Knowledge and capabilities for leadership across the whole public service system

Benington, John and Hartley, Jean (2010). Knowledge and capabilities for leadership across the whole public service system. In: Brookes, Stephen and Grint, Keith eds. The New Public Leadership Challenge. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 187–198.




This chapter addresses the question: "What are the knowledge and capabilities necessary for effective leadership across the whole public service system?"

This question is not new, and has been the focus of much discussion within academic circles and in many parts of the public service system over many years. However a variety of factors means that this may be an important moment of opportunity - a tipping point with the chance to turn thinking and talking into action.

The current economic crisis provides a significant catalyst for this debate because the pressure to be "doing more with less" will become more strident as public sector spending comes under renewed scrutiny and is expected to decline in real terms over the next few years. during times of cut-back more effective leadership is often seen as one of the best ways of reducing transaction costs between separate organisations, of improving productivity and performance outcomes, and of releasing more public value for users, citizens and communities.

However, the need for better leadership across the whole public service systems does not derive solely from the current economic crisis, far-reaching though this is in its own terms. The world is in the throes of an even more fundamental and far-reaching restructuring of the ecological, political economic technological and social context, which requires a "Copernican revolution" in the basic paradigms for governance and public service. This requires a "whole systems" approach to thinking about public services, and a radical redesign of provision for leadership development.

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