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Public sector 'not an empowering workplace'

Only 7% of public sector middle managers and skilled workers view it as an empowering environment to work in

Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace) and Civica's Invigorating the Public Sector Revolution report found that 47% of public sector workers think their leadership team lacks the management skills needed for a period of massive and accelerating change, and 36% want public sector leaders to invest in creating a more flexible and adaptive working environment.

Three in 10 (30%) respondents said a lack of clear leadership and direction was holding the sector back from effective change, while a quarter (25%) stated that their current leadership team is not able to effectively lead the team over the next decade. Two-thirds (66%) put this down to leadership only caring about how they are perceived and not about their employees.

The researchers also found career development to be an issue, with 36% of public sector employees at middle manager level and below claiming that their organisation doesn’t offer any type of formal career development at all.

More than a quarter (27%) said they believe that their leaders need to embrace modern working practices to aid change.

Kim Ryley, chair of Solace in Business, warned that the biggest barriers in the sector are not technology- or resource-based, they are people’s attitudes. “Public sector organisations need a style of leadership that creates a sense of purpose where they can sell hope to the people, and visibly walk the walk,” he said.

Wayne Story, deputy CEO of Civica, said that as the pace of change accelerates not everyone has the necessary skills to manage and build on the shifts taking place. “Public sector leaders need to be able to empower and inspire the wider workforce and take responsibility for building a culture that encourages employees to innovate and try new ways of working without fear of failure,” he said.

“While excellent public sector training and development exists to support individual challenges, we propose introducing a nationally-funded programme to arm leaders with the skills they require to meet future demands and effectively manage the significant change and increasing expectation using tools and technology to encourage collaboration and innovation.”

Assistant director of HR & workforce services at Coventry City Council, Shokat Lal described the findings as concerning, but added that it should act as a "wake up call" for the sector. "The public sector, and in particular local government, is going through unprecedented and complex change and the skills and experience on which senior managers were appointed decades ago no longer have the skills and competences needed in going forward," he told HR magazine.

"I believe the level of scrutiny and demand in the public sector has resulted in [the sector] neglecting the investment needed to continually develop leadership skills – investing in leadership is not seen as a priority."

He continued: "The public sector also has to embrace, boldly and courageously, the concept of developing public sector leaders, and develop a concept of leadership that is place based and outcome focused rather than just focused on their own individual organisations," adding that the report does not reflect the complexities of this challenge.