By Antonia Silvaggi
Co-founder and Head of SKills for Culture, Melting Pro Learning
Ludovica De Angelis
Co-founder Coordinator, Melting Pro Learning
An Italian case on developing soft skills for future cultural leaders in a Master’s Programme
This article describes the teaching experience of the module entitled “Developing skills and abilities for future cultural leaders: the importance of soft skills” delivered as part of the Master in Management of Artistic and Cultural Resources of IULM (Free University of Languages and Communication), an important University in Italy based in Milan, though this Master is located at the Rome offices. The module was delivered in January and February 2020, just before the outburst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The second edition is now being run online and in a hybrid blended format.
In 2019 we met with those responsible for the Masters who were concerned that the class was not engaging as a group. They observed that if the class worked together, they developed team working skills and had more chances of success afterwards. In addition, they wanted students to be more aware of their desired direction by choosing an internship in a more mindful way and to be more responsible for their own learning.
Drawing on our own experience we developed the module entitled “Thriving skills and abilities for future cultural leaders: the importance of soft skills”. This module is the outcome of our research and reflection as cultural professionals. We experimented the importance of it on ourselves by taking part in the Synapse workshop led by Adrian De La court and Sian Prime at Goldsmiths’ College, London, whose aim is to work with students to develop their potential.
The module aims to raise awareness of the importance of soft skills such as flexibility, adaptibility, creativity, empathy, active listening, emotional intelligence, resilience and risk-taking for students coming from the Humanities field. As a result to create a more collaborative environment and a sense of working in a team.
More importantly it aims to give them the tools to lead change in the cultural sector in Italy. In this article, we argue for the urgency to nurture soft skills development alongside the more analytical (hard) competencies such as those associated with strategy, finance and the planning processes in arts management programmes. Developing students’ soft skills could improve their chances of employability in a difficult job market such as that in Italy. Although there isn’t much agreement on what exactly constitutes these qualities or even what to call them ‘soft skills’ are nevertheless frequently recognised as necessary for the development of tomorrow’s managers (Klaus, et al 2007; Goleman 2004; Godin 2017). The sector as a whole can benefit from impact- oriented cultural leaders.
Setting the context
In Italy, a degree in Humanities used to be known as a “weak” degree (Fioredistella Iezzi, 2008) meaning that they offer fewer opportunities for students to get a job after graduation compared to a “strong” one, such as in technology or science (occupability). Over the years this thinking has shifted thanks to the publication of the celebrated book “Not for profit. Why Democracy needs Humanities”, by the philosopher Martha Nussbaum (2010). In Italy in particular, professionals working in the cultural sector are usually graduates in humanities; typically art history, literature, archaeology, philosophy or anthropology. Whilst they may have developed excellent and useful knowledge of culture, they typically lack managerial and business know-how, and in general soft skills, only eventually these skills are learnt on the job (SAVOROVSKAYA, 2020).
One of the reasons for the reform of the University system (D.M. 509/99, D.M. 270/04 and on) in Italy was to make a stronger connection between the University System and the evolving world of the job market, to help students acquire competences that the job market needed. Indeed, work experience was introduced as part of the curriculum in order to address this. Since our research in the European project Cream, that focused on the importance of encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset for students that wanted to work in the cultural sector, we have been asking ourselves: what are the skills, attitudes and values that will help today’s students to thrive in the cultural job market in Italy? There is much talk about a new kind of cultural leadership on the world stage, but at what point does this educational path of a future cultural leader need to consider these elements in Italy? This module is a way to answer our questions.
Structure of the module
“It helped me to think more deeply about my skills, something I never really did before”
We delivered the module in January and February 2020, as part of the Masters Programme in Management of Artistic and Cultural Resources, to 34 students from different faculties – Humanities, Arts, Political Sciences, Communication – coming from all over Italy.
The goal was to encourage students to analyse their skills and inclinations, to listen to others by creating a space of continuous discussion and open feedback. It raises self-confidence, responsibility and to recognize and seize opportunities when they arrive. It focused on allowing students to share their thoughts and ideas and to be actively engaged and share their opinions. As a result to create a more collaborative environment and a sense of working in a team.
The learning outcomes are:
- To be able to employ creative tools to respond to change
- To be able to demonstrate their relational, communication, listening and group work skills in a team context
- To be able to illustrate their values and ambitions in presenting their professional story
We take great care to develop a judgement-free safe environment amongst the group. The module is very practical, we use exercises to prompt students’ reflection on the importance of listening, leadership, creativity and impact.
The first workshop is delivered to kick off the Master and is aimed to allow students to know themselves in a creative and more friendly atmosphere.
The module is articulated in four workshops around the themes, where we use different exercises:
- Creating and consolidating the working group
- Developing self-management concerning the group
- Storytelling for leadership
- Action Planning – How to plan your future
So far in the online version we have using platforms such as Mentimeter, Mural, and padlet which have been helpful to change rhythm and get students acquainted with different tools, and breakout rooms.
Methodology for each workshop:
Each workshop starts with an ‘icebreaking’, linked to the main theme, an indispensable step to achieve the best results in terms of participation and active involvement. We group participants in pairs, or in larger groups (but not larger than 5 or 6) and always ask to share the one thing that was memorable, that resonated with them.
To facilitate the development of leadership skills, we use storytelling techniques as a reflexive practice, referring to the method of the American Storycenter at Berkeley. These techniques are useful to focus on each professional story, practice storytelling, learn to talk more effectively about themselves in a working environment and to be more aware of their emotions.
Here a list of some of the tools used:
- Reflecting on their own personal values and professional
This is a good tool to encourage the student to introduce themselves and give an insight into their background and ambitions. The questions below are recommended and are printed on an A5 card, or given into a form of digital card, to be given to the participants as a prompt, but you can alter or add to these questions if you need specific information.
- What is your name?
- Where are you from, and what is your background?
- What do you do?
- Why do you do this?
- Why are you here today?
- What do people say about the work that you do?
- What is your great ambition?
- What difference do you hope to make?
When used as a group exercise tool, participants are paired and asked to interview each other using the Valyous cards and to then introduce their partner (not themselves) to the group. It is always easier for a participant to answer a question, than give a general overview of themselves.
- Skills mapping
This modelling tool helps students in identifying their skills, attributes and competencies. This process helps them visualise and map out what they are good at. It is based on the idea that many of the skills people have are often latent and taken for granted. By articulating and mapping what they have done so far, they will become more aware of their skills and learn to prioritise them.
We make sure that words such as ‘talents’, ‘creative’, ‘confident’ and similar are challenged. We ensure that they keep this skills map for future use. It is a rewarding experience to be able to revisit this map at the end of the programme. It is a great way for them to be able to acknowledge their learning over the programme and affirming for their personal and professional development.
- Networking/stakeholder mapping
A visual, creative approach that help students understand the importance of relationships and networking. There are many versions of this tool. What we do is to ask students to draw a map of their relationships, the ones they already have and the ones they want to get in contact with in the future. It is a good tool to trigger conversations in the group.
- Creative tools to spark conversations such as storytelling exercises like
- What inspires you?
Ask students to describe a person, place, or book that inspired them the most in their life or career. What was the emotion that inspired you to choose a profession, change careers or go for a promotion?
- Make your mind up
Students are asked to write about a time in their lives when they made an important decision. They are free to describe it as they wish, but they are limited to exactly 50 words. This game fulfils two purposes. Primarily it looks at the theme of important decision making in life and the resulting feelings that were created. Secondly, it attempts to instil in them the value of tightly edited text.
Each student creates a list of 10 things they love and 10 things they hate (or even less depending on time) and they read these out to the others in the group. This is useful as the list may produce a topic for a potential story and allows us to explore the themes more fully.
- Evidence modelling
This exercise helps students to visualise the scale of their ambition, and the impact that they are aiming to make. Ask your students to draw the front page of a newspaper or magazine. The publication should be relevant to the industry – for example if the mentee is working with a theatre company or theatrical venue, then publications such as The Guardian or The Stage, etc.. The date on the publication must be in their future, and indicates the time period in which they hope to have achieved this success. It is a great inspirational tool.
As the recent pandemic has shown, it is imperative to provide future cultural managers with the right skillset to question management practices to offer better solutions for their future stakeholders, softs skills are an essential part of it. As Price (2017) mentions “Cultural leadership should ask questions of the purposes of what we want to pursue, and therefore of what structures are necessary for the future, rather than being limited to the questions of how we manage and maintain organisations we already have”. Since our establishment, we have been advocating for the importance of soft skills development in many European projects such as in ADESTE (2014), CONNECT (2019) and ADESTEPLUS (2020). We believe that it is urgent to review curricula in light of recent developments by enhancing soft skills/leadership development/emotional intelligence. There has never seen a more volatile and uncertain time than this; therefore, soft skills development is crucial.
We are certain that soft skills and leadership development should be part of the curriculum. It makes a difference during challenging times, as one student told us last year: “Out of necessity, hard skills sooner or later become something you can delegate but you cannot delegate your attitude. It is something important for the implementation of a project and involves relationship management.”
Questions for further discussion
- What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values will today’s students need to thrive in and shape their world?
- How can we include these topics earlier then in a Master Programme for students that want to become future cultural managers?
- Should soft skills development have their own course or be embedded?
- How can instructional systems develop these knowledge, skills, attitudes and values effectively?
Details of the University Master’s Degree Master’s & Executive Education – Continuing Education
The Master in Management of Artistic and Cultural Resources opens the door to a sector that has become an engine of economic development: from the classical sectors of the visual arts to entertainment, from cultural heritage to the monumental and museum one, to cultural tourism and the creative industries. In Italy, the culture supply chain constitutes over 16% of the gross domestic product.This Master aims to train qualified professionals in the management of artistic and cultural activity through wide-ranging preparation, including through the humanities and social disciplines and promoting the development of specific managerial skills so as to enable the design and coordination of cultural events and activities.
The Master is divided into four modules on:
- Governance and legislation
- Management and organization
- Marketing and communication
- English or Spanish language
The course consists of lecturing, assisted teaching workshops, conferences, internships and final exams. At the end of each module or workshop, students undergo an evaluation test for the acquisition of credits.
Attendance on the Masters course provides recognition of (60 CFU), 8 of which are for internship or other activities useful for entering the world of work (workshops, exercises, simulations).
The degree is aimed at holders of a bachelor’s degree obtained in an Italian or European universities.
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GODIN, S. (2017). Let’s stop calling them ‘soft skills’. It’s Your Turn Blog.
GOLEMAN, D. (2015). ‘What makes a leader?’. Harvard Business Review. URL: https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader
KLAUS, P., ROHAMAN, J., and HAMAKER, M. (2007). The hard truth about soft skills: workplace lessons smart people wish they’d learned sooner. HarperCollins e-books
PRICE, J. (2017). The construction of cultural leadership. ENCATC Journal of Cultural Management and Policy, 7 (1), 5-16.
SAVOROVSKAYA, V.(2020). La formazione al management culturale nel sistema universitario italiano. Un’analisi empirica delle lauree magistrali [Doctoral Thesis, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia]. Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia online. URL: http://dspace.unive.it/handle/10579/17952
Antonia Silvaggi is a researcher, trainer and project manager of international cooperation projects in the field of audience development, storytelling and creative entrepreneurship. Her passion is to listen and to support people in telling their stories. Co-founder and Head of Skill at Melting Pro, a consultancy organisation active in the field of culture, she is involved in the ADESTE PLUS project Creative Europe on organizational change and audience focused organisations, and was involved in the Mu.SA- Museum Sector Alliances and in the Erasmus Plus Knowledge Alliances project CONNECTING AUDIENCES. Certified trainer of Action learning (Action learning associates) and Digitalstorytelling (Storycenter, Berkely, USA).
Co-founder and Coordinator of Melting Pro she has extensive knowledge in developing capacity building programmes for the arts and cultural sector. She is an expert consulting in audience development strategy, community engagement and Project management. She is the project manager of ADA- Audience Development in Asti and Torino Open Library – Her passion are words and anagrams!
 This tools and many others, are also available in the toolkit “A toolkit of exercises for mentors in the CONNECT programme”
 **Activity developed by Adrian de la Court and Sian Prime (Goldsmiths, University of London).**
 **Activity developed by Adrian de la Court and Sian Prime (Goldsmiths, University of London).**
 Concept by Marshall McLuha. Developed by Chris Downes (Live|Work) and refined by Nesta, and Adrian de la Court and Sian Prime (Goldsmiths, University of London).