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Trustees' Week Series 2021| Leadership in a Changing Landscape, Michelle Hatfield

04 Nov 2021

Trustees' Week Series 2021| Leadership in a Changing Landscape, Michelle Hatfield

In celebration of Trustees Week 2021, Board Bank alumni Michelle Hatfield, Director of Corporate Services and member of the Executive team at George Best Belfast City Airport, discusses the rewards of volunteering her professional skills in Northern Ireland’s arts sector, corporate responsibility in your community, and the recipe for good leadership.

What do you enjoy most about your role at George Best Belfast City Airport?

I love the buzz and pace of working at an executive level in a busy regional airport. I particularly enjoy the autonomy within my role, which allows me to be creative, think outside the box and create strategic, high-impact partnerships with other businesses, as well as third sector arts and charitable organisations across our community.

I have always been passionate about people, and love that my role affords the opportunity to create projects that work with schools and young people, creating opportunities for them to become the best version of themselves. This work is truly my passion and is what gets me up in the morning!

As a former IOD UK Director of the Year winner, how do you define successful leadership?

For me, successful leadership is about courage, confidence, integrity, and a good dose of humour! I believe in starting out with a strong vision and building a dynamic team of people around you, working together to deliver on that vision. If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then that’s successful leadership. 

Alongside your work at Belfast City Airport, you also hold several non-executive Director roles, including Chair of Cinemagic’s Board. What prompted you to consider undertaking voluntary board positions?

I have always had great admiration and respect for those individuals who dedicate their career and their life to working in the third sector. Their passion and desire to make a difference inspired me to offer my own skills to support the important work they do. I first started out working with a mental health charity in East Belfast, before joining the board of Arts & Business NI. The latter gave me a grounding in what an effective board and strong governance looked like, and also gave me the opportunity to embrace my love of the arts alongside my position as a business leader.

COVID-19 has transformed the world over the past 18 months. What challenges have you faced as a cultural chair during this time and how have you worked to address them?

It was been an immensely challenging time. Cinemagic is an amazing charity which works to deliver bespoke workshops with young people, primarily face-to-face. COVID has pushed us to be a lot more creative in trying to secure and retain existing funding, by delivering programmes digitally. It’s been quite a challenge for the small team, but I’ve been amazed by how adaptive and flexible everyone has been, delivering work on time and on budget. I have the greatest respect for Joan and her great team, who accept that the creative world has no set working hours or a set job description: it’s really about delivering on a vision, with passion, enthusiasm and commitment to excellence.

It's Trustees' Week, a time when we celebrate the valuable board members who contribute so much to organisations across the UK. What would your advice be to someone considering joining an arts board?

Commitments on a board often take place outside working hours, so it’s important you have a genuine personal interest in the field or line of work of the organisation. It’s also important to consider how much time you can realistically commit: I find it helps to be well organised and ensure board commitments are scheduled well in advance, to help with planning.

I would encourage everyone, regardless of age or position, to get involved in a voluntary board position. Your guidance and advice will make a real difference to the organisation, and there is the chance to develop new skills and opportunities through the huge network of people and events you’ll be part of. Although it can be quite different from the corporate world in many respects, ultimately it’s still all about working towards a shared purpose within a highly motivated team.

What has been the most rewarding part of sitting on an arts board like Cinemagic’s?

Chairing Cinemagic has been truly rewarding and I have so many amazing memories of being part of their journey over the past 4 years. I have great memories of having a visit to the charity from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as well as watching the young people blossom and perform on a stage in Los Angeles, having left Belfast nervous and anxious. There are times when you will see results and developments in 10 minutes, and there are other times when you will not see it for 10 years, but either way when you plant those seeds of character and self-belief, they will eventually bloom.

Having the opportunity to chair Cinemagic has been a true privilege. I would encourage anyone reading this article to take that brave step forward in joining a board in the arts and creative industry. It’s a decision you won’t ever regret. The fun, the energy, the passion, and the real opportunity to make a difference to other people’s lives: for me, those things are priceless.

BUSINESS PROFESSIONAL? Learn more about Arts & Business NI's Board Bank programme here. If you are in the earlier stages of your career, and interested in joining an arts board, find out more about our Young Professionals on Arts Boards programme here. 

ARTS ORGANISATION? If you're interested in recruiting business professionals with talent and a passion for the arts, please get in touch with Adam Bradley ( and share a completed Board Matching form, to let us know what skills you need

MORE ABOUT TRUSTEES' WEEK: In celebrating of Trustees' Week, we're taking time out to consider and celebrate governance, and what makes a great trustee, with blogs and a dedicated event series. These daily 15-20 minute discussions with the boards of five NI cultural organisations will take place at 1pm from 1st- 5th November 2021. They will feature the chair/CEO of each organisation in conversation with a board member who went through an A&BNI governance programme, hosted by an A&B member of staff.

You'll see the full line up below:

Monday 1st November, 1 - 1.20pm: David Codling & Mark Eaglesham, Outburst Arts

Tuesday 2nd November, 1 - 1.20pm: Fiona Bell & Mark Walker, thrive audience development

Wednesday 3rd November, 1 - 1.20pm: Stephen Beggs & Matthew Jeffrey, Tinderbox Theatre Company

Thursday 4th November, 1 - 1.20pm: Sophie Hayles & Cormac Maguire, Crescent Arts Centre

Friday 5th November, 1 - 1.20pm: Sean Fitzsimons & Ciara Smyth, University of Atypical




Our Funders & Partners

Arts & Business NI is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.