Public Sector Leaders: Different Challenges, Different Competencies

Friday, June 19, 2015

Today’s public sector leaders are being asked to function with fewer resources and continually find new ways to tackle challenges. Leadership in the public sector is especially important; it not only influences the job performance and satisfaction of employees, but also how government and public agencies perform. Leadership is critical to good public governance, including good planning, efficiency, transparency, and accountability.

Public sector leaders also face different challenges than in the private sector, and perhaps call on different competencies. For example, a study by Hudson, Decoding the DNA of Public and Private Sector Leaders, a recruitment and talent management company in the Netherlands, found public sector leaders are confronted with the challenge to deliver public services efficiently in accordance with the authorized procedures, processes, and rules. Consequently, public sector senior leaders are typically prone to follow and monitor rules and procedures and give clear directions about the way things need to be done.

Without many of the incentives available in the private sector, it can be a challenge for public sector senior leaders to motivate their employees. What’s more, they may struggle with how to establish a positive working atmosphere that inspires people to deliver good public services.


The Hudson study also found public sector leaders are more focused on long-term strategy and the creative process involved in building a vision. These are important aspects of mindful behavior, which is considered effective leadership behavior. The study found that public sector senior leaders are more oriented toward strategic leadership, one of the important aspects of leadership behavior. And because the public sector presents unique conditions and challenges, it is crucial to identify employees who possess these important traits.


Once potential leaders are identified, they need to be nurtured. This includes formal and informal mentoring and training. For example, high-potential employees could be paired with senior employees for mentorship and coaching. Daily work also offers many opportunities to introduce employees to leadership situations. This could include making a presentation to management or heading up a team.

Through performance management, managers and staff members can discuss the employee’s skills and lay out goals to put them on track for more senior roles. Formal training programs involve future leaders learning skills and gaining knowledge in teamwork, managing conflict and organizational change, diversity and communication.

Leadership in any organization is important, but developing good leaders in the public sector is especially crucial.

About the Author

Audie McCarthy is president and CEO of Mohawk College Enterprise, the corporate training subsidiary of Mohawk College.

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