What Makes a Great Public Sector Leader

In this guest post from my friend and colleague, Benjamin Taylor, Managing Partner of RedQuadrant and Chief Executive of the Public Service Transformation Academy, he discusses what are the challenges facing the public sector; what advice he would give to leaders looking to improve; and, what makes a great public sector leader.

What are the challenges facing the public sector?

In the next two years, I fear some councils are going to be unable to set a balanced budget and go bust for the first time ever.

The next few years will bring population challenges – more and more people over 100, more digital native babies, more new immigrants and uncertainty over the skilled EU workforce. Expectations keep growing with technology change, demand change, and people wanting more, wanting it to be better and wanting it now. Meanwhile, devolution, directly elected Mayors, local health accountability and the possibility of true place-based leadership bring both a mandate and additional responsibility.

In all of this, leaders are expected to join up with organisations that operate with completely different drivers: performance, financial, professional, culture. And we can’t even join up internally – most large public services are like loose consortia, not single organisations.

What’s your advice for leaders looking to improve?

You need to focus less on how your limited funds can provide services and more on how the resources you have and can influence and achieve real outcomes.

Also, you need to admit you don’t have all the answers and work with people who might know a part of the answer. Ask powerful questions to understand what everyone is really motivated to achieve, while actively listening to those around you to learn their strengths and needs.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that every service is co-created with the citizen, so you need to bring citizens, customers and partners into the planning, designing and management of services.

The leaders who are really going to succeed need to create a management structure. An effective hierarchy is the most empowering structure yet discovered for large, complex organisations. They also need to enforce accountability across their workforce, overcoming any fears they may have of this making them unpopular.

Finally, you need to plan. If you don’t plan and predict the outcomes of your actions, you aren’t really learning.

What makes a great public sector leader?

Take responsibility for all the outcomes – including the organisational culture, the experience of all the people in your organisation and all the people in your community.

Look at demand for public services. We’re all worried about demand and seeking to control, or ‘manage’ demand is usually a dead-end street. Really facing the demand honestly and fully would be a great start. Behind every demand on public services is a need – something wrong in someone’s life that we can help fix.

All public service leaders – like all consultants, contact centres and doctors, should be trying to do themselves out of a job. Try to create a community that doesn’t need you anymore. It may never happen, but it is the right direction to move in.

The Public Service Transformation Academy is a social enterprise, led by public service consultants RedQuadrant, the Whitehall and Industry Group, and partner organisations who are thought leaders in commissioning. They design and deliver leadership programmes to build capacity to transform public services.

The challenges facing the UK public sector workforce will feature strongly at the Public Sector Show in June. Join more than 2000 professionals from local and central government and the wider public sector to hear key policy updates, learn from best practice case studies and identify new solutions for smarter and more efficient public services.

Benjamin, like me, values your engagement, and we both believe in conversations. So please leave any thoughts, comments or questions. We will be sure to respond.

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