Totaljobs roundtable: Leadership in the public sector

With pay freezes and job cuts damaging the image of the public sector, the civil service is in danger of losing appeal as a career path to new graduates and skilled professionals.

At the recent Totaljobs roundtable event, the need to revamp the public sector image and its potential as an attractive career route was given priority during the debate, and with 1.5m vacancies expected to be filled despite the cuts, it seems essential that we do so.

As the skills set of graduates evolves along with the skill requirements of the public sector, the civil service must adapt its application processes and rethink the way in which it attracts this new breed of public service worker. One quality within public sector professionals that is in short supply is leadership skills, and the inability of managers to develop those skills amongst their teams. This was addressed in the discussion, and the conclusion focused on allowing civil service workers the space to experience different tasks in the workplace so they can grow as a leader.

Kevin Cowley, Capability Programme Manager at the Ministry of Justice

“I think one of the main issues we face in the public sector is around leadership skills and particularly this idea of managing change.”

“There is a skills gap in relation to people not knowing how to be a natural leader, and we have to guide those people through the development process. So for us I think there is a lot of work in getting people to understand the process of change and building those skills as we go through a massive restructure.”

Simon Keary, Head of Transformation at Oxfordshire County Council

“It seems to me there is a hierarchy here, and the issue is that managers don’t have the space to develop their leadership skills. Without space for these skills to be developed, it is going to be really difficult going forward.”

James Norton, Head of Corporate Talent and Assessment Services at the Department for Work and Pensions

“If we want a manager to become a director in five years’ time we need to be more actively managing their career, their experiences and their opportunities now so they can build up a broad portfolio of skills. I think we fall into this paradigm where a policy maker will just become a more senior policy maker and they will hit a point where they can’t progress as they haven’t had the ability to lead others.”


Linda Chamberlain, Head of Capability at the Land Registry

“It feels like a lot more flexibility is needed so people become more challenged and gain more knowledge from different departments which will break the status quo.”


Kevin Cowley

“I think in the past we’ve put so much emphasis on putting leaders on specific programmes to model and shape them, that we actually forget that individuals develop in their own ways. We don’t actually give them the space to develop as natural leaders and I think we need to realise that leaders are different, they possess different skills and we need to celebrate that more. It’s about encouraging people to develop themselves.”

Even if they are not in a line management chain and don’t have management responsibilities I think it is still a good idea to help them realise they can be senior leaders through their behaviour, attitude and being a role model for other people.


Iris Anderson, Chair, Religion & Ethnic Minority Network at the Department for Energy and Climate Change

“However, in my department there is a particular culture and type, a type that is groomed and pushed. I think a big problem is that a lot of our modern day grade seven economists and statisticians have never managed anybody, so there is a lack of opportunity to manage. You might be brilliant at being an economist but not so much at being a manager of economists.”


For more information about this roundtable event, keep checking this blog. We’ve got another two articles on the way with more highlights and analysis.

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