Background to the report

Any organisation must have effective leadership if it is to deliver its objectives. Leaders must set a clear direction and harness the talents of employees and delivery partners towards achieving that vision. In the civil service, leaders must focus on delivering the objectives set by ministers, and also on leading their organisation well. How they do that is important too – as public servants they must act in accordance with the civil service code and seven principles of public life.

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There are many things government can do to secure the leadership it needs, including through recruitment, performance management, pay and reward, and training and development. The government is currently implementing reforms to the senior civil service, including the introduction of capability-based pay and assessments of leadership capability, which will change the environment in which leaders work.

This report on leadership is part of a wider programme of work from the National Audit Office (NAO) on better people management in government.

Scope of the report

In this initial, factual report we describe the civil service’s training and development of its leaders, focusing on the senior civil service and the pipeline of future senior leaders. We outline the reforms currently under way, led by the Cabinet Office, and the roles played by government professions and departments in the wider system of leadership development. While leadership is the focus of this report, we acknowledge the interplay between leadership and management, recognising that senior leaders also need effective management skills.

Our aim is to improve clarity and transparency of a complex landscape, involving multiple organisations, initiatives and ongoing change. This report will be useful to anyone wanting to understand the leadership development available across the civil service, the roles and responsibilities of different organisations and what they offer, and the direction of travel of current reforms. This will include the HR community across the civil service and the wider public sector, chief operating officers of government organisations and members of Parliament.

Our report is structured as follows:

  • Part One sets out the importance of leadership development in the civil service, and the background to how this is organised.
  • Part Two describes the leadership development offer and how that is being changed by the Cabinet Office’s current reform.


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