Dare to be a leader. That was the theme of this year’s SAN conference held in Göteborg in October. The day started with a review of this year’s superconvention for seafarers, which will probably come into force in 2012.
As an officer onboard, you may be faced with a wide range of challenges – as we heard at the work environment conference in 2010. Crews of mixed nationalities, awkward discussions, sexual harassment, safety issues and hierarchies were the topics taken up. The first to talk was Andrea Ahlberg, representative of the Swedish Transport Agency in Geneva. She talked about how work was progressing with the new superconvention for seafarers, the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). She reported that it would probably come into force as planned in 2012 and that Sweden would in all likelihood ratify the convention next year.
– Sweden already complies to a large extent with its contents, but there will be some new issues, says Andrea Ahlberg.
Working conditions to be certified
Among other things, certification of working conditions onboard will be introduced. Medical certificates for sight and hearing for seafarers must be renewed every other year instead of every fourth year, the collective agreement will be translated into English, new building standards will come into force and there will be a requirement for qualified marine cooks on ships with more than ten in the crew. On ships with fewer crewmembers, everyone who handles food must undergo a course in hygiene and handling foodstuffs.
– Ships sailing under flags that have not ratified the convention and that arrive in the EU must still fulfil these demands. There are many parts of the MLC that make it special, said Andrea Ahlberg.
The rest of the day was spent on the theme of leadership. Anki Udd from Ledarna took up the subject of awkward discussions, or unaccustomed discussions as she preferred to call them. Talking with an employee who, you suspect, has alcohol problems, bullies others or for any other reason does not behave as he/she should is a situation that many managers feel is unpleasant.
– It is often because they are afraid of how the person concerned will react, explained Anki Udd. They do not want to hurt the person, or they fear the person willbecome angry.
Pieter Sprangers, the previous chairman of SAN who is now personnel manager of seafarers at Wallenius, talked about how the onshore office can support officers onboard. He told us how at Wallenius they have regular staff appraisal interviews with all technical managers and officers. Each interview takes about four hours and the cycle runs over a two-year period.
– This gives us a unique opportunity to discuss what is happening onboard. We are a support unit for the officers, at the same time as they inform us of their needs. Every time the staff sign off we also take up any problems and viewpoints; after ten weeks there is often a need to disuss things, he said.
Flat organizations safer
Kari Larjo, expert for the Finnish Accident Investigation Commission, talked about how hierarchies onboard have evolved over the centuries. He claimed that shipping would be safer if organizations were flatter and advised having two nautical officers with the same level of performance on the bridge.
– It is we seamen who have created this hierarchy and it is we who keep it alive. But the faster it disappears, the safer navigation will become.
Fredrik Warrebäck, chief mate at Broströms, talked about the importance of officers for personnel safety. He said that routines and good judgement are the cornerstones of safety work.
– I never go on deck without a helmet and overalls. If I don’t follow the safety rules, nobody else will either.
He also described the development of Broström’s internal incident reporting system, Diamond, which is expected to receive about 700 reports before the end of the year.
– All eleven ships have access to the system and when one ship sends in a report, we have direct access to it. As soon as something has happened on another ship that affects us, I inform the crew about it, he said.
Erik Hemming from the college on Åland talked about the importance of shaping a common culture onboard and how we communicate with each other.
He said that there are particularly large demands on officers of ships that have a mix of different nationalities where they must try to create a feeling of solidarity. Simple measures, however, can make all the difference, said Erik Hemming.
– Just learning a few words of tagalog or the language of your foreign crewmembers can open up new channels. Try it and you will see what an impression it makes.
”The shame was worst”
The most moving talk during the day was by Emilia Åhfelt Dimitriadis from EMJA Hälsodialog AB. She explained in no uncertain terms how, as a soldier during a mission in Kosovo in 2003, she was subjected to serious sexual harassment by her closest colleagues.
– The worst thing was probably the feeling of shame in case other people saw that I was not part of the group. To stand there in the canteen and not know where I should go with my tray was a terrible feeling, she says. Emilia Åhfelt Dimitriadis explained that sexual harassment is not really about sex, but about power.
– Men are also subjected to harassment at workplaces that have predominantly women, she said.
How do you work with leadership?
Jan-Eric Alcén, chief mate at Stena Line
– I work a lot with delegated leadership and management without being seen. For this to work, you must have a forum where everybody can have their say. We meet every Friday morning to discuss what is happening onboard. Everybody who is able to attend comes along, all viewpoints are considered and we are generally there for an hour or so. People feel more a part of things and are more involved in their work.
Hans-Dieter Grahl, managing director of the Ships Officers’ Association
– We are a small group and have worked together for a long time, and everybody has found their place. A small organization is often flatter than a large one, and everybody knows what to do. I recently became managing director after many years as an ombudsman, but it feels like a natural step in my development and I haven’t had any problems in shouldering the responsibilities involved.
Elin Cidh, marine engineer student at Chalmers
– We study far too little leadership at the university. Studying two or three credits of leadership would be worth gold. Above all as a young woman, you feel a bit of a pushover in a manager’s role. You have to be humble when you come to a workplace and say to employees, ”I know that you know more than I do, but there are some things I have to get done”.
Anne Ask, Norbulk shipping
– Our parent company has 70-80 employees, and at our office in Sweden we only have four. There are big differences in leadership styles between us. They think we are a bit strange, the fact that we tell our manager if he does something we don’t think is very good. They would never question a manager’s decision. Our different leadership styles are reflected on the ships too, and our Swedish crews are far more independent than theirs.