Peter McCluskey - Save Sight Institute

Assuming a leadership role can be challenging for anyone, but even more so when the role involves a complete departure from the work they were previously undertaking.

While many entrepreneurs in the private sector will be familiar with the responsibilities that come with running a business, those working in higher education will often have a completely different background.

This was the experience of Peter McCluskey, director of the Save Sight Institute and professor of ophthalmology at the University of Sydney. Unlike other directorships, Peter is charged with leading the organisation while also continuing to teach and research in the field of ophthalmology.

The Challenge:

Stepping into a leadership role from a research background

Among the greatest challenges for Peter upon assuming this position has been the sheer variety of activity that the Save Sight Institute undertakes, both as a learning centre and as a specialised care unit.

'We do four things - we offer patient care to difficult cases with rare disorders, we conduct research, we do a lot of teaching and we are heavily engaged with the community,' said Peter.

Managing this diversity within the role was compounded by stepping into a leadership position from a research and teaching background. Prior to joining the Save Sight Institute, Peter had been responsible for a staff of eight, which expanded to 45 upon joining the Institute, with further consultants and staff spread across the organisation.

'I look after a lot of people, a lot of students and do a lot of administration, plus working as an eye doctor, a researcher and a teacher. Moving to this role was a big, big change and involved a lot of learning on the fly.'

Peter also faced the unique constraints that come with assuming a directorship position within the higher education sector.

'Universities are very rigid, process-driven organisations because they are so large and incorporate a highly diverse range of individuals,' says Peter.

The Solution:

Investing in people and processes

While assuming this leadership role has placed new demands on Peter, his response has been to focus on the core offerings of the Institute, incorporating new technology and refining internal processes.

'We spend a lot of time working on the processes in the business and we have a really strong management team now,' said Peter.

This change has also been an essential part of the institute's growth strategy, with improved back-end processes paving the way for further expansion of its taught courses and research efforts.

While this transition has paved the way for further growth, it has also seen Peter take a much more hands-on approach to how the organisation is running. Peter is actively involved across the Institute's four core focuses.

'You have to lead by example, so I made sure that I am involved in every aspect of our research institute.' stated Peter. 'I run a research program, look after patients and am involved in the teaching side of things, all of which form important parts of my role.'

The Results:

Sustained growth for an innovative facility

Since taking over as director of the Save Sight Institute, Peter has seen the organisation continue to grow from strength to strength. The institute is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, having become a leader in specialised eye care.

The core focuses of the institute have also expanded, with the teaching team expanding 50 per cent since Peter assumed his current role, while the number of postgraduate students has tripled.

Among the central developments here has been utilising digital technology to improve the teaching experience. The Save Sight Institute now provides education on a global level, offering distance courses and opening a training program in Vietnam.

'All of our courses are web-based, so they are using 21st century educational tools and techniques to help people learn,' says Peter.

Finally, Peter has also invested heavily in his own skills, developing a new set of abilities that are tailored to the demands of running a growing institute. His membership in TEC is just one part of this personal journey within his leadership role.

'TEC has really been a fabulous sounding board for helping me make sure I understand what the problems are that I was facing with personnel, strategy and implementation,' stated Peter.

'Our TEC group is really important for getting a mix of opinions, while the guest speakers have really been invaluable for me.'

While assuming a leadership role is never easy and comes with a steep learning curve, leaders who take the time to invest in their skills and develop a vision for the future can expect to see ongoing success in their new role.