Meet the Team – Dr Dave Johnson

Dr Dave Johnson

Over the coming months, our Team Spotlight series is profiling different teams in the faculty. This edition sees us focus on the Faculty Leadership Team’s Dr Dave Johnson (head of department of allied health professions) discusses his varied career . . . and his favourite film!

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I am a social worker by profession and have worked in the statutory, private and voluntary sector. After graduating I worked in a local authority for a number of years before becoming a service manager for looked-after children. However, I found myself frustrated with the slow bureaucratic ways of local government. Fortunately, I was approached by a private sector organisation with a promise of more freedom to develop services. I jumped at the chance. Within a few weeks of being in my new role, a venture capitalist-backed management buyout took place. The brief was to develop services quickly. Working in the private sector didn’t really trouble me as I had been promised whatever resources I needed to ensure that we provided excellent care for our children. And so in the first few years they kept their promise and I developed many new services: I started a fostering agency and set up a vocationally based school. I also opened a number of new homes. The business model was, however, a little short-sighted and although our services certainly expanded, our customer base didn’t.

What happened next?

I soon found myself leading one of the group’s companies in Wales, another one in Devon and was responsible for operations in the North East of England. I really felt I was making a difference to the lives of our most vulnerable children. I was working really hard and loving what I did. But the financial pressure continued. My values and the values of the CEO began to differ significantly. I became disaffected with the emerging values of the organisation and with continuing disagreements with the CEO. I decided I had to leave.

You mentioned a conflict of values . . .

I’d realised how important values are in leadership – or at least in my leadership. I could have continued managing the services I was responsible for – I had already committed so much time and energy to the role – but I no longer had the heart or the passion for it. Fundamentally, without the right values there just didn’t seem to be any point.

So what brought you to Sheffield Hallam?

I applied for a job working in the Centre for Leadership at Sheffield Hallam. The role involved teaching leadership to health and social care professionals. A fabulous opportunity. But I soon realised (and was told) that although I had practical experience I didn’t have academic credibility. I had, in effect, embarked on a new career. I therefore completed a masters in educational leadership before continuing straight into doing my doctorate. This was a study that sought to identify what leaders in health and social work organisations needed if they were to be effective in a future complex and integrated world.

By this point, did you feel ready to take on the challenge of a new career?

I certainly believed I’d served my academic apprenticeship. Though I also began to feel that perhaps I’d achieved academic credibility but my practice experience was getting a little dated. I felt I needed to do the things that I’d talked about in my doctorate. An opportunity came up within the Social Work, Social Care and Community Studies Department and I was very lucky to be offered a leadership role. With great support from great colleagues I felt  I was again making a difference.

And have you enjoyed your time so far at Sheffield Hallam?

The colleagues I have worked alongside at Sheffield Hallam are fantastic. We might occasionally have disagreements and do things differently, but overall, we should be really proud of the work we do. We’re creative and imaginative, and we can solve most problems.

Are there any important lessons that you’ve learnt?

Whilst all organisations need their processes to function, I’ve learnt through experience that these necessary functions must not get in our way. Otherwise we risk becoming frustrated and bogged down in bureaucracy. I hope by working together we can come up with the solutions to so many of our problems. In my role, I ask that you embrace this attitude when working with colleagues across the University. We can make a tremendous difference. I ask that we raise ourselves up and embrace the challenges that we face together with openness, honesty and integrity. It will not always go as we want it to, but our chances of succeeding are greatly increased by working together!

And a couple of fun facts . . .

Favourite film – I like a George Clooney film called The Perfect Storm. George is a fishing boat captain that has to battle many adversaries before he is finally confronted with the perfect storm. I am from Grimsby and my grandfathers were both fisherman, whilst my father was in the Royal Navy, so perhaps the sea is in my blood. I can relate to the many difficulties that George faces and overcomes; unfortunately things don’t go well for George in the end and I certainly don’t want to go down with the ship. But battling adversity and challenge seems a great reflection on our world.

One thing you might not know about me – After 9 years in the Royal Air Force as an engineer (again frustrated by powerlessness and bureaucracy) I left and set up a business selling fish; well I am from Grimsby. The business did ok but oh the smell!



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