Local Government Chief Executives' Development Framework: the foundations

The Local Government Association (LGA) and Solace are delighted to present the first Local Government Chief Executives’ Development Framework, as part of the LGA's Sector Support programme 2023/24, funded by the UK Government.


The framework, alongside our new Local Government Chief Executives’ Development Hub, has been developed by the Local Government Association and Solace through extensive engagement with current chief executives and other key stakeholders, including councillors. This engagement with the sector has helped build a detailed picture of the complex set of accountabilities that local government chief executives hold and has resulted in the creation this framework, which sets out the core foundations that underpin the role.

The framework includes seven core themes (the foundations), which form the basis of a new curriculum for chief executive training and a set of leadership standards for excellence that will help new chief executives address their development in three stages:

  • acquiring knowledge
  • gaining experience
  • sharpening judgement.

Given the constantly changing environment that local government chief executives work within, we consider this framework to be a living document with the ability to flex and change over time. We are keen to continue developing this framework and, so, your feedback and comments are welcome. Please email your feedback and comments to us at [email protected]

Context – there’s no better job in the public sector

The local government chief executive role is like no other – the range of the role is considerable, the demands of the role are stimulating, and the rewards of the role are real and tangible – after all, you will be helping a small but significant part of the UK become a better place in which to live, grow and do business.

We know local government chief executives are self-starters – highly motivated and talented individuals – who can take on a wide scope and remit of work. However, this should not prevent them from having support and development opportunities in place to support them to succeed in this highly complex and visible role.

Equipping new chief executives with a route map which sets out their key responsibilities and accountabilities, and a strong set of foundations to start with and develop their role, is essential. Some may be appointed from a specific technical area of expertise. Others may be entirely new to the sector. Whatever their background, the Local Government Chief Executives’ Development Framework will give them the best start in the role and equip them with tools to acquire knowledge, gain experience and sharpen their judgement in the role.

The Local Government Chief Executives’ Development Framework explained

The framework has been developed to clearly define the standard foundation knowledge and skills required for the profession. It will provide a consistent approach for chief executives to develop within their role. The seven themes are those foundation roles that were identified as the essential, core requirements of the role, and each theme is accompanied by:

  • a definition for each theme: the seven themes and their definitions form the basis of a curriculum that will underpin a forthcoming training and development programme for chief executives
  • a set of professional leadership standards for excellence that describe the requirements for acquiring knowledge, gaining experience and sharpening judgement.

Through developing the framework, we have identified a gap, in that there are no specialist courses or provision in place for local government chief executives on the foundational building blocks of the role and its essential responsibilities, and the likely governance and managerial challenges they may face. We recognise that, in some key responsibility areas, some specialised courses and resources do already exist – for example in emergency / contingency management and returning officer responsibilities. We do not intend to duplicate those. We also recognise that the chief executive role is much broader than the seven core themes we have defined; however, our current remit is to focus on the core responsibilities.

Local Government Chief Executives’ Development programme

We will use this framework as the basis for the curriculum of a new programme, which we will develop and pilot in the 2023/24 financial year, aimed at supporting newly appointed chief executives to create a solid foundation to build upon when taking on the role. The expectation is that they will continue to deepen their knowledge and experience across a broader spectrum of existing and emerging topics over time. This approach is set out as four pillars of support:

  • early wraparound support
  • a foundations training programme for newly appointed chief executives
  • commitment to develop a gateway of accessible resources in one place
  • ongoing support for continued development and sharpened judgement.


We would like to acknowledge the support and contribution of our steering group and all those interviewed, not least Barry Quirk whose experience and input into the development and consultation on the framework has been significant. A full list of contributors is available at the end of this document.

Seven core themes of the curriculum

The seven core themes of the curriculum have been presented as a wheel diagram to indicate that no single theme is more important than another. The seven core themes are as follows: the core chief executive role, politics and the political interface, good governance, managerial leadership, resource management, public ethics, and continuous improvement.

The core chief executive role

The core chief executive role requires acting as lead council adviser, managerial leader and head of paid service.

  • Coordination: design, delivery, coordination and integration of council functions 
  • Management: management arrangements including accountability of functions and staff 
  • Staffing: the numbers, grades, roles, appointment and discipline of staff 
  • Advising the council: ensuring best advice is available to the council at all tiers 
  • Elections: acting independently as electoral risk manager (ERM) and returning officer (RO) for local and national elections ** 
  • Emergencies: preparing and leading response and recovery from civil emergencies 

** In some cases, councils appoint officers other than chief executives to act as returning officer.

The structure of knowledge, experience and judgement across the core chief executive role

Acquiring knowledge Gaining experience Sharpening judgement
  • Options for alternative service delivery models 
  • Principles of organisational design and management and staffing accountabilities 
  • Workforce planning, strategies, and service specific operational workforce plans 
  • Lead adviser to the council, coordinating advice from others, including the monitoring officer and the head of scrutiny 
  • Civil Contingencies Act (2004) and local authority responsibilities 
  • Representation of the People Acts and relevant guidance from the Electoral Commission and from the Department of Levelling up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) 
  • Continually examine alternative service delivery models for infrastructure investment and service delivery
  • Discuss with staff at all levels their views on how career development, team working, and management can be improved
  • Examine best practice amongst other authorities and sectors on workforce matters, including equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
  • Attend council meetings and relevant committee meetings
  • Attend personalised training in other areas, for example, civic contingencies, elections management, statutory services (for example, safeguarding) 
  • Provide well-grounded and impartial advice to councillors of the advantages and disadvantages of alternative models of service delivery
  • Have a confident communication style that motivates staff, fosters team working and improves organisational effectiveness
  • Provide impartial and correct interpretation of the constitution’s ‘rules for debate’, and develop fora for deliberative and emergent styles of dialogue
  • Learn to lead calmly and with clarity of purpose in novel, highly visible and accountable circumstances 

Politics and the political interface

  • Impartiality while ensuring that the council’s agenda is progressed  
  • Guiding others to work effectively in a democratically accountable organisation 
  • Politics: values, basic beliefs and differing political perspectives 
  • Political parties: individuals, coalitions, factions, consensus and dissent 
  • Tiers of government: national, regional, combined authorities, local, parish 
  • Interface and overlaps: of officers with councillors, codes, protocols, respect

The structure of knowledge, experience and judgement across politics and the political interface

Acquiring knowledge Gaining experience Sharpening judgement
  • Understand the electoral basis of democratic legitimacy and community engagement in your locality
  • Appreciate the differing and, sometimes, conflicting values between politicians and political parties
  • Party politics: its structure, organisation, and its connection with local civil society
  • The political make-up of the council and its committees
  • Political tensions: personalities, factions and power dynamics
  • Tiers of government and political differences 
  • Develop a street-level understanding of the local area (its wards, districts, boundaries, and connections)
  • In-depth and regular conversations with the council’s political group leaders on the council’s priorities for attention and action
  • Formal and informal discussions with scrutiny members and all members in their front-line community leadership roles
  • Discuss with local MPs, and other political stakeholders, their perspective on the health of the council’s functioning
  • Regular meetings of core statutory officers and chief officers on changing political landscape locally and dynamics within and between parties 
  • Develop a style, tone and timing of advice giving – orally and in writing
  • Advise lead councillors, impartially, of the best paths forward on an issue when there is strong contest between individuals / parties about what should be done
  • Learn how to de-escalate tensions and de-personalise conflict between individuals and parties
  • Enable healthy political discussion, challenge and debate
  • Not all predicaments can be solved or resolved, working out how to move forward when people strongly disagree 

Good governance

  • Unified powers: distributed decision-making in one corporate entity
  • Reasoned and reasonable: basis of all decisions; sound ideas and good evidence
  • Open: meetings held in public, transparency and disclosure, whistleblowing
  • Advice: objective, impartial and open to formal scrutiny and public question
  • Independent: use of independent people to assure proper and due process
  • Citizenship: practice of governance links to everyday dialogue with residents

The structure of knowledge, experience and judgement across good governance principles and practices

Acquiring knowledge Gaining experience Sharpening judgement
  • Good governance principles in the corporate and public sector
  • Internal processes of scrutiny, formal ‘checks and balances’
  • Proportionality rules for political parties and locus of decision-making (constitution and statutory regulations)
  • Responsibilities of councillors in their various decision-making, scrutiny and community leadership roles
  • Role of the council’s core statutory officers in assuring probity and propriety
  • Audit committees, ethics panels and other assurance committees (safeguarding, and so on)
  • Conduct annual reviews of governance practice with councillors, advisers and residents
  • Learn from good governance and practices from other councils
  • Connect good governance practice through local public bodies and local community organisations
  • Produce clear, relevant and accessible annual governance statements
  • Work closely with the monitoring officer revising the council’s constitution and other key documents
  • Adopt a resident’s eye view of governance to ensure practice is meaningful
  • Help councillors to improve their effectiveness in both executive and scrutiny roles
  • Review instances of failure of due process (judicial reviews, serious complaints, ombudsman, Ofsted and Care Quality Commission reports) with legal support
  • Review the comprehensiveness and thoroughness of a sample of committee reports
  • Undertake an appraisal of the ethical considerations of all committee business on a rolling basis
  • Develop a personal reputation for dealing effectively with integrity violations of councillors and officers

Managerial leadership

  • Leadership: accountable for overall service delivery and managerial effectiveness
  • Direction: clarity of direction, and continuous improvement of functions
  • Culture: building an open, inclusive, learning and public service focus
  • Risk, control and safeguarding: effective internal control systems and (where appropriate) oversight of children’s and adults’ safeguarding
  • Teamwork: effective working in teams, across the organisation and its partners
  • Collaboration: co-design and delivery with service users, communities and partners

The structure of knowledge, experience and judgement across managerial leadership practices

Acquiring knowledge Gaining experience Sharpening judgement
  • The form and the day-to-day practice of internal management accountabilities
  • Assure effective teamwork and corporate working
  • Accountable for what, and accountable to whom?
  • Formal rules of employment and discipline for all staff
  • Service plans, council plans, and improvement planning
  • Create a positive culture of learning and improvement
  • Management grip and empowerment commensurate with risk and its mitigation through internal controls
  • Develop clarity about the added value of management layers, and the specific contribution of top team management
  • Ensure that all staff can find ways of connecting with the council’s overall purposes
  • Invest and value in staff training and development
  • Foster a positive managerial climate that supports and challenges staff performance and supplier delivery
  • Ensure that the roots of any dysfunctional management and toxic staff conduct are identified and eliminated
  • Actively listen to staff at all levels: their concerns, their successes and their frustrations
  • Attend to the mood, the climate of the organisation – especially the extent of psychological safety for staff
  • Help managers and staff to be more relational and transformative in their connection with service users and with one another
  • Find ways to foster life-long learning and skill developments among all staff
  • Encourage the heart, foster hope, and apply individual consideration to all staff

Resource management

  • Budgeting: prioritisation, resource allocation, revenues and controlled spending
  • Savings: producing and delivering agreed savings to time and target
  • Investment in infrastructure through borrowing / capital receipts, and so on
  • Asset management: well-maintained assets (including information and data), managed corporately
  • Financial risk: exposure to risk through mismatch of debts and obligations
  • Prudence: investing and spending for long-term value as well as near-term cost / benefit

The structure of knowledge, experience and judgement across resource management practices

Acquiring knowledge Gaining experience Sharpening judgement
  • Basic training in financial management – revenue, capital and investment / treasury
  • Knowledge of investment, treasury management and key debt ratios
  • Policy and project appraisal – - Green Book, investment appraisal (Orange Book), partnering with private sector suppliers (Outsourcing Playbook) embedding social value when commissioning (Social Value Act)
  • Sustainability, carbon reduction and policies designed for wellbeing of current and future generations
  • Outline of pension fund value, contributors, beneficiaries, actuarial judgements and overall strategy
  • Personal knowledge of key budget management staff in service directorates and corporately
  • Work closely with chief finance officer (CFO), deputy CFO and corporate staff on budget reviews and the annual budgeting process
  • Review overall budgeting approach with leader / mayor, deputy leader and CFO as well as with audit committee and lead scrutiny committee members
  • Review the cost-effectiveness of service areas in comparison to like authorities, using benchmarking and external advisers where appropriate
  • Develop internal control systems for risk mitigation to the council’s finances, assets and services and ownership / involvement with companies
  • Appraise community and residents’ perspectives on the council’s use of resources and assets
  • Appraise the perspectives and motivations of different stakeholders to the council’s budget and its use of resources and assets
  • Develop healthy scepticism (never cynicism) about the reported efficacy of existing and new services and investments – always enquire of evidence as to what works best?
  • Learn how to differentiate between public goods claims (this service is for everyone) and the likely utility of the good to the variety of communities locally
  • Help staff differentiate between near-term outcomes and intended longer term impact
  • Develop a degree of expertise in equality impact assessments

Public ethics

  • Ethical principles: rights and liberty of individuals, community and the public good
  • Ethical cultures: cultural variety and dynamism about values
  • Fairness: equal treatment, equal opportunity, relational equality, equity
  • Services: ethics in service design, delivery, resource allocation and staffing
  • Practices: planning, environment, housing and transport compared with people-focused services
  • Violations: investigation and sanctions for ethical breaches and integrity violations

The structure of knowledge, experience and judgement across the practice of public ethics

Acquiring knowledge Gaining experience Sharpening judgement
  • Essence of public administrative law
  • Foundations of public ethics: in service design, delivery, resource allocation, supply chain management and staffing
  • Ethics across cultures: individualism compared with communitarian
  • Utility and cost-benefit analysis, including compensation to those who may lose out
  • Normative or standards-based approaches to establishing service thresholds, and so on
  • The common good: what is it? – the ideas of social value and public value revisited
  • The characteristics of a public good compared with targeted services
  • Work closely with the monitoring officer and legal team on basics of public administration law
  • Review three to five ombudsman cases of maladministration with injustice
  • Review the council’s compliance with public sector equality duty
  • Present to staff some challenging policy issues that raise ethical challenges
  • Good intentions are not enough; examine consequences – especially who gains, who loses?
  • Bring the voice of those with the most urgent and pressing needs into the town hall
  • Develop a way to help councillors choose a way forward when there are multiple outcomes (for example, when a site in the middle of town can have multiple uses, such as a school, a pool, a housing block or a small- to medium-sized enterprise (SME) incubator)
  • When there are competing claims from different groups for the same public asset, develop an approach for weighing the claims of each group and choosing between them
  • When senior directors are advocating different solutions to a problem you may need to add value to the overall professional advice to councillors to help a rounded judgement to be made
  • Sometimes ethical principles are not balanced, they don’t involve a trade-off – you may have to make sure that several are taken on board at the same time

Continuous improvement

  • Learning and curiosity: collaborative, continuous and curious style of learning
  • Innovation: creative experimentation, trial and error, transform where feasible
  • Service re-design: customer centred service design
  • Digital and artificial intelligence (AI): technology-powered, new media enabled, but human-led
  • Performance: reported metrics of relative cost effectiveness to comparators
  • Impact and results: making a positive difference through impact and results

The structure of knowledge, experience and judgement across the practice of continuous improvement

Acquiring knowledge Gaining experience Sharpening judgement
  • 'Best value' – its origins and its application – arrangements that secure continuous improvement in the execution of all council functions – Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) statutory guide on Best value standards and intervention for best value authorities
  • Business and management processes to secure continuous improvement in services through service redesign, innovation and digital transformation
  • Outward focus on community and the prior impact of public services
  • Research and evidence of comparative, normative and ipsative performance
  • The role of service plans, corporate plans, improvement plans, as well as assurance and re-assurance reporting
  • Focus is on improvement for residents and service users, on better service impact and social results
  • Work with senior directors, service and corporate staff on improvement planning and corporate planning
  • Examine organisation-wide learning and improvement in other organisations including private companies, not-for-profit organisations and other councils
  • Examine how many improvement targets have external metrics compared to business process improvement metrics
  • Adopt clear messages to focus everyone on a few corporate metrics that compare the council’s targets and other councils’ targets, over time
  • Share your improvement goals and targets with others
  • Understanding of service re-design, innovation and digital transformation
  • Adopt the best ways to work with councillors and officers generating a culture of continuous improvement
  • Prioritise those changes that directly impact on the experience of small numbers of service users, with those changes in process and practice that will affect cost effectiveness targets more generally
  • “Every success feels like a failure in the middle” – can identify when to persist with those changes that have yet to deliver fully, and when to adjust strategy or tactics and change plans
  • Appraise whether change requires transformation boards, top-down drive and strong programme management or whether it is more effectively delivered through bottom-up culture change

Acknowledgements / contributors

We want to acknowledge and thank everyone who contributed to our research, and we are grateful to everyone that has spent time helping us to identify the themes for success.

Steering group

  • Cllr Abi Brown (Chairman, LGA Innovation and Improvement Board)
  • Paul Hanson (Chief Executive, North Tyneside Council / Deputy Leadership Spokesperson, Solace)
  • Catherine Howe (Chief Executive, Adur & Worthing Council)
  • Naz Hussain (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead, Solace)
  • Gavin Jones (Solace Chair / Chief Executive, Essex County Council)
  • Kath O’Dwyer (Leadership Spokesperson, Solace / Chief Executive, St Helens Borough Council)
  • Becky Shaw (Chief Executive, East and West Sussex county councils)

Interview participants

  • William Benson (Chief Executive, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council)
  • Karen Bradford (Chief Executive, South Kesteven District Council)
  • Anita Bradley (Chief Executive, Oxfordshire County Council)
  • Max Caller (Lead Commissioner, Birmingham City Council)
  • Mark Carroll (former chief executive of Hackney Council)
  • Nina Dawes (former chief executive / Solace in Business Board member)
  • Katherine Fairclough (Chief Executive, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority)
  • Ian Fytche (Chief Executive, North Kesteven District Council)
  • Dan Gascoyne (Chief Executive, Braintree District Council)
  • Stephen Gaskell (Assistant Chief Executive, Strategy and Communities, Southwark Council)
  • Jess Gibbons (Director of Communities and Neighbourhoods, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council)
  • Theresa Grant (former chief executive of Liverpool City Council)
  • Rebecca Hellard (Strategic Director of Council Management, Birmingham City Council)
  • Adam Hill (Chief Executive, Mansfield District Council)
  • Patricia Hughes (former joint chief executive of Hart District Council)
  • Nadira Hussain (Chief Executive, SOCITM)
  • Ruth Hyde (Chief Executive, Broxtowe Borough Council)
  • Sharon Kemp (Chief Executive, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council)
  • Joanna Killian (Chief Executive, Surrey County Council)
  • Margaret Lee (Commissioner, Slough Borough Council)
  • Althea Loderick (Chief Executive, Southwark Council)
  • Jon McGinty (Managing Director, Gloucester City Council)
  • Rachel McKoy (Director and Monitoring Officer, London Borough of Hounslow)
  • Stephen Moir (Chief Executive, Cambridgeshire County Council)
  • Paul Najsarek (Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman / Solace Policy Board)
  • Chris Naylor (Director, Inner Circle Consulting)
  • Kath O’Leary (Chief Executive, Stroud District Council)
  • Jane Parfrement (Chief Executive, Staff College)
  • Susan Parsonage (Chief Executive, Wokingham Borough Council)
  • Steve Pleasant (Healthy Life Expectancy Lead, South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority)
  • Matt Prosser (Solace President / Chief Executive, Dorset Council)
  • Yvonne Rees (Chief Executive, Cherwell District Council)
  • Martin Reeves (Chief Executive, Oxfordshire County Council)
  • Tom Riordan (Chief Executive, Leeds City Council)
  • Joanne Roney (Chief Executive, Manchester City Council)
  • Wallace Sampson (former chief executive of Harrogate Borough Council)
  • Barry Scarr (Section 151 Officer, Liverpool City Council)
  • Philp Simpkins (former chief executive / Solace board member)
  • Caroline Simpson (Chief Executive, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council)
  • Tom Stannard (Chief Executive, Salford City Council)
  • Jonathan Stephenson (Chief Executive, Brentwood Borough Council)
  • Laura Taylor (Chief Executive, Winchester City Council)
  • Robert Weaver (Chief Executive, Cotswold District Council)
  • Tim Whelan (Director, Eastbourne Borough Council)
  • Joyce White (former chief executive of West Dunbartonshire Council / Solace Scotland)
  • Rob Whiteman (Chief Executive, CIPFA)
  • Kim Wright (Chief Executive, Brent Council)