Can public sector leaders learn to share power? - Centre for Public Impact (CPI)

In our recent publication, The New Public-Sector Leader, we identified three pillars of public sector leadership:

  •  Be a transparent leader
  •  Lead the network 
  •  Impact the country. 

These three pillars can help you, as a public sector leader, to navigate the choppy waters of heading up complex ecosystems, balance short- and long-term goals, maintain a high-profile persona, and discharge your ethical responsibilities. All this despite having accountabilities that may be ill-defined.

In trying to solve these complex problems, some leaders – whether mayors, government ministers or senior civil servants – have started to demonstrate an approach that the Centre for Public Impact calls the “Shared Power Principle”. Given that citizens vote on the results that the public sector delivers, leaders are increasingly using the tenets of this principle to address the twin challenges of effectiveness and legitimacy, often under stringent time pressure.

Transparency means openness

Being a transparent leader requires you to make well-evidenced decisions and open yourself up to public scrutiny. It also means moving some decision-making power into the hands of people or organisations with the greatest knowledge of an issue and helping them exercise this power as effectively as possible. 

You must hold yourself and other decision-makers accountable for the results of these decisions. The notion of subsidiarity or “pushing authority to information” creates accountability and ownership across the organisation, enabling a speed to action.

Leadership is built on consensus

Leading the network demands that you are committed to building alliances. There is rarely a solution that every stakeholder will align behind.

By working collaboratively and building trust, you are more likely to create and maintain consensus and move the sector forward. 

By developing a deep understanding of the political dynamics, and being able to influence those dynamics in the desired direction, you can make significant progress for your public sector organisation. A “relationships first” approach keeps the channels for dialogue open at all times, ensuring that progress isn’t thwarted by a communications breakdown.

Make an impact and stay accountable

To be an effective public sector leader, you have to be concerned about the impact you create – or co-create – and the legacy you leave behind. You must navigate complex ecosystems, steer large-scale endeavours, and transform society in a relatively short space of time – unless you enjoy the luxury of continuing political support. This requires a constant accountability to the people and communities that you represent. 

Across the world, citizens are demanding greater accountability from the public sector leaders and are not afraid to stage protests and demonstrations when this accountability is found wanting. By effecting new forms of government – and leadership with greater citizen participation – you can stay connected with the people you exist to serve.

Remain relevant by sharing power

Underpinning all this is the need to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.

By being lifelong learners and creating a shared culture of continuous learning, you can encourage risk-taking and rapid experimentation.

Getting beyond the Not-Invented-Here Syndrome and collaborating with the agility that the digital age makes possible, you can usher in a new revolution of citizen services that genuinely benefit their recipients.

The Shared Power Principle can serve as a powerful lever for public sector leaders, especially in its focus on effectiveness and legitimacy. When applied in conjunction with the three pillars of the new Public-Sector Leader, this principle can truly unlock the fullest potential of your – and our – public sector organisations.