Public Service Leadership conference, 13 March, Queen Elizabeth II Centre, London: Public sector leaders face tough times ahead

Public Service Leadership conference, 13 March, Queen Elizabeth II Centre, London

Being the leader of a public sector organisation is more difficult than ever before – that was the overriding message relayed to delegates at the Public Service Leadership conference last week.

Air Commodore Peter Gray, director of the Defence Leadership and Management Centre, asked: “Why is it [leadership] so difficult in the public service?

“None of it is rocket science, but there’s a continuing theme that things have become more difficult. There’s no Delia Smith recipe for how to do it,” he said.

Public sector recruitment processes are too geared towards bringing in staff at an operational level rather than at a strategic, leadership level, according to Gray.

When it came to leadership, organisations needed to ask themselves a series of questions, he said: “Where are we trying to take the organisation? Why are we taking it in that direction? How can we do it better?”

Executive coach Phil Hayes, former head of management training at the BBC, who mentors NHS chief executives, said: “[The public sector] had become more and more target driven and is driven by standards in the private sector. The blame culture is pretty tough and pretty scary.

“You’re expected to be more emotionally intelligent, more democratic and more collaborative than ever before. And to have higher personal and ethical standards and be answerable to more people. Expectations have never been higher.”

But Martin Narey, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s and former head of the Prison Service, said: “I’m actually encouraged by the different sorts of leadership in the public sector now. I’ve recognised different types of people coming through public service as managers.”


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