The Intrapreneurial Researcher: an interview with Professor Nicholas Procter

NICHOLAS_PROCTERThis week’s interview is with Professor Nicholas Procter of the University of South Australia.  Professor Procter is Chair: Mental Health Nursing and Convenor of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Research Group within UniSA’s Sansom Institute for Health Research.

The group led by Professor Procter is highly regarded within the higher education and mental health sectors for its applied and interventionist orientation to research and teaching.  The group operates using a communities of practice framework which involves working collaboratively with mental health consumers, clinicians and sector managers to advance research, knowledge transfer and community engagement in mental health.

Professor Procter is currently Chief Investigator responsible for the management of more than $3.5m in grants from the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, state and federal governments to build mental health research and practice capacity and further mental health and substance abuse related research in South Australia, nationally and internationally, tackling key mental health issues of society.

In this interview Professor Procter explains his personalised approach to his research, how he looks beyond taken-for-granted assumptions, and the importance of authentic conversations.

Q. You have a strong focus on a “person-centred approach” through your research, teaching, publications and practice.  How does this personalised approach affect what questions you ask yourself before beginning a new initiative?

A.  It begins with thinking about the best way to connect.  While we have plenty of electronic means of communicating, it really does come down to the experience that another person has when contact is made, so I begin by thinking about what works best for the person I am co-creating the new initiative with: I put myself in their shoes.  I demonstrate that I hear what they are saying.  I think it best to build the relationship first and then try to identify how best to create shared value.

Q. You have said that one of the greatest lessons you learnt from a mentor was to look beyond taken-for-granted assumptions.  Why is that so important and how do you put it into practice?

A.  Leaders at all levels should be open to self-scrutiny and this means looking beyond taken-for-granted assumptions and the extent that they may be a block to getting things done.  I work a lot with people who are considered ‘vulnerable’ in our society.  It is true that many people with a mental health condition are vulnerable to such things as physical illness, abuse, neglect and perhaps even violence from other people.  At the same time it’s been my experience to be inspired by the resilience and remarkable coping with adversity that people, for example in suicidal crisis or with a mental illness have.  So my approach is a reflective and dynamic one.

Q. The building and maintaining of relationships plays a central part in enabling you to create impact in the mental health care field. What advice can you give others, based on your experience, about how to do this successfully?

A.  Many people tell me there is a need for strong and effective leadership in the mental health sector.  Leadership opportunities made available to me through my work at the University of South Australia are best realised with government and non-government sectors through having authentic conversations.  People with lived experience of mental illness tell me that they want to feel valued and respected when this happens.  They also tell me that when conversations are inauthentic that they are often left feeling misunderstood by others – including some well-meaning health professionals.  So on that basis building and maintaining relationships in the mental health field relies upon authentic conversations, communicating respect and showing warmth. Respect for both mental health consumers and health professionals is a conduit to trust. Having trust reduces ambiguity and builds leadership capability within the sector.

Q.  As a researcher leader, how do you approach the issue of sustainability in what you hope to achieve?

A.  Sustainability is at the heart of how I conceptualise the value proposition.  It relies heavily on local and global pattern recognition.  Some time back I secured a mental health grant for $450,000 over three years.  Within 18 months of the project our team secured an additional $300,000 in funding.  This added an additional two years to the project.  Additional funding and permanent work was to follow.  Success also came down to having relationships for longer term at the forefront of every interaction as well as a solid team approach.

Thank you Professor Nicolas Procter for your time.  For more information on Professor Procter’s work visit For any further questions on thinking big, feel free to email me personally at


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