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Building visionary, ambitious and effective senior leadership with a focus on skills and capacity gaps, diversity, talent management and effective use of apprenticeships, as well as encouraging leadership behaviours at all levels.

Managerial leadership

A rapidly changing workforce, the rise of digital economies and technological advances, together with continued funding pressures on public services, pose a whole new set of challenges for 21st century leaders and managers. It is estimated 10 per cent of the local government workforce (over 100,000 people) are employed in some form of supervisory role or in a management capacity. The LGA intends to carry out further analysis of the capability and capacity gap across the sector.  

Management practices and development models need to keep pace with the changes identified. With an ageing and declining workforce which is still working towards being representative at all levels, local government faces renewed challenges in supporting the next generation of leaders and managers to create the right conditions and culture to succeed. The skills, values and behaviours required of leaders and managers now and in the future need to focus on:

  • personal resilience and wellbeing
  • systems thinking (taking a holistic approach that focuses on outcomes not process)
  • relational agility (how we engage with other perspectives and networks and use them to understand and solve complex issues)
  • socio/political understanding of place
  • commercialisation 
  • digitisation of services 
  • coaching for results.  

Local government provides the key democratic leadership for communities. To do this successfully leaders and managers have to translate national policies to a local level, working in partnership, collaborating and co-designing and investing across organisational boundaries to deliver local results and priorities within tight financial constraints. Local government leadership is uniquely placed and indeed tasked with making this agenda a reality. The sector must ensure that there is the leadership and management talent to do this.  

Working across organisational boundaries, in flatter structures, with fewer resources has prompted the development of ‘generalist’ leadership roles supported by technical specialists to focus on delivery. Further development needs a cultural shift towards more self-managed teams and a more empowered and flexible frontline workforce, moving away from hierarchical procedure  and working towards decision-making that is as close to the customer as possible. The focus has to be on driving productivity and increasing efficiency in a more commercial environment to deliver better services for the community.

The research carried out by Birmingham University in partnership with Birmingham City Council in 2012  established a blue print – looking at the skills, values and identities of the future public service workforce. 21st Century Public Servant research findings provide a helpful framework to assess needs and build talent for the future

There has been growing focus on how to create the future leaders and managers of local government, including ensuring the right talent management is in place. Councils have: 

  • recognised the need to ensure they have the right talent ‘pipeline’
  • reduced their reliance on external recruitment as the main way to solve their management capacity problems
  •  ensured they use values and behaviours-based recruitment practices to bridge their skills and knowledge gap rather than relying on length of service or experience as a measure of success. 

As a result, councils have developed in-house learning and development approaches to ensure that they have well trained and competent managers, with good talent planning in place.

The sector needs to ensure that it draws leadership talent from as diverse a pool as it can, otherwise it risks failing to represent local communities and missing out on the best people. While there has already been some research into barriers for women in local government, this has focused particularly on elected councillors; we intend to do further work that focuses on the female and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workforce to understand in more detail what the barriers to progress are as well as draw on best practice from across other sectors. We also need to monitor the situation through rigorous, regular research. 

Leadership at all levels

As part of their approach to developing skills and capacity across the whole workforce, employers need to ensure that staff at all levels can develop and demonstrate the necessary qualities of leadership.

The role of apprenticeships 

The Government’s apprenticeship policy in 2017 provides a significant opportunity for growth in leadership and management training and talent management. Putting employers at the helm of shaping vocational pathways in their sector through a levy means that sectors like local government have a guaranteed level of potential funding for the first time. Notwithstanding specific barriers and challenges within the new system, it will result in an estimated £207 million per year being invested in the levy across councils in England, so represents one of the biggest opportunities in development terms in decades . 

Leadership and management development can benefit from an approach based on apprenticeships and many organisations including councils are shifting their management recruitment and development programmes to reflect the new apprenticeship system. Working across the public sector leadership cohort in this way will help to align existing development programmes, saving further money and creating greater cohesion between local government and its partners. Coming together to shape this new way of thinking about apprenticeships – which now means anyone who requires upskilling or new skills – gives local public service employers a real chance to widen access to, and increase capability in, leadership and management, more than ever before. 

Actions for the LGA and partners

  • continue to offer a cohesive and joined-up solution on leadership and managerial development so that councils are best placed to choose effective development solutions
  • work with others to share practice across the public sector on talent management and leadership development approaches 
  • assist councils using new and existing apprenticeship standards in leadership and management to maximise the return on investment of the levy
  • commission research to improve understanding about the barriers to women and people from BAME backgrounds progressing through management
  • provide thought leadership on potential solutions to support councils to re-establish leadership and managerial pathways for employees and develop effective talent management strategies so that internal pipelines are better managed and properly balanced with external recruitment
  • provide research into leadership and management practices across public sector to evidence and help shape the above. 

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