The success of a pilot programme for line managers at tube maintenance company Tube Lines is recognition of how softer skills are just as important as technical ones within transport industries. Matt McAllister attended the recent awards ceremony to find out more
“Our overnight work has implications for thousands of Londoners travelling the next day,” says Tom Emanuel, project manager at Tube Lines, which provides maintenance for several of London’s underground lines. “The work is really fast-paced and dynamic, and we have to respond to problems in a timely manner. So the demand for good leadership in this industry is huge.”
It’s a demand that Tube Lines is currently in the process of addressing. Emanuel is speaking to us at an awards ceremony at London’s prestigious Institute of Directors, where he has just been awarded an ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership & Management from ILM chief executive Charles Elvin. He is one of 10 candidates who have just completed this 18-month programme (across levels 2 and 3), which has taught them fundamental line management skills such as dealing with conflict, having difficult conversations with team members, and engaging staff.
The success of the scheme means that 240 further Tube Lines employees will be enrolled on the programme by the end of July.
“We’ve been taught how to take a flexible approach to managing team members,” explains Emanuel. “We’ve learnt to take our time so that we understand both people and problems from all sides. It’s almost been a tiered approach: ‘Here’s a problem, here are different techniques for dealing with the problem, and here’s how to employ those techniques to get the best solution’. The techniques we’ve learnt are directly relevant to our roles. I’ve really moved on in leaps and bounds during my time on the programme.”
Tube Lines decided to choose this particular management programme because it was about “practical application as well as theory”, says HR manager Caroline Mathew.
“We’re a very good technical business, and we wanted to bridge the gap in how people managed their teams,” she says. “So we wanted to provide sound development for our managers and leaders. Line managers need to develop softer skills like communicating effectively with their teams, carrying out performance reviews and engaging staff. Of course individuals may deal with things in different ways – some are comfortable having difficult conversations, others deal with challenging issues more regularly in their job – but the right training can empower everyone.”
Tube Lines undertook this programme because they wanted to create a culture where managers had more confidence to challenge things and were empowered to make changes.
The programme was delivered by the management training company Skills Team. Steve Dalgety was one of the programme managers behind it, and he says that in technical industries, people are often promoted to manager or team leader without being given the leadership skills to do their job properly. They’re just expected “to get on with it” – a statement which echoes ILM’s 2012 Leadership and Management Talent Pipeline research, which found that only 18% of employers expect candidates to have received management training prior to being appointed to a management position.
“These skills matter massively,” says Dalgety. “If you look at management across all industries, that’s where innovation comes from. That’s where development of staff comes from. So having a sound management structure with the knowledge and skills behind that enables you to make positive changes throughout the organisation.”
Dalgety says that the culture is changing in technical industries, with many organisations now looking to empower their managers to a greater degree and move away from a ‘top down’ style of management. He says that this is characterised by Tube Lines move to build a “positive structure” throughout the organisation.
“In the past, Transport for London [which owns Tube Lines] has been seen as being set in its ways in the way it approached some aspects of management,” he says. “Tube Lines undertook this programme because they wanted to create a culture where managers had more confidence to challenge things and were empowered to make changes. They also wanted to move to more of a team-focused way of working.”
Galgety points out that some of those who have graduated from today’s pilot programme have already enthused about how they now want to mentor others. Yet he admits that some people who are enrolled on management programmes such as this are initially sceptical.
“There can be resistance from some people – maybe they’ve been doing their job for a long time and can’t see the value in it,” he says. “But people really begin to soften after the first session, and it’s rewarding to see them start to take the training on board. If you look at the pilot programme with Tube Lines, it’s remarkable to see the difference in people between the first workshop and the seventh. Even if they only take on board a small percentage of what they learn, that can make a significant change to the whole business.”
Work and study
Unsurprisingly, Emanuel strongly recommends the programme to other line managers, but he points out that it isn’t always easy to balance learning with a demanding day job.
“I definitely found it challenging to structure doing my job ¬- which, as I say, is very fast-faced and can often include new or unexpected events - with the coursework. Sometimes you plan to study, but you’re not able to because of something that’s taken place at work! But even that makes for a great lesson in how to structure your time. In fact, I’d recommend it not only because of the skills and techniques you learn on the programme, but also because of how much you learn about yourself along the way.”
The awards ceremony, then, acts as a fitting celebration of the work and commitment that Emanuel and the other candidates have put in over the last 18 months.
“It’s nice to be recognised for all of our hard work,” Emanuel smiles. “It’s been a really good day.”