Huw is the Director of Clinical Services at The Pets at Home Vet Group (PAHVG), a role he took up in 2015 having been Head of Clinical Services since 2013. Huw graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2000 and went into mixed first opinion practice in Devon and then small animal practice in Swindon. Whilst in practice Huw completed a postgraduate diploma in companion animal behaviour counselling at the University of Southampton.
In 2010 Huw moved into industry as a Technical Advisor with VetPlus, and joined Companion Care Services as Commercial Manager in 2011. At PAHVG Huw worked on the integration of Vets4Pets into the Pets at Home Vet Group alongside Companion Care, and led the team that developed The Vet Report, providing an annual overview of pet health and welfare issues. Huw is a founding member of the Major Employers Group, a member of BVA’s Veterinary Policy Group, and a Veterinary Advisor to the RCVS alternative dispute resolution trial.
As a keen supporter of the Vet Futures project, I was delighted to be selected to join the Action Group tasked with transforming the vision and ambitions of the report into ideas and initiatives that could be actioned in the real world. The report had identified gaps in the way our profession approaches the issue of leadership, so I knew that taking on this ambition would be a particular challenge.
The first question I needed to answer for myself was ‘What is leadership?’ This in itself is difficult to answer, since, while there is a wealth of material written on the subject, there is no clear definition. Some authors highlight the personal traits of successful leaders, while others look at positions, behaviours or social processes.
“Leadership is like the abominable snowman whose footprints are everywhere but who is nowhere to be seen” – Bennis & Nanus (1985)
The model that has been widely adopted in human healthcare is that of distributed leadership. In this model, leadership is recognised as a dynamic situational behaviour that anybody can exhibit independent of job title, rank, prior experience or qualifications. In a given situation any individual can act as a leader, and there is no one individual who is suited to assuming the role in all situations.
“Leadership may be considered as the process (act) of influencing the activities of an organised group in its efforts towards goal setting and goal achievement” – Stogdill (1950)
There are a few well-established veterinary leadership programmes, such as the Veterinary Leadership Institute in the United States, but we have also looked to the medical profession where extensive research and development has already taken place.
Vets have, as a sweeping generalisation, a pretty clear idea of what constitutes professional development and unsurprisingly it stems from the vocational nature of our work – CPD is about gaining more knowledge or more skills to enhance our ability to look after the animals entrusted to our care.
The idea of spending valuable development time and budget on something as vague and nebulous as ‘leadership’ would undoubtedly be alien to many, in the past myself included. This is a great shame, as effective leadership has been shown in human medicine to improve wellbeing, morale, engagement and clinical service provision.
The NHS Leadership Academy has developed a researchbased Healthcare Leadership Model, which the Action Group suggests is a good place to start when thinking about a veterinary leadership programme. This type of course could be delivered as a MOOC so that it is freely available to all in the profession whether they are business owners, assistants, students, vets or nurses.
If the profession is to fulfil its stated ambitions of being confident, resilient, healthy, valued, influential and in control of its own destiny, then it will be essential to instil in all of its members an awareness of the importance of effective leadership, and to provide them with the resources and opportunities to develop these skills.