Marina Pettigrew: Meet the inspirational leader who built an international correspondence unit from scratch

Pettigrew received the Inspirational Leadership award in 2018 for her work in the FCO’s Central Correspondence Unit. With nominations for the 2019 awards still open, she speaks to CSW about the challenges the team had to overcome, and what it takes to be a great leader 

Credit: Baldo Sciacca

By Naomi Larsson

01 Jul 2019

Marina Pettigrew has worked in the Foreign Office for over 30 years, moving across the world for various postings. Her most recent job, which was celebrated by a win in 2018’s Civil Service Awards, involved building up a whole new unit to provide centralised support in a complex international department - from scratch.

Pettigrew is head of the FCO’s Central Correspondence Unit (CCU), an initiative started in 2016 to centralise correspondence in the department.

The unit’s aim was to streamline the process of drafting letters, ultimately helping policy officers achieve their objectives; the unit takes control of their correspondence so they can spend more time on policy.

Though the unit was designed to improve efficiency, they were met with resistance and scepticism at the beginning, Pettigrew says.

“We were met with resistance because everyone thinks they’re specialists in their own right – how would people in a unit in London know how to write about Yemen, for example.

“So I said, give us a month, give us your standard correspondence we’ll meet again. Four years later, no one has asked for their correspondence back. We took a team and subject matter one of a time and we built up expertise in that particular subject matter,” she says.

The CCU now deals with 60% of the FCO's ministerial correspondence and member of public letters. Pettigrew says the process has been so successful that they are now working on centralising parliamentary questions within her team. Within a year they’ve taken on 60% of PQs, and aim to take 100% by September.

She dedicates the success of the unit to her staff. “I do believe that it’s my team that make it work. They’re very much part of the decision process and I’m very lucky that I’ve got a really dedicated team of 14 people now.”

I tried to empower my team. I think this award does belong to them as well. It's a reflection on their hard work and dedication, it's not just me. 

Pettigrew was nominated by her team for the Inspirational Leadership Award last year. She says she was proud to win. “[My team] said we think you managed us with compassion, you listen to us, you make us feel part of decision making, which is what I do,” says Pettigrew.

“I tried to empower them. I think this award does belong to them as well. It’s a reflection on their hard work and dedication, it’s not just me. I believe we are a partnership, I feel that good management filters down.”

She says being a good manager means “you’re a bit of a coach, mediator”. “I’m always there for them. As a leader, it’s important to include your team and give them objectives so they know where they’re going. Then you have to include them in decision making, so they feel included and carried along.”

Pettigrew also promotes flexible and remote working. “I quickly realised you don’t need a body in London to do this job. I’ve got people who now work in Berlin, Washington, Laos, Glasgow … so we work all over the world. I’m really flexible as long as the work gets done. That’s my management motto.” 

You can find out more about the awards and nominate your colleagues here

Read the most recent articles written by Naomi Larsson - How DfID used weather forecasts to fight cholera in Yemen

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