HomeNewsLeadership and Leader Development Sustaining Engagement Change Agents Through Icm

Leadership and leader development: sustaining the engagement of change agents through ICM

Ensuring that development is sustainable is a key goal for coastal and ocean governance, and one that brings challenge and complexity. Many governments believe that to be able to institute reforms, sustainability programs must engage changes in the governance systems and leadership. With this, the past few decades of PEMSEA's work have been focused on how to improve and manage governance processes and institutional structures. However, the major contributions made by leaders, managers and change agents are oftentimes overlooked during analysis of these processes and structures. The significant role of such people in programs, such as integrated coastal management (ICM), has been treated as a given and has thus gone under-analyzed, despite always being described as key to successful ICM programs.

There is a need to improve leadership in sustainable development programs that evolves with the changing understanding of the challenges and dynamics of integrated coastal and ocean governance. Brown (2011) states that the “intersection of sustainability with individual (as opposed to organizational) leadership is not well known.” Doppelt (2010) argues that part of the reason why we seemingly cannot address our ecological problems is that “too much attention is placed on new technologies and policy instruments for sustainability. There has been insufficient focus on how to change internal thought processes, assumptions and behaviors to adapt to such tools and techniques.”  More than just skills, tools and processes, Senge (1991) coined the term “personal mastery” as part and parcel of effective systems leaders.

It is difficult to determine how today’s “sustainability individuals” must think and act, and what skill set they must have. Nonetheless, knowing these competencies will have significant implications on how leadership in an ICM program can be performed by an individual or a group. Promoting integrative and collaborative approaches in the complex matter of sustainable development will prove fruitful as the necessary skill sets are further understood and developed.

The recently published Local Contributions to Global Sustainable Development Agenda: Case Studies in Integrated Coastal Management in the East Asian Seas Region contains ICM case studies spanning 25 years, showing how ICM can benefit coastal and marine areas. These case studies contribute to unpacking a set of skills that helped ICM change agents navigate collaborative and integrative governance to promote healthy and resilient coastal communities and the development of a blue economy.

[Read more about these cases by clicking on their authors. All case studies are accessible from this page].

Leadership tasks

PEMSEA utilizes two important methodological frameworks: (1) the Framework for Sustainable Development of Coastal Areas (SDCA) and (2) the ICM Cycle. Both serve as a conceptual map and an analytical/decision-making tool—and thus a learning tool—that enables ICM to be operationalized and institutionalized in target sites (Chua and Bonga; Bermas and Chua).

Critically, in addition to serving as useful tools, these frameworks direct users’ attention to processes and relational strategies, and aid in generating outputs and outcomes from the visioning, planning, and implementation needed for integrative and collaborative governance. When adopted as an iterative, cyclical mechanism, they are significant in building institutional capacity. At an individual level, they contribute to a person’s capacity to becoming an effective leader.

PEMSEA designed its leader development through a learning-by-doing strategy (Factuar; Chua and Bonga). The tenet is “learning as an objective of doing” (Garaway and Arthur, 2004), and learning through iteration. Lombardo and Eichinger (2000), echoing a similar strategy, created their “10:20:70 rule of leadership development”, suggesting approximately 10% of development typically occurs via structured training; 20% comes from feedback from others; and 70% originates from on-the-job experience.

Tandem leadership

ICM in PEMSEA sites are local government-led, but leadership is championed in tandem: one, coming from the local executives who are loci of leadership (e.g., mayors or governors); the other from project champions or the managers within a Project Management Office (PMO).

Executive champions are enablers who can speed up actions and even catalyze changes in social behavior. For example, a case study from Chonburi, Thailand, concluded that capable and well-exposed local leadership (in this case, their mayors) can mobilize resources and strengthen collective efforts in addressing local economic, social, and environmental concerns (Wiwekwin and Barnette).

On the other hand, project champions are facilitators. A PMO can be considered as the workhorse—the heart, even—of a functioning ICM system. It is the main hub for coordination and integration and could harmonize a local government’s operations. At the forefront of day-to-day operations, and the “gatekeeper” of the proper implementation and maintenance of the ICM system, the designated PMO head and deputies (usually from an environment, ocean and fisheries, or planning division) are the default managers of ICM systems (Cardinal, Padayao, and Bonga).

Leadership engagement

The leadership development process is strongly affected by the context of a particular site and time period, which will have an array of intervening ecological and societal factors. Most experts agree that the capabilities and characteristics of key individuals are highly likely to have an impact on governance outcomes (Bodin and Crona 2008; Krishna 2002; Westley et al 2013) but Crona et al, (2017) emphasized that the key individual characteristics operating in collaborative and integrative mechanisms can be context dependent.

A common narrative reinforced during the conduct of PEMSEA’s Level 1 ICM system certification audit was the improvement of each manager through their years of implementing ICM systems. Given varying personalities and levels of skill, each manager articulated how they navigated through varied local conditions (Cardinal, Padayao, Bonga): with a direct line to a local chief executive, one became more facilitative; given constant conflicts to resolve, the skills of another manager in political brokerage, relationship building, and collaboration improved; another experienced limitations with a limited staff, and thus was forced to bolster his administrative skills; yet another applied the knowledge acquired through training and collaboration with different partners to discover a new perspectives and reframe issues facing coastal areas.

Yet another case revealed a confluence of the willingness of traditional village leadership and the support from local and national governments to sustainably manage the Yeh Gangga Beach in Bali, Indonesia, under an ICM system (Sudiarta). Here, the traditional village is a local institution with strong, respected and trusted leadership structure committed to protecting the coastal environment based on a strong traditional culture and values. A community leader, known as a motivator, appointed by the traditional village, was able to communicate with other stakeholders, mediating and negotiating decisions and encouraging participation from the wider community.

Novel leadership challenges

PEMSEA country partners have committed to scaling up their ICM programs across regions and administrative boundaries that include river basins. This will encounter numerous barriers–legal pluralism; different types of actors, knowledge, values, and behaviors; leadership styles; sources of power—that must be carefully negotiated. It thus presents leaders, managers, and change agents with new leadership challenges.

A case study in integrating river basin management with ICM in Xiamen/Jiulong River highlighted the challenges of transboundary implementation as a consequence of different actors and administrative units beyond the usual “ICM actors” (Rafael).  A daunting landscape presents opportunities to innovate through multi-disciplined tasks, multi-administrative boundaries, varied teams, and many leaders. The present partnership networks are bound to be disrupted (Chua and Bonga), which makes this an opportune time to ask: What kind of “breed” of sustainability leaders are needed to face upcoming challenges?

Way forward

PEMSEA’s contribution in the creation of change agents and leaders in integrated coastal governance is becoming very evident. Its published case studies, when reframed through the lens of leader/leadership development and using it as a unit of analysis, added depth to integrated and collaborative governance narratives.

Experiences have shown that leaders need both transactional and transformational competencies to steer their actions under varied situations. The need for transactional competencies is imposed largely by the existing bureaucracy/institutional structure in operation, and partly by the ICM system a local government committed to implement. Under these conditions, leaders need strong coordination skills to efficiently manage activities agreed upon by actors and stakeholders.

In turn, leaders that have become adept at transactional competencies are expected to navigate with ease through more complex situations, calling for transformational competencies. This is especially true in conditions when leaders are asked to balance varied relationships and interactions, partnerships and leverages, and power struggles in the context of scaling up ocean and coastal governance. An ability to instil strong cooperation is now needed to underpin cooperative programs in anticipation of additional risks, larger coverage areas, and stakeholders with different priorities and agendas.

To further leadership development dealing with the challenging situations of coastal and ocean management in East Asia, PEMSEA recently developed the ICM Manager Certification. This is envisaged not only to recognize excellent ICM professionals, but also to underscore the importance in sustaining a high standard of competence, professional growth, and ethical conduct in leaders involved in the practice of integrated coastal and ocean governance. Watch this space for more stories on the evolution of ICM leadership in the coming years.