Leadership Insights for Local Government

Our research has found that the most significant people issue for our Local Government and Public Sector clients is the development of their senior leaders, which has been further highlighted through the impact of the pandemic on working practices and expectations.

This observation is confirmed by Gartner research which presents ‘current and future leadership bench strength’ as a top 5 people priority in 2021, with 44% of HR representatives reporting that they are struggling to develop their senior leaders.       

The challenges leaders face in Local Government          

Our conversations with leaders in your sector have shone a spotlight on many challenges. There are, however, three that consistently arise in our interactions with Chief Executives and Board members:       

  • Delivering more for less
  • Maximising social value
  • Increasing diversification of services and the organisation.     

For each challenge we reference the critical leadership behaviours and then use benchmarking data from GatenbySanderson leadership profiling to provide insights into the capacity of leaders in your sector to deliver on these.        

Defining behavioural excellence       

In this article we will reference the GatenbySanderson leadership model, Altitude, this describes behavioural excellence for leaders working across the Public, Education and Not for Profit Sectors. The model includes 12 behaviours falling into three clusters; Focus on Self, Focus on People and Focus on Outcomes.       

We have mapped assessment data on over 3,500 leaders to these behaviours allowing us to benchmark and compare leader capability in different sectors to the broader Public Sector (we have data for over 800 leaders from Local Government). We calculate this variance to generate a Net Leadership Capability score that can then be reported as a ‘strength’ or a ‘risk’.       

While all 12 of these behaviours are key to leadership success, some of these are of particular relevance to the immediate challenges identified for housing associations, and insight for these is referenced below.      

The leadership behaviours that matter in Local Government and the Public Sector     

Delivering More for Less: The Covid-19 crisis has caused further, significant financial challenges for local authorities, both large and small, who continuously exist in the context of ‘doing more for less’.        

The key behaviours of relevance here are ‘Tackle Tomorrow’ and ‘Be Curious and Agile’.  Both will be core to identifying alternative approaches to delivery and delivering transformation in a way which balances innovation with an awareness of appropriate levels of risk.

The Net Leadership Capability score shows that leaders in the local government sector  have greater potential in relation to ‘Tackle Tomorrow’, with positive significant differences shown compared to leaders in the broader Public Sector.  ‘Be Curious and Agile’ shows similar potential to other Public Sector leaders.  Overall this suggests a strength and opportunity for leaders in the sector to determine how to apply innovative ideas to support cost-efficient and cost-saving approaches to the delivery of services. 

Maximising social value: Local government leadership is continuously under intense scrutiny from multiple stakeholders including elected members, the public and the media. High-profile headlines in recent years have contributed to a climate of leadership behaviours being increasingly under the spotlight.    The importance of demonstrating sound decision-making with how public money is used to deliver the greatest value to the community has never been of greater importance.         

The behaviour of most relevance here is ‘Engender Trust’. The Net Leadership Capability score shows that leaders in the Local Government sector, when compared to the broader Public Sector, have less potential to deliver on this behaviour with a significant negative difference shown for this core behaviour. This should be noted as a risk for leaders in the sector as they grapple with rebuilding trust and maintaining their own resilience through a difficult period and challenging times ahead.  On a positive front, ‘Social Heart, Commercial Head’, relating to the capability to balance the commercial realities of reduced budgets alongside a focus on delivering what is best for the community shows stronger potential when compared to the broader Public Sector, with a positive, though non-statistically significant difference. It will be essential for leaders to capitalise on this skill and consider how they can ensure others understand the reasoning for decisions in order to enhance the capability to engender trust.

Increasing diversification of services and the organisation: Our conversations with Boards and leadership teams frequently reference the need for Local Government and their leadership teams to be more representative of the communities they serve.           

The Behaviour of focus here is ‘Futureproof Talent’, the Net Leadership Capability score shows that leaders in the local government sector, when compared to the broader Public Sector, have greater potential to deliver on this behaviour with a positive difference in their score. Whilst this suggests a potential strength for leaders in the sector, as they look to address diversity and inclusion in their organisations, we also recommend caution against a one size fits all approach and advocate the need to consider diversity in its broadest sense, including leveraging the lived experience of individuals and actively ensuring that beneficiaries of services have a voice when shaping strategy and determining priorities.

Working in partnership with you     

Our Leadership & Talent Consultancy is a team of talent, leadership and organisational development specialists dedicated to helping our clients tackle the leadership challenges that matter to them and ultimately deliver on our mission to ‘find and develop leaders to shape a better society’.      

Our solutions include succession management, executive coaching, top team development, leadership development programmes, organisational development and board evaluation.  Some of our recent work in Local Government includes:       

– Senior Leadership Development Programme for a London Borough Council. This involved the design and delivery of a new Senior Leadership Development Programme (SLDP) aligned to their People Plan and building on prior development within a Leadership Academy. We used a blended learning approach and the 70-20-10 model as the foundation of our programme design. Our emphasis was on ensuring that as well as leaders understanding their behaviour and the impact they have on others, they also understand how to really change their behaviour, and indeed the emotions underlying their behaviour in order to have a more effective impact on others.

– Top Team Development and Coaching work for a South East County Council that includes group sessions and on-going one-to-one individual coaching. In addition we are currently a preferred supplier on their management and leadership development framework and will have opportunities to design and deliver future management and leadership development programmes.           

– Leadership Development Webinar. In April 2021 we delivered a workshop for 50-60 senior managers at Bury Council on ‘what great leadership looks like in local government’ and ‘what it means to lead in a VUCA world’. Following the workshop, we received the below feedback from the Deputy Chief Executive at Bury Council: 

The GS Team delivered an excellent session on their altitude model to the joint team of Council and CCG senior managers in Bury.GS presented complex theory across psychology, neurology and leadership and facilitated a highly interactive discussion through a range of digital tools. The session prompted great debate to inform the development of our long-term vision and immediate organisation development journey. As a result of this session participants have tools to inform their immediate PDR and the discussion has laid foundations for a further debate at the next event. Really high-value input many thanks 

Lynne Ridsdale (Deputy Chief Executive, Bury Council)

We have extensive experience supporting organisations and individuals understand their leadership capability and developing their top teams to be future ready. If you’d like to discuss how we can support your organisation with your leadership challenges, please contact Liaquat Lal at 

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