Director of the Year Awards 2018 – Dr Julian Skyrme, director of social responsibility, University of Manchester

Julian Skyrme - Director of the Year Awards

Every day over the Christmas period, we’ll speak to winners from the recent IoD Director of the Year Awards. Today it’s Dr Julian Skyrme, director of social responsibility at the University of Manchester, who won the Corporate Social Responsibility award in partnership with Iosh

‘Be yourself, rather than an image of what you think leadership should be’

The University of Manchester is a trailblazer among British higher education establishments, in that social responsibility is one of its main strategic goals. It aims to ensure that all of its activities benefit society. Skyrme, a former sixth-form college teacher who earned a doctorate in education from Manchester in 2014, has overseen a broad range of activities aimed at making the university more accessible, working on aspects such as school liaison, bursary provision and ensuring fairness in its admissions process.

How would you describe your leadership style? “Authenticity and integrity are important to me. This means being yourself, rather than an image of what you think leadership should be. It also means always aiming to be as honest as you can with colleagues about both the opportunities and the challenges ahead.”

What’s been the most pivotal moment in your business journey so far? “When the University of Manchester decided to merge with another neighbouring institution [UMIST] – this led to an explosion of energy, creativity and ambition.”

What has inspired you most in business? “Over the past year I have been inspired by the hundreds of leaders of  big organisations across the public, private and third sectors who have had the vision to sign the ‘We are still in’ pledge in defiance of Donald Trump’s decision to end the US’s commitment to the Paris agreement on climate change.”

What’s been your biggest career challenge? “I’ve never found the answer to balancing a demanding role – which has a lot of evening, weekend and travel commitments – with being an involved parent to two young children. I’m lucky to have a job that’s genuinely interesting and a family that understands some of the compromises I need to make at times.”

Where do you get your best ideas from? “I would love to say that I discover all these myself whilst on a planned creative retreat, but the reality is that the best ideas tend to come from looking around at what other people do – often in different sectors – and asking how this could be applied or developed in my own context. And thinking ideas and possibilities through in groups/teams is almost always preferable to doing it yourself.”

What’s the essence of great leadership? “First, it’s about being able to tell a compelling story – engaging people in this is an art. Second, it’s about being human. Great leaders recognise that success is important, but also that this shouldn’t come ‘at any cost’. Decisions need to be balanced against factors that always have human consequences.”


Bev Messinger, CEO of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (Iosh), said: “Iosh was proud to be a partner of the 2018 Director of the Year Awards because they’re an excellent demonstration of good leadership – of directors shaping a more responsible, sustainable world of work, with the wellbeing of their people at its core. Congratulations to Julian and all of the finalists and winners on the night. It really was a memorable evening.”

Entries are now open for the 2019 IoD Director of the Year Awards – click here for more info and to nominate

Click here for more winners’ interviews

About author

Director magazine

Director magazine

Director is the magazine for business leaders. Free to IoD members and available to purchase through subscription, each edition is full of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs and company directors.

No comments

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.


Sun-kissed St Lucia

Revitalise body and soul at this stylish spa on sun-kissed St Lucia As the weather turns distinctly nippier, it’s sadly all-too often the cue for our ...