Headshot of Susan Goodwin
 “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
Alice Walker, American Novelist and Activist.
This is the first in a series of blogs exploring the creation and development of our Leadership programme for learning and engagement professionals in the Arts and Cultural Sector.  Read the 2nd blog here.  


In 2015 Arts Connect was developing a new sector offer and we wanted to ensure that the programme we planned to develop for learning and engagement professionals was suited to their needs. For six months in 2015 as Arts Connect’s Associate Director, Cultural Sector Partnerships, I conducted a needs analysis survey of arts and cultural organisations in the National Portfolio and other organisations in the West Midlands for whom learning and engagement was at the core of their activities. Personally visiting forty-five organisations across the West Midlands, I met with the Directors and Heads of Learning and Engagement Departments to carry out two-hour long interviews. The results of our survey highlighted that arts and culture learning and engagement professionals faced significant leadership challenges. This group of professionals were found to be responsible for:

  • Their organisation’s ‘public relations’ as they work with schools, families and communities – often working with the most vulnerable communities, making a significant contribution to their health and well-being.
  • Earning income from their programmes which often has a significant impact on the organisation’s financial viability.
  • Delivery of educational and charitable activities which secure the charitable status of the organisation.
  • Managing the impact of organisational change in their teams and in senior management teams.

Our survey also showed that learning and engagement professionals were delivering all of the above with little or no leadership development support.

Learning and engagement teams within arts and cultural organisations occupy a spectrum, on the one hand where their work is fully integrated into the main purpose of the organisation, or to where it can be seen as marginal or anywhere in between. Our survey showed that there was a strong need and desire for these teams to have greater influence within their organisations and the wider sector.

Building confidence and the skills to influence became a key to supporting learning and engagement teams in maximising their impact and potential. Additionally, it was identified that a bespoke development programme was required for learning and engagement professionals because they are often overlooked in the competition for the few high cost leadership programmes available in the cultural sector.

Creating a leadership programme around the theme of leading through influence became a priority for the Arts Connect team as it would respond directly to the many challenges facing learning and engagement professionals.


Blogs by:  Susan Goodwin:  Associate Director of Culture at Arts Connect, West Midlands ( in partnership with Munira Thobani: Leadership Development & Organisational Change Consultant and Executive Coach.)


Find out more
If you are interested in joining our 2018 cohort you will find more details of this programme here.