Managing it better: Can leadership and management improve public service performance?

The UK public sector has performed comparatively poorly for a long time. This review highlights some of the key ways in which the existing research suggests that leadership and management in the public sector can play an important role in helping bring about improvements in public services.

Key points
  • UK public sector performance has been poor for more than two decades, with overall public sector productivity (one metric) growing just 4% in that time.
  • Across the UK and the world, highly-trained public sector leaders and managers are helping deliver better public service performance, offering examples of the gains the UK could benefit from if there was a strong focus on management quality.
  • Good leadership includes articulating a mission that others buy into, inspiring colleagues and leading by example. Effective management practices include setting clear performance goals, underpinned by effective performance management, effective hiring practices and the retention of good staff.
    • In healthcare, individual leadership appears to be less important than the quality of the wider senior management team and the nature of the priorities they set. Having clinicians and specialist managers in senior roles seems to be especially valuable.
    • In education, the headteacher or principal is vital. In addition, recruitment, retention, target setting and performance management are also important.
    • In local public administration, the adoption of methods such as performance management can improve outcomes. However, management measures must be implemented with sensitivity to local conditions, in order to deliver results.

This briefing is the first of several outputs, that will be focused upon the topic of how leadership and management in the public sector can help improve service delivery. The next three will look at healthcare, education and local government, in turn.


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