John Rafferty CMgr MCMI, reflects on his leadership journey with CDN.

Throughout my career I’ve always maintained some form of continuous learning, however I found that the busier I became, and the more my career developed, the less time I seemed to have to do any pieces of ‘deep learning’ which went beyond a one or two day course. I therefore chose the CMI Certificate in Strategic Leadership and Management, delivered by CDN, which struck a nice balance between being substantial enough to be meaningful yet flexible enough to fit in amongst my other commitments as an Assistant Principal at Glasgow Clyde College and as someone with a family.
The CMI suite of qualifications was a good solution for me for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they can be completed mostly online with a minimum amount of time taken out of work. Secondly, they can be undertaken at a variety of SCQF levels – from 7 and 8 up to postgraduate level at SCQF 11. Also, they don’t break the bank either for yourself or your employer and most colleges will cover the full cost. Another great feature is that they have a number of exit points – finish one unit and you get the CMI Award, 2 or 3 gets you the CMI Certificate, 5 the CMI Diploma.
Surprisingly, returning to formal study after a long break was actually less challenging than I expected. This was because there are far more resources available at your fingertips than has ever been the case. When I completed my first degree, 25 years ago, significant amounts of time were spent on simply locating books and obscure journals, taking notes by hand and meticulously recording citations. Today there is an infinite number of websites and online libraries, not to mention resources specific to this qualification provided by CMI and CDN. Moreover, keeping track of bibliography and referencing is now a standard feature of most word processing packages, so that was no longer a headache. All the research and writing I needed to do could be completed from the comfort of my own home on Sunday afternoons.
The CMI suite of qualifications has a number of exit points – finish one unit and you get the CMI Award, 2 or 3 gets you the CMI Certificate, 5 the CMI Diploma.
Being introduced to Chartered Management Institute also turned out to be of significant value in itself. For example, during my course I was given the opportunity to attend the annual CMI conference in Edinburgh. I’ve attended numerous conferences over the years and found the CMI conference to be one of the most engaging. This is because it is a professional association of managers from every possible sector you can imagine; it is not focused upon any one sector in particular.
I attended talks and gained insights from managers and leaders from the worlds of banking, journalism,  property management, hospitality and countless others. I met people at every level too, from  CEOs to people in their first management position. This is a range of professionals that I wouldn’t normally meet at one event and whilst there I was treated as an equal with valuable knowledge and insights of my own. It is also widely recognised that true innovation – innovation that will bring about a step change in practice in your organisation – is more likely to come from observing sectors outside of your own.
It was after this that I started thinking seriously about aiming for Chartered Manager status. Achieving this would not only secure full CMI membership with access to their library of online journals and video resources for managers, but it would also test my capabilities as a reflective practitioner in the art and science of management. My previous academic qualifications, after all, mainly testified to my readiness for a teaching career I had long since moved on from, which is possibly a common feature of FE managers. I’d also studied management at postgraduate level before, but this was before I’d ever worked as a manager and it did not include the most recent developments in management research which I had to catch up on.
Successfully completing my CMI Postgraduate Certificate, which took about six months, was the first stage in this process as it refreshed and updated my knowledge of management theory and forced me to reflect on real situations through the lens of modern theories and tools. I then embarked on completing the written application for Chartered Manager, a task made infinitely easier having just completed the assessments for the CMI qualification.
Want an example of change management? An FE manager could give you five before breakfast.
Whilst exacting (at roughly 4,000 words) the chartered manager application is far from insurmountable for someone working as a manager in FE.  You are simply required to choose half a dozen key leadership and management competences and evidence your possession of them by writing a critical self reflection of real scenarios drawn from your recent working life.  Finding appropriate examples is not difficult in our sector because FE by its fast-paced nature is replete with situations demanding that your use a wide variety of skills: skills such as problem solving, negotiation, partnership working, communication, enterprise, mediation, coaching and others.  Want an example of change management? An FE manager could give you five before breakfast.
The final components of the process were an hour long telephone interview to discuss these and other situations in greater detail and a written testimony from my line manager to corroborate the authenticity of the achievements described. The assessment panel then considered all this evidence, along with my CV and copies of my other qualifications to reach a judgment, which in my case led to a successful outcome.
The current review of professional standards in both teaching and leadership in FE puts critical reflection and career planning and development at the top of the agenda. Interestingly, so too does the recently published 15-24 Learner Journey Review which requires us to instil these skills in our own students. It seems obvious that increasing the focus on career planning skills for students has to begin with getting better at these skills for ourselves, so that we might practice what we preach.
The CMI approach is in my view one way to do this; it’s an appropriately testing process but a fair one and one which leaves you with a much clearer sense of where you are as a manager. For me, it has left me with the clearest sense I have ever had in my career of what my strengths and weaknesses are and where I must go next with regards to career long professional learning.
John Rafferty is Assistant Principal – Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow Clyde College.
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