organizations that are dedicated to building the leadership and health and safety skills of engineering students - the Minerva Summer Institute and Learning Forums and the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead).

In these programs, both operating at the University of Toronto, students develop success skills to help them become effective leaders who understand the value of creating healthier and safer workplaces and communities. They learn how to inspire, teach, collaborate, and role model to maximize performance, innovation and productivity.

The Minerva Summer Institute, a two-day, intensive workshop, brings professors and students from the engineering and business faculties at University of Toronto together with industry and government representatives to learn from one another and engage in critical conversations about safety, health and environmental management concepts.

Tony Pasteris, chairman and president, Minerva Canada Safety Management Education Inc. explains, "Preparing students with health and safety insight and knowledge imparts core values that can be taken into the workplace. Health and safety education helps them become strong leaders and managers and that translates into better quality, productivity and human resources."

ILead is dedicated to developing curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular programming in leadership education for undergraduate and graduate students in engineering. ILead conducts research on leadership practices in engineering-intensive enterprises and has developed a community of practice with others interested in engineering leadership education.

"Students often have a rude awakening when they enter the workplace. Employers are looking to them to behave as leaders. They need to understand the broader context of issues that have an impact on the outcome of their work. They need to know how to communicate, cooperate and collaborate, and they need to understand the nature of change - workplaces are constantly changing. They tend to feel they are responsible for executing the physical details of change, when in fact, they should be using technology and their knowledge to drive change," says ILead director Doug Reeve.

WSPS is proud to support organizations like Minerva and ILead because we know workplaces are under tremendous pressure to manage risk; continuously improve people practices, processes and equipment; innovate and grow in a crowded and competitive marketplace. They are looking for future leaders who understand this and are equipped to help them thrive in these conditions.

They want leaders who possess strong judgement, problem-solving, creativity and collaboration skills - skills that can be applied inside and outside the organization to gather the insight and intelligence needed to achieve business goals.

"The Collaboration Imperative," an article published in the January/February 2012 issue of the Ivey Business Journal, provided this apt description of the expectations of future leaders.

"In the years ahead, volatility and uncertainty will tyrannize markets, and companies will need leaders who are highly adaptive, continuous learners, able to lead diverse groups across functional disciplines, regions and cultures. They will also need to accomplish the difficult feat of driving results even where they do not have formal direct control or authority over resources. Achieving more growth through greater innovation, searching for new business opportunities across customer segments and leveraging best business practices to improve operational efficiency will demand that leaders know how to work across organizational boundaries."

WSPS sees evidence of this every day. Internally, organizations are forming cross-functional, multi-disciplinary teams to achieve business objectives. In the health and safety world, that can include managers, human resources, operations staff, technicians, engineers, hygienists and other subject matter experts. Participation varies depending on the problem or opportunity at hand, the complexity of the matter, and the expertise and experience that is needed to identify a solution.

And organizations are extending the conversation externally, often with competitors, in "communities of practice" where they share experiences and insight and best practices with one another in aid of managing risk, reducing costs and growing their respective businesses.

Both Minerva and ILead nurture these skills at the earliest stages of career development, providing a distinct advantage to graduates and their future employers.

Not only are they setting an important precedent in terms of engaging future leaders in conversations about transformative leadership and health and safety early in their careers, but the curriculum, based on the participation of a wide variety of stakeholders and experts, pre-disposes students to the power of collaboration in aid of achieving optimal results - an invaluable lesson that will have a profound impact on their success when they graduate.

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