An introduction to public leadership
An introduction to public leadership

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An introduction to public leadership

1.4 What capabilities are needed for public leadership?

Having defined the public sphere, who exercises leadership and what they do, in this section you can look at how they lead. You will explore two capabilities for effective public leadership – political astuteness and assessment of context.

In this video, Jean Hartley, Professor of Public Leadership at The Open University, discusses her research into the leadership capabilities of public servants, particularly those who work closely with elected politicians.

Two key capabilities were identified in this work as important for effective public leadership. The first is political astuteness, a combination of understanding the dynamics of differing group interests and judgement; and the second is assessment of the context, often multi-layered and constrained by individual codes of conduct, in which leadership is required.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_police_vid_1010.mp4
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A public leader may be perfectly entitled by law to take particular action. But it's also really useful to understand when to take other people with you and to explain to them or encourage them to join you in support. And political astuteness really helps with that.
Policing should be apolitical, absolutely, and that has to be the case going forward. But to think that policing isn't politicised would be ultimately naive. Policing is subject of daily debate amongst politicians, it's the subject of daily debate amongst the people that we serve. So that, by its very nature, makes it politicised.
I'm a party politician, I make no bones about being a conservative. And that means that you have certain party political views, although I find plenty of conservatives that I wholeheartedly disagree with. But then what you do need from your police leaders is to be politically astute with a small p and recognising that they do sometimes need political cover to make decisions.
If you're operating in that environment, you need to be aware of what people's agendas are, you need to be aware of what local concerns are, what national concerns are. You need to be able to have channels to influence policy and influence debate and be clear that the professional, operational voice of policing is heard by policymakers at the highest level.
The areas where the police are most sensitive to politics is the fact that they are responsible for operational decision-making. And you will know when you are rubbing against something that they feel that they should be in charge of and they do not need to be swayed by one political group over another.
The phrase that they come out time and time again is it's operational. In other words, I am responsible for the day-to-day operations. I'm here, here's my team and you're not going to tell me how to police London. So the difficulty is to ensure that you give the operational freedom but that you provide a strong performance framework, and you provide a budgetary framework, and you ensure that the mayoral priorities are focused on, but that you don't take away their operational day-to-day decision-making.
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