As Kenyans recently debated the Court of Appeal’s decision on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), an interesting argument raged in the National Assembly.
The house is currently discussing a series of proposed amendments to the Kenya Roads Bill, 2021.
One of the burning issues is a proposed amendment to a provision of the Kenya Roads Act 2007 requiring Directors General (CEOs) of road sector agencies – Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KeRRA) and Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) hold at least a degree in civil engineering.
In their submissions to Parliament, some professional bodies have taken the unusual position that the role of “management, development, rehabilitation and maintenance of the respective road networks” does not require civil engineering expertise.
Traditionally, and in Kenya, people perceive leaders with technical expertise to be more professional, credible and efficient.
However, recent experiences and studies have shown that leaders who rely solely on technical expertise in a particular area tend to get caught up in the details instead of thinking strategically and holistically to build a culture of motivation. to performance and inspire teams to achieve the organization’s vision.
The Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM), Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK) and Kenya Institute of Supplies Management (KISM), among others, have postulated that the job of a CEO, regardless of the sector is more strategic than technical.
The incumbent of such a position, they noted, should be able to lead technical teams to achieve the goals of the institution.
However, the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) argued that CEOs of the road sector should be civil engineering experts to avoid being wrong on technical issues such as road design, preparation of bills of quantities and budgets, among others.
This, however, begs the question: what exactly is the day-to-day role of a CEO?
Is a KeNHA, KeRRA or KURA CEO involved in an operational scope such as the review of road designs, the preparation of quantitative quotes or even the preparation of tender documents?
The main responsibilities of the CEO are decision making, ensuring performance, motivating teams, communicating and engaging stakeholders and creating momentum to achieve the strategic goals of an organization.
In today’s changing business environment, effective leaders will be those who can identify the technical skills required and ensure they are surrounded by the experts necessary to actualize the long-term success of the organization.
The drafters of the Mwongozo Governance Code, which is the final authority on the matter, envisioned the role of CEOs of public institutions as “responsible for overseeing the execution of the guidelines and policies of the board of directors in order to ensure desirable results ”.
In his book, What brought you here won’t get you there, Marshall Goldsmith argues that technical skills and expertise can propel managers to the top of the org chart; but behavioral skills are what take them to higher levels of achievement and leadership.
There is no shortage of examples on the Kenyan business scene where this has been demonstrated. Mr. Fernandes Barasa ran the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company as Managing Director during one of its most transformative phases, despite being an accountant and not having a degree in electrical engineering.
Rita Kavashe started as a sales representative at vehicle assembly company General Motors, before moving on to her current role as managing director and chairman of the board of directors of cigarette maker BAT.
Pioneer CEO of Safaricom, Michael Joseph, has been credited with transforming the telecommunications company from an obscure department within Telkom Kenya to the most profitable company in East and Central Africa.
Kenya Airways would later appoint Mr Joseph to head the loss-making national carrier as chairman. Speaking about his leadership style, Mr. Joseph said: “The ingredients I used to transform Safaricom are not the same as those needed to reorganize Kenya Airways. To be successful in a business, you need people. While you can buy gear, people and culture are the hardest things to change. ”
Kenya’s road sector has seen unprecedented growth in road development and improved maintenance over the past 15 years. Undoubtedly, engineers have excelled as captains in the road sector, but this success cannot be attributed to their qualifications in road engineering alone.
While professional bodies are supposed to advocate for their members, they should train them beyond technical skills and equip them for corporate leadership.
Skills such as risk mitigation, strategic communication, innovation, emotional intelligence, and the ability to inspire and motivate workers to achieve desired business goals are essential.