At a recent briefing hosted by the Chief Executives’ Forum and NI Public Sector Chairs’ Forum in Belfast, we shared key findings from our ground-breaking reports into effective leadership in arm’s-length bodies, exploring what this means for the public sector in Northern Ireland. Joining Nous colleagues Peter Horne and Nic Dillon were Dr Denis McMahon (Permanent Secretary, The Executive Office), Colin Coffey (Chair, Agri-Food & BioSciences Institute), Kathryn Thomson (Chief Executive, National Museums Northern Ireland) and Helen Pitcher (Chair, Public Chairs’ Forum UK). The event was chaired by Nicole Lappin (Chair, Northern Ireland Housing Executive). We are pleased to share the themes from this discussion.
By Peter Horne and Nic Dillon
All parts of government need effective leadership. It is important when times are good but essential when times are tough. This is true in departments and also in arm’s-length bodies (ALBs), which account for a third of government expenditure.
While there’s a rich literature on the leadership skills required in the civil service, there is less emphasis on what it takes to be an excellent leader in organisations that are at ‘arm’s length’ from ministers. That’s why Nous partnered with the UK’s Association of Chief Executives and then the Public Chairs’ Forum to examine the characteristics and capabilities that make an outstanding ALB CEO and chair.
Our reports, The CEO in Government: Leading ALBs well and The Chair in Government: Profiling the chair of an arm’s-length body, highlight the complexities of the CEO and chair roles, their relationships and the ecosystems in which they operate.
While leaders in Northern Ireland face many of the same challenges as their peers in Great Britain, these are compounded by deeper political uncertainty, the ongoing institutional challenges of the Irish Backstop, and an unclear pathway to the return of traditional government structures.
And this has a real impact on government activities. It stops some decisions from being made and pushes other, traditionally ministerial, decisions to civil servants. It makes service delivery harder. This means that while effective leadership public sector leadership is essential everywhere, it is even more necessary in Northern Ireland.
The themes of our CEO and Chair in Government reports rang true in Northern Ireland just as they have in Great Britain. Five key insights resonated particularly strongly with local leaders:
While leaders in Northern Ireland can increase their impact by drawing on these reports and insights, we are pleased to see Nous clients in Great Britain already taking the next steps on implementation:
Get in touch to discuss opportunities to maximise effectiveness in leadership.
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Prepared with input from Steph Huang.
Published on 1 December 2022.