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Atkins

Global leaders for global growth

Established in 1938, Atkins is now one of the world’s leading design, engineering and project management consultancies, with the breadth and depth of expertise to respond to the most technically challenging and time critical infrastructure projects.

Over the past few years, the company has evolved from a UK oriented to a truly international business with a major presence in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia. Employing 18,000 staff and a turnover approaching £2bn, the company is now positioned for its next phase of growth.

The need

An ambitious leadership development programme was required to help support this growth, foster a common understanding of the challenges facing the company in this new global arena, and to build working relationships across the whole of the Atkins Group.

The programme needed to create a leadership forum which allows Atkins leaders to drive the change required, to move from a traditional view - that growth was a consequence of excellence - towards a more progressive position that a deliberate and assertive approach was needed.  Specifically, the programme needed to improve participants’ ability to work with people from other business cultures, provide a foundation for leaders to achieve future success in an increasingly global market, deepen global commercial knowledge to identify new clients, gain a better understanding of the business context and strategies for global commercial leadership in Atkins, and reinforce professional leadership skills.

Our response

To develop sufficient knowledge of the Atkins context, and to shape the ideas for content and learning methods, we convened a design team consisting of four members from Atkins and four Oxford academics including Steve Mostyn, the Programme Director.  It was clear from the outset that the group needed to act proactively.

A good part of my role is to anticipate improvements and enhancements of the talent growing within the group as we don’t want to suddenly realise we have the wrong shaped people

Brian Fitzgerald, HR Director; Group Talent Management

The design team briefed senior stakeholders and allowed all parties to see the value in influencing the content; ensuring that the programme integrated with Atkins’ existing learning infrastructure and processes, with key initiatives already in place, and with those planned for the future.

The programme

A four-day programme was designed for 150 senior participants across Atkins’ formalised career routes: Project Management, Technical, and Business Management. As with the design process Atkins were keen to co-deliver sessions to create an intensive development intervention that moved beyond a traditional talk and chalk programme to a workshop delivery which provided extensive opportunities for connecting learning to the real work of leadership at Atkins.

Sessions covered participants personal leadership journeys allowing participants to reflect on their personal stories and to think about their personal leadership styles; prospering in an era of uncertainty exposing them to strategic scenarios awareness and tools; adaptive leadership to give an external perspective on leading profitable growth and an awareness of global dilemmas and dilemma reconciliation; innovation for commercial success providing an understanding of innovation methods and the implications of innovation for cross selling; and making it happen to leave the participants with a long-term strategic thinking mindset and the confidence, inspiration, and tools to work more effectively.  These sessions provided an opportunity for participants to share experience, discuss common challenges, and reinforce their peer networks across Atkins.

Review meetings held 30 days post-programme between the participants and their line manager were an effective tool to ensure that the value that had been derived from the programme was utilised by discussing how the outputs of the programme could be used to transform their work and how they may choose to think about things differently.

Finally, to vertically integrate the cohorts one participant was selected to introduce the next cohort to the programme and provide examples of how they had transformed, changed perspective on clients, and started working in more effective ways.

The impact

The programme sought to provide enhanced clarity about the strategic direction of the group, provide an on-going forum for discussion of the impact of that strategic direction, and develop the ability - in the face of uncertainty - to be agile, adaptable, and flexible as the market moves and as the world changes.

The programme:

  • Provided awareness of leadership traits to enable leaders to better wield or suppress their traits at will. 


  • Equipped participants with a selection of very useful tools which can be employed to drive the team and business forward.

  • Allowed a broad section of the current leadership team to come together which will be essential for future collaboration across the group.

At the group level the impact of the programme has manifested itself through the development of executives with ownership of their own personal objectives and the provision of new perspectives and insights on existing and future business challenges.  Such ownership commits them to looking at the whole business using an adaptive approach to involve people in understanding the business – to look at what is working, and what isn’t; to look at issues through new lenses, and to identify what can be improved to deliver commercial success.  In this way, the teaching that innovation at Atkins is for everyone, every day, has been solidly embraced.

Final thoughts

It was clear from the outset that there was a real commercial motivation for the programme to add value, anticipate clients’ needs and start to proactively create the growth desired.  But more than that, the programme sensitively took account of the skills and make-up of deeply technically, capable, and qualified individuals and recognised that, as engineers, they may think in a certain way.  The programme helped them to think beyond a technical solution and provided them with the agility and skills they will need to succeed in their new global market.

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Experienced faculty

I am delighted that we have been able to work with the Said Business School at Oxford University to deliver this leadership development programme. We have an inspiring and experienced faculty who will help us on the journey to superior leadership practice.

Dr. Uwe Krueger, Chief Executive Officer