Leading for change – learning from leaders in Northern Ireland

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Leaders in public services face tough challenges – from quick decision making in a crisis, through to managing expectations from the public and the political system. Managing people and teams, facilitating diversity and working collaboratively are some of the interpersonal skills which can help leaders to navigate uncertainty and change.

Leadership development programmes are one way of supporting current and future generations of leaders to introduce and manage change. Through the Goal Programme, CES had the opportunity to work with the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Centre for Applied Learning, to codesign ’Leading for the Future’ a programme based on the needs of senior leaders in Northern Ireland. In May, we presented findings from an evaluation of the Programme to the Chief Executives Forum in Northern Ireland, the umbrella body for Chief Executives and Senior Staff in public sector bodies.


Some of those attending the event had direct experience of being involved in the Programme. They reflected on their learning about the benefits of participating and what kind of support helps leaders during periods of change and uncertainty.

Three key themes which emerged from the discussion and which resonate with the evaluation include:

  • Changing our thinking from collaborative to collective leadership – Leadership development programmes have provided opportunities for leaders to build relationships and tackle problems as a collective. Extended periods of working remotely has made it hard for leaders to collaborate and engage in informal networking activities – all which help to build a collective approach. A renewed focus to rebuild post pandemic may provide opportunities to build the collective.
  • As a leader, you have to find time to invest in building relationships– Leadership development programmes won’t deliver a quick fix. Leaders have to take time to build relationships as part of their work, and ‘walk the talk’ by modelling and showing that its important.
  • Keeping an eye on the ‘why’ – Diversity and inclusion are important values for the public service. The public service will benefit from new ideas and perspectives. Strategies for attracting young people and mechanisms such as secondments were highlighted.

Along with the evaluation, CES has put together a series of ten questions to help departments and organisations when planning leadership development initiatives.

Watch a recording of the discussion here.

Read the evaluation.

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