A huge training project is necessary to prepare central government line managers to do their jobs with a reduced budget, according to an insider.
Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, conceded that their jobs were changing dramatically.
He said that budget cutbacks meant HR faced a massive challenge readying managers to deal with lower spending capacities.
"We are now moving into a period of no growth in public expenditure, which will have a big impact on government departments," he told Personnel Today.
"Senior civil servants used to managing teams with growing budgets will now have to do so with falling budgets. That is a different kind of skill."
Most of the people with experience of running government departments with falling budgets have retired from the profession. "It is going to be testing for the Civil Service," Baume said.
Preparing line managers was now a major issue for HR, he added.
"The big challenge now is to engage with staff. We need to develop stronger people management skills at all levels of the Civil Service.
"HR has a very demanding job right now. If something goes wrong, it [will be] on the news."
Baume said the standard of HR in central government had improved in the decade he had been in his role.
"It is getting better," he said. "For a while there was a culture of people coming into HR jobs without an HR background. There was a need for broader experience in HR. But there is a professionalism and focus now, as well as a recognition of the mistakes of the past."