We found the qualities of a leader in tough times, were effectively articulated by public service managers. Though under pressure, when we asked public service managers to tell us what enables performance, they provided a strong sense of what they thought was possible. How though can these qualities of a leader in tough times be made a reality?

We asked Leaders and managers in public services to consider which factors would enable performance.  The results provide a useful contrast with the issues highlighted in our article characteristics of good leadership under pressure.  They offer both a positive vision and some practical signposts for its attainment.  It provides a strong sense of what leaders and managers feel they want to create pointing  towards important qualities of a leader in tough times. It was a revealing exercise despite being under significant pressure public service managers demonstrated a resilience and optimism with clarity about the qualities of a leader needed in tough times.

Qualities of a Leader in Tough Times: A Way Forward

Qualities of a leader in tough timesIn summary, the discussion indicated that caring people who take pride in their jobs, combined with smarter working and good management practices, will lead to engaged customers.  Other key issues include helping staff to see and understand the bigger picture, whilst building a broader culture of trust and fostering better collaboration.  Taken as a whole, these factors will help to create the conditions that will enable performance.

Think about your own organisation:

  • How do these key issues relate to your organisation?
  • To what extent would they make a difference to performance?

These conditions point to a hopeful way forward in public services, but they also ask significant questions about the qualities of a leader needed to achieve this.

Qualities of a Leader to Realise the Vision

How can leaders help to create these conditions?

  • Caring people who take pride in their jobs – Leaders need to show they value their staff. Building enthusiasm and confidence in their teams.
  • Focusing on smarter working and good management practices – Motivated high performing staff need to be supported by great management, continually seeking better ways to do things.
  • Engaged customers – Perhaps more so than ever in a recession customers need to feel engaged. Leaders should keep a strong focus on the customer.
  • Bigger picture -  Leaders should constantly link what is being done to why it needs to be done. It is easy in a recession to lose sight of why things are being done. Especially when difficult choices are being made a clear sense of the bigger picture is vital.
  • Culture of trust and collaboration -  A culture of trust is central both to staff engaging more with customers and to more effective engagement between departments and across public services. Leaders need to demonstrate transparency and integrity for effective collaboration to work.

It was very encouraging to see such a positive sense of how public services “could be”, emerging from the leaders and managers to whom we talked.  Creating these conditions should be a priority and will need a focus on the  qualities of a leader needed to make it happen.


You can find our article about the issues the managers identified here: Characteristics of good leadership under pressure.

For more on the sea change in public services return to our main public services page: C-Change