Traits in KE leadership


I have celebrated International Women’s Day for as long as I have worked in higher education, a period in which I have also been led by truly inspirational women at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. 


As always, Knowledge Exchange is never far from my mind, particularly as we have just completed our Praxis Auril Foundations of Knowledge Exchange course for 2021 (and the first one online). Through this programme, we work with those who are newer to Knowledge Exchange and discuss not only the national and university KE landscape, but also delegates’ own roles, skills and aspirations.

In Lockdown 3.0 I have also been watching (rather late to the party, I know) The Crown, and reflecting on its portrayal of women in leadership. I have been entranced by the meetings between Olivia Colman and Gillian Anderson as the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. Hair aside (which in itself could warrant several hundred words) this is of course a seismic shift in UK politics but has also been frequently used to discuss the tropes of leadership, and the perceived polarity between male and female traits – hardness and compassion, control and co-operation, autocracy and democracy. 

This emphasis on seemingly opposing traits struck me in terms of Knowledge Exchange. While discussing the skills of a KE professional, we explore the challenges of KE entrepreneurship, while working in a large, significantly managed and sometimes unwieldy organisation. Being a change agent for new, unprecedented and exciting projects also requires significant powers of persuasion and (we hope) charm to get things done. All while tackling a large stakeholder network of key internal and external relationships, flexing our approach and focus for each audience. But we are often reluctant to recognise our role in these projects, and to take the credit for creating excellent, impactful Knowledge Exchange. So it seems, KE is a true mix of leadership traits and skills. 

In Foundations of Knowledge Exchange, we also discuss risk; mitigating, managing, and accepting, while recognising that Knowledge Exchange projects are generally risky and uncertain to a degree. They are of course new and so require our individual belief that things can work, and also collegiate leadership to push things forward – innovation. Indeed this novelty is often why we go to work (to the next room) in the morning. I think that all of us should acknowledge of this joint skill of individual and group leadership in KE. 

There is certainly leadership in any Knowledge Exchange role, and a real hybrid of traditional male and female leadership traits, while all the while taking on board risk, made worth it by the really fun bits, of which there are many. And we should all be prouder of this – I will certainly attempt to be on International Women’s Day, as I definitely know strong women, attempt to be one, and also to raise one!

Jennie Shorley
Head of Engaged Scholarship, Manchester Metropolitan University & PraxisAuril Board Member

Written in celebration of International Women's Day 2021 for the PraxisAuril blog series - Women in Innovation