Dr Mhairi McVicar, Cardiff University won the Leadership in the Public Sector Award in 2017
What did being shortlisted for or winning a Leading Wales Award mean to you?
As well as being surprised, and honoured, I was really pleased to hear that the award jury had awarded on the basis of collaborative leadership, and for ‘deep level of comfort with risk and failure.’ I often find it hard to justify myself as a leader, preferring to acknowledge the limits of my own expertise by continuously valuing and learning from the expertise of others. The award made me reflect on what leadership means, giving me more confidence in understanding that delegating, and trusting others to follow their own interests and passions, is a valid and valued form of leadership. The fact that comfort with risk and failure were also recognised as valuable in leadership gives weight to the argument that the pursuit of innovation inevitably brings risk and the potential of failure, emphasising the role leadership plays in valuing risk and learning quickly and positively from failure . The award, in recognising this, nudged me into a better understanding of, and belief in, my definition of leadership.
Cardiff University’s Community Gateway team already believed that our partnership work with local communities is valuable; winning Leading Wales’s 2017 ‘Leadership in the Public Sector’ award gave our team and partners in the University and Community external recognition that the co-produced, collaborative, and risky ideas we support are valued at a national scale. The formal recognition of the value of collaborative and risk-taking leadership gave the team, and me, even more conviction and courage to make a case for continued risk taking and continued collaborative approaches between universities and communities.
Engagement work between communities and universities takes an enormous amount of belief, trust, time and effort from all involved, and formal recognition that our collaborative work makes a difference at a national level helps to maintain momentum and strengthen our belief that it’s all worthwhile. In terms of my own professional development, the fact that I’d won a Leadership award on the basis of collaborative and risk-taking leadership made me re-evaluate my own role and potential as a leader, and this has encouraged me to undertake community leadership training, with the understanding that if I can better develop my own potential as a leader, I can better support the development of leadership amongst my colleagues and collaborators.
Has being a winner helped you drive further success as a leader for you, your and organisation? (i.e. was there a tangible impact for you?)
It’s a little bit early to say, but we have highlighted the importance of the award in ongoing funding applications for partnership projects. I think we’re always a little bit reluctant to sing our own praises, but winning the award helped me and the team to recognise how important it is to put ourselves forwards for awards; they help not only in terms of formally validating our work in the eyes of potential funders and collaborators, but they also help maintain energy, momentum and belief in our collaborative work, and give us reasons to celebrate together!