How the role of HR leaders in the public sector has changed

How the role of HR leaders in the public sector has changed

What do you look for in the ideal HR public sector leader? Emotional intelligence, the ability to navigate the ‘grey areas’ in HR policy and great communication skills? These are all undoubtedly crucial in this kind of role. But recent research has found that today’s public sector senior leaders are more likely to have rather different qualities.

The sector is now attracting more creative thinkers than ever before, and more leaders are demonstrating a tough personal resilience. These are emerging as the standout qualities required to navigate an increasingly challenging role.

Increase in public sector recruitment for ‘creative and resilient’ personality types

The Hogan Development Survey (HDS) was sent out to nearly 5,000 senior leaders between 2017 and 2020.

The analysed results showed that around 16.5% of professionals in 2020 had ‘extreme creative traits’, compared to just 1.4% in the data collected between 1999 and 2009. This means they were more likely to be generating multiple new business ideas and solutions on a regular basis than the last generation of public sector leaders.

Emotional resilience is a trickier quality to look for in the results of a survey. But researchers managed to demonstrate that between 1999 and 2009, 40% of people working in the public sector were likely to be at risk of what was described as ‘emotional reactivity’.

This figure dropped dramatically to just 20% in the 2017-2020 results, showing that leaders are now more resilient to stress, challenge and the demands of the role.

Budget restraints driving ‘outside the box’ solutions

It’s not too difficult to see why the public sector is attracting a ‘different’ kind of leader compared to 10 or even 20 years ago.

Demand for public services remains high. But with increasingly limited budgets to work with, leaders are having to do far more with less. Underfunded public sector organisations are having to find creative ways to deliver results and meet ambitious targets, which makes leadership roles almost impossibly challenging.

This could explain why creativity is increasingly sought-after in public sector HR recruitment, and why leaders have such reserves of resilience.

Commenting on the HDS research, public sector recruitment expert Mark Powell explained the situation to HR Director magazine. He said:

“The context for Public Sector leaders is tough, budgets are shrinking whilst demand for public services continues to grow with the expectation of maintaining (at the least) service quality as well as generating efficiencies.”

Powell goes on to discuss how HR can support other public sector leaders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how such support will be essential to prevent the ‘dark side’ of creative personality types from becoming counterproductive in times of stress. He explains:

“HR should also aim to cultivate the creativity of leaders, treading a fine line between allowing creative license to shape service review and redesign at a time when diversity of thought has never been more important, whilst ensuring ideas are rigorously evaluated at proof of concept stage to guard against potentially impractical ideas that may put the public purse at risk and detract leadership from more urgent priorities.”

Struggling to find the leadership skills your organisation needs? Get in touch with the public sector recruitment specialists at Castlefield Recruitment.