The Black Country Living Museum is Coordinating the Museums and Resilient Leadership programme

Professional advice is invaluable

Geraldine Kendall, Issue 113/09, p15, 01.09.2013
The MA's fellowship programme is one of several schemes offering career development
One of the museum sector’s most valuable resources is its workforce, and over the past few years there has been much debate about how best to nurture staff development in tough times.

Entry routes for younger professionals are often cited as a concern, but there is an increasing awareness that mid- to senior-level professionals may also be missing out on opportunities to reach their full career potential.

Funding cuts have led to several key development opportunities for more senior professionals, such as Arts Council England’s (ACE) Cultural Leadership Programme, being scrapped.

In addition, Prospect, one of the leading unions for museum specialists, recently confirmed that many skilled staff were leaving the sector because of redundancies, lack of progression and pay freezes.

Career development

However, opportunities for continuing professional development still exist at both an individual and institutional level.

The Museums Association (MA) has relaunched its advanced professional development award, the Fellowship of the Museums Association (FMA), with registration due to open in November. The qualification will be more accessible to all types of professionals, including freelancers and consultants.

The redevelopment of the fellowship forms part of the MA’s contribution to the workforce action plan that it published this year in partnership with Creative & Cultural Skills, which identified strengthening leadership and management as a primary goal.

In light of the changing funding landscape, the action plan emphasises empowering people to take organisations in a new direction. The FMA reflects this, recognising individuals that “go above and beyond their job role to lead change in the sector”.

Applicants must show qualities such as leading change, being advocates for the work of museums, and sharing skills and knowledge.

MA board member Isabel Churcher, who contributed to the FMA review, says a long-term aim will be to establish an informal self-sustaining network that allows fellows to share good practice, information and contacts throughout their careers.

Geographical spread

The MA also hopes to attract a greater regional spread of fellows. For example, there are as yet no registered FMAs in some parts of the UK, including Northern Ireland and London (see pie chart).


Similar ideals of self-sustainability and creating ‘agents for change’ inform many of the other career development schemes that are available. In the West Midlands, a programme has recently launched that aims to build up a network and buddying system that will continue after the initial funding ends.

The Museums and Resilient Leadership scheme is funded through ACE’s strategic support fund and coordinated by the Black Country Living Museum.

The nine-month programme has recruited 12 mid- to senior-level museum professionals from across the region to receive free mentoring and training in areas such as commercial asset management, business skills and entrepreneurship.

The aim is to empower people to create more resilient and financially sustainable organisations, while augmenting their personal career development. The coordinators hope the scheme will be a prototype that can be copied elsewhere.

Across the UK, other initiatives have prioritised leadership skills. Museums Galleries Scotland is establishing regional learning sets in leadership development and upskilling as part of its 10-year strategy, while Creative Scotland and Creative & Cultural Skills are continuing to run the Future Leaders Programme, which aims to identify and train emerging leaders in Scotland’s creative and cultural sectors.

The Leading Learning Programme, run by the National Leisure and Culture Forum, is open to senior managers and officers across the UK who work for or with local authorities. The Clore Leadership Programme is in its 11th year and has just recruited 28 new fellows from the cultural sector.

The British Museum is developing a UK-wide knowledge-sharing initiative, Fresh Leads, which aims to invest in individuals from a range of museums to allow them to develop ambitious ideas into tangible projects.

Some programmes are more specifically tailored, such as the Women’s Leaders Initiative for senior public-sector employees in Northern Ireland and the UK-wide Women Leaders in Museums, which offers an informal support network for higher level women.

All levels of the museum workforce have taken a battering recently but, as Churcher puts it, “the opportunities are still there if you look for them”.