In My Opinion: Chartered Management Institute

Chartered Management Institute Companion Roy Clare reflects on how Lord Nelson's principles of active leadership resonate today.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A background commanding HMS Invincible may not seem an obvious preparation for directing the National Maritime Museum (NMM). But having worked in both settings, I believe that principles transferred from the Royal Navy have helped improve performance at the institution. Both organisations emphasise leadership among trained professionals, uphold core values and focus on results. Each depends on developing human capacities. Success stems from specialist knowledge, coupled with attention to priorities and exacting performance. I'm sure Lord Nelson himself - an exemplar of inspirational leadership still - would have recognised these parameters.

So how do the two compare? Invincible had a complement of more than 1,200 men and women. Engineers, logisticians, caterers, operations crews and aviators were posted for two years at a time. All received extensive prior training, and keeping skills and knowledge up to date was a priority. Teams trained together, and computer-based training was used extensively.

By comparison, the NMM has 500 staff, with a diverse range of specialists, including curators, conservators, educators, authors, librarians, designers, marketers, event managers, retailers, fundraisers and a span of technical, financial and logistical staff. With 1.5 million customer visits each year in Greenwich and many more web users worldwide, the museum turns over £20 million annually. Our products add value for the public and realise a cash profit in some activities.

With so many specialist skills in the workforce, the NMM emphasises the benefits of training. The budget is some 2% to 3% of the annual pay bill. New joiners undergo formal induction, while a key initiative is our modular management development programme. Such measures are important in developing the capacity and efficiency of the institution - while at the same time making it a rewarding place to work.

The core similarity between such contrasting organisations is that at heart, stripped of jargon, both aircraft carriers and museums are 'bunches of people doing stuff'. For both, leadership skills and active management are the premium requirements at all levels in every department.

At my instigation, the objectives and values of our 70-year-old institution were redefined through consultation at every level. Next, we initiated the Investor in People programme and in 2001 the NMM became the first national museum in London to be accredited - just as Invincible had been the first warship to be accredited.

The museum has since been re-accredited twice. Organisations can claim to be 'investors in people' only when their people say they are. An assessor gathers individuals' views and these underpin the accreditation. It's an important tool for senior management: compared with six years ago, we have a more positive attitude to leadership grown from within, the potential of people, teamwork, career progression and added skills.

We have also removed age criteria for recruiting and retirement. Older workers feel able to maintain their contribution well into their seventies, while younger people have also been encouraged. Through a focus on training and vocational qualifications, staff members of all ages and backgrounds - representing more than 30 nationalities - help the NMM to deliver a high-quality experience for visitors and users.

This focus has helped the museum's customer services win independent awards for excellence over the past two years. Meanwhile, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has selected the NMM as one of only eight institutions to receive 'academic analogue' status. Our website ( has won recognition for its accessibility, and a recent Remploy award was given for positive policies towards disabled employees.

I believe that the operational capacities of the NMM as a world-class museum have been materially strengthened by know-how transferred from the Royal Navy. And naval principles could help leaders in other sectors to transform delivery in their organisations too.

Organisations such as schools, hospitals, the civil service and most businesses are essentially formed of the people working for them. Reform must therefore involve the people. Top-down demands for step-changes often lead to uncertainty, fractured morale and patchy delivery. A shift in culture - the embedding of change - is more about a willingness to embrace change at every level. Unless staff members feel that their voice is heard and unless they are committed to the process, change is unlikely to endure.

I'm sure Lord Nelson would recognise these modern principles. Indeed, many organisations would do well to adopt the tenets of leadership honed by Nelson: clear aims and objectives; strong professional values; appreciation for the people that serve, and attention to their human and professional needs; exacting standards of performance; and ensuring each person is properly trained, knows their role and is given the resources and the discretion to act. As Nelson knew, our organisations are rewarded by results when actively led with vision, integrity and judgment.


Roy Clare is director of the National Maritime Museum, Queen's House and Royal Observatory, Greenwich. He is on the board of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and is a trustee of Creative and Cultural Skills. Previously a rear admiral, his naval appointments included command of HMS Invincible and the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.


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