An introduction to public leadership
An introduction to public leadership

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An introduction to public leadership

1.4.2 Leadership accountabilities

This animation explores three areas of accountability. When someone is accountable, it means they have direct responsibility to someone else or to a committee or board for an aspect of their work.

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When someone is accountable, it means they have direct responsibility to someone else for an aspect of their work. A key feature of leadership in modern public service organisations is the requirement for individual accountability. Not only for the strategic direction of the organisation, but also for the specific operational processes and actions of staff members which directly impact on the public.
This is different from what is required of leaders in private sector companies, whose main accountabilities are to the managers above them in the organisation's hierarchy and ultimately to their organisation's shareholders. But what does this difference in accountabilities mean?
In his book, Rethinking Democratic Accountability, US academic Robert Behn talks about there being three types of accountability in the public sector.
These are: accountability for finances, this is where leaders entrusted with public finances are accountable for spending this wisely.
Accountability for fairness, society has a mutual commitment to fairness so that citizens are treated fairly and protected from abuses of power. Having rules and procedures helps to ensure that this happens.
Accountability for performance, what outputs and outcomes have been achieved and how can this be assessed? This type of accountability can't be guaranteed by rules and procedures, but works better where goals, targets and public value are set, against which organisations can measure themselves. This will often involve making sound and transparent professional and political judgments.
However, this is where we may encounter the accountability dilemma. Often, the rules set up to govern finances and fairness can hinder performance. Indeed, the rules may actually thwart performance. So there is often a trade-off to be made between the three types of accountability.
There is also the possibility of accountability bias. What should the accountability holders hold the accountability holdees accountable for? For complying with the processes set up to ensure trustworthy finances and a commitment to fairness? Or for producing results through performance that achieves outputs and outcomes?
The temptation is to go for the easier option of following rules and processes and to give less attention to performance. Indeed, the traditional mechanisms of accountability for money and equity can easily deter public managers from producing accountability for results.
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In policing as in many other public services, public accountabilities for performance and financial prudence are integrated with an overarching code of professional ethics which emphasises values like fair treatment and integrity. In this video, policing leaders talk about their roles and how the leadership they exercise is expected to reflect these ethical as well as practical accountabilities.

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We've had a long debate in policing as to whether policing should have a code of ethics. What value would that add because most people have sort of understood what the values were that were important in policing. And most forces had a set of values that we included within our documents and tried to teach people about.
I think what the Code of Ethics has done, though, is drawn together a set of values that we aspire to, not a misconduct code and I think that's really important. So it's things like about fairness, integrity, selflessness, those sorts of qualities that one would expect in policing.
As a manager within child abuse investigation, child protection, you're having to manage teams of investigators and their members of staff who are dealing with very emotive areas of work.
So you need to make sure you're managing welfare, looking for signs of stress. If you have an officer who spends all day viewing indecent images of child abuse, which is often child rape, you need to know where those tipping points are and make sure their welfare is managed.
And I think now where well-being has really moved on and developed, is that we've got far more tools at hand to help us look at how people frame work. So in terms of their working lives, bringing meaning and purpose, or happiness, feeling good and also enjoying the work. So we have this huge opportunity in police where it's actually a really interesting vocation.
There is a thing called-- it's a technical term-- we call it the National Decision Model. And again, it's available online, you can access it, it is not a secret police tactic. But sometimes we have to make difficult decisions. It's really good to have a framework or something on which you can hang your decision on.
So the National Decision Model, for example, says stop. What is the information? What is the intelligence that you are going to rely on? It asks you to consider what are the risks? How important is this? How quickly do we need to make this decision? You then can consider your tactics, consider your policies and you can continue to review whatever the situation is.
What is the process that one goes through in terms of thinking about coming up with a decision? Very basic decisions, you are not going to go through this model but actually, there are some quite complex ones where you need to gather lots of information. You then need to think about what are the powers and the policies, what are the options that we have, and then come up to a decision.
And what's core to all of that, and since we've introduced the Code of Ethics, is we put the Code of Ethics at the centre of that. So when people are thinking about what they're dealing with, they then say, and how does this relate to the values of our organisation set out in the Code of Ethics and what we're trying to achieve as a police service? And if everything we do in terms of decisions is in line with those values and the mission, then actually, we're going to make the right decision.
Our shareholders are the public. They pay the taxes. They pay our wages. They hold us to account through various mechanisms. And for me, the difference in the leadership there is very much about delivering the value, our value is delivering it back, is making sure our service is the best we can do. Around filling up a crime investigation and such behaviour, preventing harm in the police and delivering that value and value for money to the taxpayer.
Policing is increasingly complex. In London, 300 languages, 247 identified groups. It is essential that we understand the cultures, the values, the beliefs and the aspirations of all of our communities.
But I think more importantly is whilst we have all that diversity, there is a commonality to humanity. And all communities want to be safe. And no one wants to be a victim of crime. People want to thrive in the spaces that they occupy. And I think our job is increasingly about prevention, rather than the foot chase, and rather than some of those sophisticated tactics, which still count, but it is much more than that.
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