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Future of Manufacturing Q4 2022

What makes a good leader in our current business climate?

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Liubomyr Vorona

Verity Davidge

Director of Policy, Make UK

The issue of leadership and management in manufacturing companies has never been more important. Good leaders and managers have a clear vision, can communicate that to their staff and drive change. 

With the energy crisis, ongoing labour shortages and a looming economic downturn, leaders in the manufacturing sector face many short-term challenges. They must also address the longer-term challenges — and opportunities — of transitioning to a net zero future as well as adopting greater technology and digitalisation in their businesses.

What makes a good leader?

Good leaders and managers recognise that taking their employees with them on the digitalisation journey is crucial to their collective success. Make UK and Rockwell recently carried out a survey of manufacturers to assess their views on leadership and management; the types of leaders and managers they are looking for; and what methods they use to train and develop leaders and managers of the future.

According to the survey, over two-thirds of companies say there is a shortage of management and leadership skills within their business. Conversely, however, companies are aware of the critical need for these types of skills — with three-quarters saying they were key to improving productivity and almost four-fifths saying they were needed to increase sales and orders.

Employees increasingly expect to see companies have firm policies on diversity, equality and inclusion.

Rising need for sustainability and diversity

The need for managers and leaders to have a forward-thinking outlook is backed by four-fifths of companies saying they are crucial to implementing new and greener technologies and an equal number saying an effective leader is necessary to implementing diversity, inclusion and equality. This is especially important with investors looking for companies with clear environmental and social governance goals. Moreover, employees increasingly expect to see companies have firm policies on diversity, equality and inclusion. This can attract and retain staff — especially important with the competitive hunt for talent.

Encouraging empathetic leaders

The survey also shows employers are placing less of a premium on technical skills, professional qualifications and length of service and are looking for ‘North Star’ leaders who are more human and empathetic, with an ability to take a more holistic view of the business.

Companies overwhelmingly use external consultants to train the next generation of leaders with one in five using degrees, including MBAs, and a similar number using apprenticeships. With a significant amount of the Apprentice Levy funds unspent, Make UK believes there is an opportunity to use some of these funds to support greater levels of leadership and management training.

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