Veterinary leaders ‘Knowledge Gap’ highlighted in new VMG research

New research from the Veterinary Management Group (VMG) highlights that more than a third (34%) of current veterinary leaders believe their level of leadership knowledge and skills to be ‘basic’.  The figure rises to 92% among those describing themselves as ‘starting or aspiring’ to leadership roles.  Only 1% described their current level of knowledge as ‘excellent’.

The research is based on 413 responses to a self -assessment tool that accompanies the VMG’s Veterinary Leadership Standards Framework.  The responses have been analysed to create the VMG’s first annual report on ‘The State of UK Veterinary Leadership’. The findings were presented during this year’s VMG Congress then discussed during a panel session.

While marking themselves down in terms of their leadership knowledge and skills, respondents scored themselves highly in terms of their adherence to professional values.  98%-100% stated that they frequently (‘always’ or ‘most of the time’) promoted the professional values cited in the tool.  These include ‘maintaining principles of honesty and integrity’; ‘taking pride in high standards of professional competence’ and ‘committing to continuous improvement’. ‘Championing diversity’ was the professional value receiving the lowest response with 81% confirming that they did this frequently.

Developing themselves and others is a key element of effective veterinary leadership.  When responding to questions about developing themselves, 66% said that they actively sought feedback on their performance but fewer than half (48%) felt they had a plan for the next stage of their career and only 37% agreed that they contributed to advancing the field of veterinary leadership in their daily work.

When asked about their responsibility for developing others, respondents expressed most confidence in handling issues around mental health and wellbeing with half (50%) agreeing that they ‘generally’ follow standards set out in this area and that they actively promote interprofessional working.  However, they were much less likely to utilise theoretical approaches, including using theories of team building and development (agreed with by 27%), knowing how to support remote or dispersed teams (17%) or conducting a skills gap analysis (14%).  Only 10% said they ‘definitely’ had a succession plan in place.

Aspects of business planning and strategy were least well understood by respondents.  Four recommended topics in this category (different strategic planning models, how to identify collaborative partners, corporate social responsibility and how to assess financial performance) received the largest number of respondents reporting that they did not understand them. Only 31% said they understood how to set goals and evaluate success; fewer than a quarter (24%) knew how to assess financial performance; how to set an organisational vision and mission; how to determine organisation values or carry out a significant event audit.  Only 8% had any knowledge of different strategic planning models.

Commenting, Liz Somerville, the new VMG President, explained: “We’re delighted to share this new research which we will repeat annually in order to create a benchmark of progress in leadership in the veterinary sector.  There are, of course, some concerning findings, including that the level of leadership skills among many of those already working in these roles is not yet where it should be.

“There is also encouraging news, including the positive findings around mental health support. We’ve been doing a great deal of work in this area through our collaboration with the RCVS on its Mind Matters initiative and its support for the Mental Health module in the VMG Certificate of Veterinary Leadership and Management.”

She continued: “Our leaders, of course, need the requisite knowledge and experience to fulfil their roles effectively and we’re determined to work with our colleagues right across the veterinary sector to address the problems we’ve highlighted, to help them develop the skills they need and to deliver a transformation in standards of veterinary leadership over the next five years.  If we can do this, it will help our fantastic profession to withstand the turbulent times we face and to work towards a more rewarding and sustainable future for everyone working in the sector.”

The VMG Leadership Standards Framework is an evidence-based summary of the three domains required for effective leadership – Professional Values, Behaviours and Practices and Knowledge and Skills.  Respondents are asked to benchmark their performance against a set of criteria in each of these domains.

Download your copy of the research report – The State of Veterinary Leadership in the UK.

Find out more about the report and contribute to next year’s findings by completing the self-assessment questionnaire here.

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