Professional Managers’ Conference highlights


On 12-13 December, the Chartered ABS hosted its largest ever gathering of Professional Services staff at the Professional Managers’ Annual Conference at Cardiff Business School. The conference comes at a time in which Professional Services staff are facing challenging circumstances within the current changing higher education environment. With over 45 UK business schools represented by over 100 delegates, the main conference theme ‘The structural and organisational implications of change’ was fully explored through expansive discussion and debate.

Professor Martin Kitchener, Dean of Cardiff Business School, opened the conference by highlighting the need for business schools to “embed a moral obligation to improve social and economic conditions” in their missions, and explained how delivering ‘public value’ is central to the work of professional and academic staff at Cardiff Business School. He expressed gratitude for the contribution of Professional Managers in supporting business schools to deliver value to local and regional economies, something which was highlighted earlier this year in a Chartered ABS report.

There were three excellent keynote addresses over the two days, including Robin Geller, Registrar at the University of Bristol who focused on the new and major challenges in the HE environment such as, the globalisation of HE, increasing political uncertainty and the increase in student expectations. These challenges require Professional Managers to adopt new approaches and ways of thinking. She warned, through a visually stimulating analogy of ships and storms, that “stormy seas lie ahead” for Professional Services staff within UK business schools, particularly after the recent fall in the UK global market share in comparison to the rise in Canada (11%), the US (10%) and Australia (8%). She suggested that the sector would become more open and diverse with new providers entering the market.


Tom Robinson, President and CEO at AACSB International, reiterated Martin’s sentiments that social value should be integral to business and management education and research. He went onto propose a greater tie between academe and practice and called for “more cross-disciplinary research” to enable business schools to fulfil their role as “enablers of global prosperity and catalysts for innovation”.


Kim Frost, Director of HR at the University of London, gave a highly engaging keynote address on the leadership and management skills needed for successful managers. “Optimism, self-awareness and emotional intelligence are key characteristics for a great leader”, he stated. Stress management, a work-life balance and being approachable were other key areas that, in his opinion, are crucial in succeeding as a manager. He mentioned ‘Wellbeing Week’ at the University of London as a good example of promoting personal happiness and health, both inside and outside of the workplace.

An excellent panel discussion on day one, led by members of the Professional Managers’ Steering Committee (PMSC), focused on the pros and cons of centralisation and how knowledge sharing and performance are affected by organisational structures.

Throughout the conference, delegates had the opportunity to engage in in-depth discussion and activities in smaller breakout sessions.  In a session on ‘Students as consumers’, Jim Dickinson, Chief Executive of Union of UEA Students, explored how to address the expectations that millennials/generation Y and Z have when it comes to the world of business. A case study showed that the top priority for millennials when looking for work was “innovation and creativity” in the organisational culture.

Meanwhile, executive coach Rachel Holmes, addressed the challenges faced in managing up, down and across in our complex environments, and emphasised the importance of never making assumptions in professional relationships and interactions. Other sessions included: addressing the gap between Professional Services staff and academic colleagues to deliver better student outcomes; and looking at the real value-add of qualitative accreditations. Unfortunately, it is not possible to give a detailed report on all breakout sessions but the feedback from participants has been excellent and we are very grateful to all of our speakers.

The PMSC took the opportunity of the conference to introduce a new tool called the Professional Development Matrix and invited the community to use it for internal staff development and performance reviews, as well as submitting case studies on its different aspects. Dr Andy Earwaker, Faculty Manager at Portsmouth Business School and Andrew Glanfield, Director of Administration at Cardiff Business School, provided a conference summation and a look at what lies ahead in terms of challenges and opportunities.

This was a highly productive two days which allowed the Professional Services community the space needed for reflection, sharing best practice and developing new networks.

We are grateful to all that were involved in PMAC 2016 and we look forward to seeing you at next year’s conference. Register your interest here.