For a long time it has been assumed that public sector organisations cannot compete with private companies when it comes to attracting, developing and retaining the best leadership talent. The presumption is that lower remuneration and higher levels of bureaucracy stifle creativity and discourage outstanding people.
However, this is an over-simplified picture, as this week's Public Sector Leadership Conference and Exhibition is expected to demonstrate. The event, which is to be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London on 21 April, offers the chance to gain an insight into the true state of leadership in the sector and hear proposals about how it can be nurtured in the future.
The keynote speaker at the conference is Wendy Thomson, chief executive of the Leadership Centre for Local Government. She decries the idea that public sector leaders are, in some way, inferior.
"The people I hold in high regard are driven by their commitment to making public services work for people, rather than any particular human resources policy," she says.
And while, she admits some people have been put off by the government budget cuts and financial constraints - with the consequent job insecurity - Thomson says that many are still attracted by "the scope for making a difference".
She wants politicians and the wider public to hold leaders in the public sector in higher regard, believing this recognition will generate confidence in the sector and boost the morale and performance.
It is a point picked up by Ewart Wooldridge, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, who will chair and speak at the conference. "We need to recognise how important public sector leaders are," he says.
Wooldridge would also like to see the sector improve its approach to succession planning to ensure a level of continuity at the head of vital public sector organisations. "We are trying to improve the quality of high-level management but an important aspect of this is tackling the earlier stages in an individual's career - the time when you need to nurture and develop the leaders of tomorrow."
For Lynne Sedgemore, chief executive of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, the key to effective leadership lies not only in developing the skills of those destined for the top, but also the skills of staff throughout the public sector.
"Leadership resides at all levels in an organisation," she says. "While t