Essential Qualities of a Leader in the Current Landscape

By: Capt. Jaspreet Singh Puri, Dec 2023 


The maritime industry is evolving, demanding a shift in leadership perspectives. Leaders, both at sea and on land, must engage in self-reflection and commit to personal growth.  

This paper examines the needs of the younger generation, what expectations they have from their leaders, and how can they grow and thrive in the fast-paced world. It also examines the challenges that are faced by today’s leaders, their stand on the need for people skills and their own development to cope with the changing times. 

Interviews were conducted with top officers and Junior crew members for this paper, data from other articles and papers were also included. 

The paper concludes the need for today’s leader to have a Growth Mindset and evolve towards being a people leader and not just a technical leader. It also throws light into steps being taken by companies to assist the leaders in achieving the right balance when it comes to dealing with multicultural crew on board. 


A decade ago, maritime vessels had larger crews (up to 30 members), longer port stays, and limited internet access. Crew members spent more time together, fostering camaraderie, entailing that the leaders could focus on duties and vessel standards. 

Contrastingly, maritime crews are now smaller with safe manning practices, shorter port stays, and widespread internet access. This shift creates a social divide among crew members, prompting leaders to take a hands-on approach in uniting the team for safety, efficiency, and environmental responsibility. 

The leaders also face a challenge in the form of changing mindsets and the attitudes of the younger generation, which sometimes can be attributed to changing parenting styles and the availability of more career options. 

As indicated in a study by Flin et al. (2008) the leaders onboard are at the sharp end of an organization which means they are the interface between the ship and shore and are sometimes stuck in a limbo when the equilibrium on either side is disrupted. Let us now shift the focus to the sharp end and have an insight into what are their thoughts. 



Interviews were conducted with the Top4 officers comprising of various nationalities, varied experience and ranks, the interview focused on the following: 

  1. The changes they have seen over the ages in the quality of life at sea. 
  2. How the younger generation of Junior officers are compared to when they were in those shoes.
  3. The need for people skills (People skills, also known as interpersonal skills or soft skills, refer to the ability to interact effectively and harmoniously with others. These skills are crucial in various personal and professional settings and involve how individuals communicate, collaborate, and navigate social situations) on board.  

The results are summarised below: 

a) Quality of Life at Sea and the Younger Generation 

  1. Many leaders feel that life at sea has become very fast-paced and more monotonous than before, pointing out the lack of shore leaves due to shortened port stays, and increased communication from the shore organisation which sometimes comes across to be micro/remote managing and that there seems to be a reduction in faith/trust in the leaders on board.
  2. The present leaders feel that the juniors who are coming on board are lacking the technical abilities (sometimes even the basic knowledge is not there) that they are expected to have, which in some cases was due to lack of passion or the willingness to learn.
  3. Some leaders observe a deficiency in discipline, humbleness, and gratitude among juniors. Many are solely focused on swift promotions and financial gains, completing contracts as a means to an end. Conversely, others exhibit competence, enthusiasm, assertiveness, and a keen awareness of their mental health. 
  4. The focus has shifted from thriving and facing the tough life at sea and looking for opportunities with less pressure. 

b) Need for People Skills 

  1. Almost all leaders agreed that People skills are more important and necessary to have a good working environment on board. 
  2. They were also of the opinion that people skills are the base of a good leader, whereas technical skill and knowledge can be acquired by practice and learning over time whereas people skills are hard to obtain and develop if not started at an early stage.
  3. The leaders voiced out that people skills helped them establish a good psychologically safe and trustful environment on board which led to a productive and efficient working environment. 
  4. Many agreed that the synchronisation of Top4 was crucial for a well-performing team, meaning that if the Top4 were in harmony the whole vessel would follow suit.  


Interviews were conducted with Junior officers with varied experience including Cadets of various nationalities. The focus of the interview was to gather their input on the following: 

  1. What do they look for in their leaders which would help them thrive and grow? 
  2. The need for People skills onboard. 

The results are summarised below 

a) The Leader Type  

  1. Many officers highlighted the qualities that they look for in their leaders which can help them thrive and grow
  2. The leader should be calm and balanced in his approach.
  3. They should be like a mentor and a friend on board so that people can approach them without fear.
  4. They should be fair in their treatment and should not be biased toward a particular group of people.
  5. The leaders should lead by example and take the initiative to have a healthy, trustworthy, and psychologically safe environment on board. 

b) Need for People skills. 

  1. Much like their leaders, the junior members also echoed the sentiment that they desire their leaders to have fundamental interpersonal skills.
  2. They associated good leadership skills with the ability to provide and maintain good harmony among people onboard. 
  3. The juniors also said that the atmosphere set by Top4 generally guides the trend onboard on how people treat each other.
  4. Many said that it is a home away from home and felt that caring and tolerance are the keys to a thriving environment on board. 


The Shipping industry recognised the need for non-technical skills in the crew was identified following several accidents in which human factors were identified as the main cause (Grech et al. 2008). In response, from January 2017, maritime legislation (STCW 2011) requires all ship’s officers to undergo leadership and teamwork training and demonstrate knowledge of bridge and engine room resource management principles (BRM & ERM) to be certified or to renew their certificates. The STCW (2011: 101 and 143) states that this knowledge must include: the allocation, assignment, and prioritization of resources, effective communication, assertiveness, and leadership, obtaining and maintaining situational awareness and consideration of the team’s experience. 

Weick (2001) also demonstrates, in his analysis of the Mann Gulch disaster, the importance of operational leadership in building a resilient organization, and he points to factors such as wisdom, role system, respectful interaction and the ability to improvise. 

Hence for a leader to have a successful team, a safe and productive environment onboard the below is necessary. 

  1. Being polite and treating everyone with respect. 
  2. Be technically sound as this forms the basis of being a good leader. 
  3. Be a part of the team and be present. An officer who seldom or never participates in the work, or who is reluctant to state his opinion or correct dangerous acts, is not welcome to the crew and would fit the description of a laissez-faire leader put forward by Bass and Riggio (2006). 
  4. Be a role model and a mentor, someone who people look up to and want to be like. 
  5. Have good communication skills such as passing clear and concise instructions and actively listening to what others have to say. 
  6. Showing empathy towards people and trying to understand their needs, feelings and perspectives. 
  7. Should be flexible and show adaptability in the face of change. 
  8. Showing trust in the team and allowing them to grow and learn from mistakes. 
  9. Providing guidance and support for the overall development of the crew.  
  10. Be resilient, showing composure and positivity when faced with challenges. 
  11. Be ever ready to learn more and have a growth mindset.  
  12. Be proactive in handling and addressing challenges. 

We at Maersk Training take the term “non-technical Crew Resource Management” which is defined as “the cognitive, social and personal resource skills that complement technical skills, and contribute to safe and efficient task performance” (Flin et al. 2008:1), very seriously and are working in equipping the leaders on board with tools to handle various situations, be it a day-to-day scenario or a challenging situation, we readily work with the leaders onboard.  

One such program we are running is LEADING AS ONE for MAERSK A/S and majority of leaders see the meaning and the purpose of having such a program, they feel empowered and better equipped to handle the situations they might encounter while at sea. 




Flin, R., O’Connor, P. & Crichton, M. 2008. Safety at the sharp end. A guide to non-technical skills. Aldershot: Ashgate. 

STCW. 2011. International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers. Including 2010 Manila Amendments. London: IMO. 

Bass, B.M. & Riggio, R.E. 2006. Transformational leadership. East Sussex: Psychology Press. 

Grech, M.R., Horberry, T.J. & Koester, T. 2008. Human factors in the maritime domain. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 

Weick, K.E. 2001. The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster. In Weick, K.E. (ed.) Making sense of the organization, pp. 100-125.  

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