Features: July 8th, 2003

Leadership for Delivery

By Margaret Saner

Reproduced by permission of the Public Management and Policy Association.

Sir Andrew Turnbull, Head of the Civil Service has called for ‘a Civil Service respected as much for its ability to deliver as for its policy skills’. Much has been achieved in modernizing the Civil Service but it is plain that it needs to change further and faster. We must work with colleagues across the whole of the public sector to deliver better services to the public. Doing things as we have always done is not an option. Sir Andrew also calls for a service that is an attractive place to work, one that adds public value and is able to develop and deliver long-term plans.

Within the Civil Service the key instrument of realizing this vision is its current and future leaders. As the arm of the Cabinet Office responsible for senior Civil Service training and development the Corporate Development Group has a vital role to play in working with departments, agencies and the wider public sector to build the leadership capacity required to deliver high quality, responsive, public services. Our goal is to inspire and enable a generation of leaders and managers to work together to transform public services. By working with colleagues leading development in the public sector organization and in the Civil Service College, we expect to make our contribution to the delivery of better services to the public.

We don’t advocate any one view of leadership and we haven’t found one that completely describes what is required to lead a public sector organization. Roles and circumstances vary greatly. Our job is to find a model of leadership that works for the individual in his or her own context. Yet it must also enable them to work with others to transform their organizations and ultimately the service as a whole.

An individual’s approach to leadership will grow out of personal attitude, behaviour and experience, and be developed through organizational culture, received wisdom and new challenges. It is a dynamic process and an effective leadership style will vary with time and circumstances. Leaders need to be responsive to the needs of the situation and of the group of people they are seeking to lead

Leadership ability can be enhanced though development and it is a prerequisite for the effective delivery of public services. When we work with senior leaders on their development we explore a number of different models and use a variety of approaches to development. Across this range, four key dimensions, in different combinations. are consistently relevant.

Self as an instrument of leadership

It all starts here. We need leaders whose actions model a clear set of values, who have a high degree of self-knowledge and are able to build relationships based on integrity and who bring out the best in others. Our programmes challenge leaders’ established frames of reference, help them to raise awareness of themselves and their impact on others, support them in re-framing their thinking and attitudes and help them to build their confidence in their capacity to lead.

Leading in the strategic environment

People can lead their organizations to disaster if they don’t have a good grasp of the context in which change needs to happen. It’s crucial to understand the complex network of relationships that underpin the delivery of public services and the need to work with partners to create maximum public value. We widen people’s horizons; helping them to understand the future challenges their organizations may face and improving their ability to make effective decisions in an uncertain and rapidly changing environment

Leadership skills

Many people find themselves in leadership roles with no real training or advice on what works and what doesn’t. One definition of ‘skill’ is ‘practical ability’ – having some confidence when you take an action that you can predict the outcome. Turning vision into reality requires a range of skills from programme management to communication, influencing to coaching, and analysis to implementation. We need leaders who have a command of the techniques required to lead complex organizations and to deliver the outcomes required by government and customers. They will have the ability to communicate an authentic and compelling vision and translate intent into results. They will recognize the need to learn continuously and will have the ability and willingness to do so and to support others to learn.

Leaders cannot be expected to master all these skills without knowledge, coaching and the opportunity to practise in a safe environment. We firmly believe that these skills can be learned and that the key to unlocking potential is a willingness to engage with the learning process.


Senior managers are both the architects and the leaders of change. Success in achieving transformation of our organizations will not come about through administrative actions. Change of this order requires an urgent, dynamic and challenging process. Some will find this exciting while others will wonder if they have the energy and resilience to change the status quo. Leaders are not there to watch the inevitable happen and manage the fall-out their role is to make a difference, perhaps to make the seemingly impossible happen. The good news is that it is not a single-handed feat of strength. Indeed success will be achieved more effectively and quickly if the leader learns how to mobilize and sustain the talents of colleagues throughout the organization. The challenge for many is to continue to deal successfully with the here and now whilst working towards a difference future.

In our leadership development we aim to make the most of our ability to draw people together from across sectors, to learn from each other. Much valuable development will take place in a leader’s own organization and indeed we strongly support learning opportunities which are close to everyday challenges and goals. We are, however, uniquely placed to offer a different king of experience which is increasingly about leadership across the public, private and voluntary sectors. We offer leaders a range of different perspective on leadership and how they might tackle the challenges they face. This is underpinned by a clear emphasis on action and a message that their role is to deliver better services and that it is the application of their skills that is important

Leaders in today’s Civil Service are at the heart of a major transformational change, the challenges are significant but so are the talents of the people who will make it happen

Margaret Saner is Head of Leadership Development, Corporate Development Group, in the Cabinet Office.

For information about leadership development programmes and resources offered by the CDG, contact ian.williams@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk