Public sector faces chronic leadership crisis

By Rob O’Brien

Local government is among a number of sectors facing a leadership crisis according to a recent report conducted in Victoria and Tasmania.

A survey by the Australian institute of Management’s (AIM) Workforce Skills Gap found a worrying shortage of leadership skills, with experts blaming the extra scrutiny and accountability faced by people in public office as a reason for the gap.
More than 2,000 executives were surveyed by the AIM report published in December, with 76 per cent confirming their organisations had a workforce skills gap.
More than 7 per cent of respondents said the skills gap was impacting on organisations across their state or territory.
Leadership was ranked the highest skills issue by public sector respondents (51 per cent) and lowest in private companies (40 per cent).
Susan Heron, the report’s author, said: “The biggest gap is around middle management… leadership is a big problem, and in the public sector 80 per cent say there is a skills gap.

Significantly, for those organisations without a skills gap, a ‘strong commitment to training and development’ was said by respondents to be the main reason why (65 per cent).
Ms. Heron said that the public sector did report insufficient funds to hire the right people as one reason for talent shortage, but succession planning was found to be a much higher concern than the private sector.
“There’s no enough succession planning and we’re retaining and not thinking about bringing people up,” she said.
“All sectors say that their middle management is underskilled, regardless of public or private sector, these are the leaders of tomorrow and we’re not investing appropriately in them.”
Simon Brown-Greaves, group general manager of the Melbourne-based National Leadership institute said that a number of technical skills shortages still plagued the public sector.

“In general terms we’re already back in that position we thought we’d be in before the financial crisis, which is talent shortage… and we’re seeing talent shortages across a number of technical areas,” he said.

Mr Brown-Greaves said that the increased pressure and accountability on the public sector was one likely reason for the gap in leadership talent. 
“One of the issues we’re seeing in the public sector is the enormous increase in transparency and accountability and scrutiny, that you get in leadership roles in local government and state government.
“I think that increases the expectations on leaders, that they’ve got this commitment to high levels of accountability.
“If I was moving into a leadership role in local government that would be weighing heavily on my mind.”

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