Features: December 13th, 2002

Learning To Lead

By Julia Eadie

Reproduced by permission of the Centre for Management and Policy Studies.

The Public Service Leaders Scheme is a collaborative venture between the Civil Service, local authorities, the NHS and the Police. The programme draws people together to learn about different working cultures, share good practice and prepare for leadership.

Collaborative working is central to modern public sector leadership. More than ever before, public service leaders must work comfortably in partnership with people from other organisations (and possibly from other sectors) whilst setting a strategic direction for their own. It requires many skills and qualities, the building and testing of which is central to the work of Public Service Leaders Scheme.

Essentially, the programme is a marriage of a practical, experiential way of learning that challenges participants to find their own solutions with the help of those around them , and theoretical study that can be accredited with Birmingham University at postgraduate level.

Within these parameters, participants undertake a wide range of activities, all of which reflect their learning contract – an agreement between them; their sponsor; and a Personal Organisation & Development Manager from the PSLS Secretariat, that details their learning objectives. Typically, participants will stay on for the programme for between one and three years, during which time they will develop their skills, add to their experience, and develop their understanding of connections, cultures and practices across the public sector.

Learning events

To kick off the programme, a two-day residential event helps participants identify learning goals, and provides tools and strategies to develop self- awareness. Subsequent Network Learning Events – designed and delivered by the Centre for Management and Policy Studies, the University of Birmingham and National Police Training – bring participants together for skills development, and feature high profile speakers. Learning is reinforced at regular Action Inquiry ‘learning set’ meetings. Formal content aside, these events provide valuable opportunities for participants to compare experiences and discuss issues shared with public service peers. ‘Live’ learning events are supplemented by a dedicated e-learning website which allows participants to maintain contact and make use of the full range of PSLS resources.


A mandatory element to PSLS, Interchange gives participants the opportunity to learn about other organisations involved in cross-sector public service delivery, and to pursue their individual learning contracts. Typically an accumulation of three months agreed activity, Interchange can find opportunities for participants in all sectors of the economy, and can generally accommodate all learning goals.


PSLS matches each participant with a mentor, providing them with support and feedback as they develop their personal leadership style and capability. A confidential partnership between two people built on trust, mentoring offers participants a safe environment in which they can discuss issues raised by work or PSLS. Mentors are always from a different sector to the participant’s, thus offering the participant a fresh perspective in discussions. Greatest benefit comes where the primary focus is on the less tangible skills that enable individuals to operate effectively as leaders and change agents.

Rather than a vehicle for disseminating orthodoxies on leadership, PSLS operates as a network, advocates a non-hierarchical approach and locates power in knowledge and contribution rather than status. Tomorrow’s leaders will each face their own challenges, for which there will not always be an off-the-peg solution. PSLS aims to give them the knowledge, experience, intellectual discipline to make confident decisions when required to – and a network to help them.


Julia Eadie is Head of the Public Service Leaders Secretariat.