How I got where I am today: Alf Leadbitter

Published: 17 Apr 2015

What are the main career stepping stones you have taken?
I served an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer at the National Coal Board’s Dawdon Colliery. I then went to sea as a ship’s engineer. After getting married I took up a job as a mechanical engineer in a steelworks which also allowed me to indulge in my other passion – diving.

I left the steelworks just before it closed and took up diving as a career. I worked on several inshore jobs before moving offshore and then to saturation diving. I was on a job where we had trouble getting a supervisor, so the superintendent asked the two lead divers to decide who was to be promoted. I lost the toss of a coin so Ian went into sat and I became the supervisor.

Alf Leadbitter

From there on I mainly supervised or went as a client’s representative. Because I lived near to The Underwater Centre in Fort William, I was always interested in what they were doing there and when work came up I was happy to be involved. This eventually led to a full time position in the late 1980s. I was always interested in training so working as an instructor was my ideal job.

Are you scared of making mistakes?
No – I learned at an early age that everyone makes mistakes or does silly things and that is OK as long as you learn from them. The best way to stave off criticism is to put your hand up straight away and admit your mistake, but show how you learn from it. I also believe the only people who do not make mistakes are people who do nothing.

Pet hate?
People who cannot admit they have made a mistake and try and blame anything other than themselves.

Who's been your greatest influence?
My father who instilled in me a love of the sea and everything to do with it. My sister’s husband who taught me how to dive, and above all my wife who taught me how to believe in myself.

What advice have you ignored?
Several times I have been told not to start something but have gone ahead anyway. Most times what I have tried to achieve has happened.

Best achievement so far?
Winning the Subsea UK award for Outstanding Contribution to the Subsea Industry in February 2015 is to me my greatest reward, but for achievements I would say gaining a First Class Honours degree in Science and bringing closed bell diver training to our sister operation in Tasmania. Both of these took a lot of work and drive to achieve.

I am also proud of the fact that I am more recently a qualified ADAS Training and Assessment Manager (ATAM) for the ADAS Part 4 Closed Bell course, with my colleague Kenny Kinnaird being the only other.

What do you want to achieve in the rest of your career? I still have a thirst for what I do but I also realise I will have to step down someday, so my main emphasis is on making sure that all the good training and best practice we do is documented in order to ensure the good work we’re doing continues.

What's your idea of the perfect retirement?
I am not the retiring type and if I had to I would always find something to do.

What have you actively tried to avoid in your career?
I don’t have much time for people who moan and blame everyone else for the situation they are in.

What has motivated you?
I’ve been lucky to have a career that has allowed me to travel the globe, both as a diver and a trainer, but strangely enough the satisfaction of doing a good job has been my main motivator rather than money or power.

What's your best career advice?
Be adaptable and persistent. A boss of mine once said an outright ‘no’ is just the opening negotiations. If you really want something, you need to be persistent but prepared to negotiate.

Is there a time in your career you miss most?
I miss diving and really enjoyed the time in my life when I was given a job which I could complete to my own satisfaction.  Now, as a trainer, this is something I can pass on to others.

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