Defining what it means to be a leader in the GCS

Leaders in the GCS come in many different roles and grades,­­ from various backgrounds and they bring to government communications a range of skills and experiences. Our leaders may lead teams of many communications professionals; line manage a handful of people; or have no-one reporting into them. Across the GCS, there is no single type of leader, and it’s that difference and variety in leading the GCS way that we should celebrate.

However, whilst our leaders are in their roles because they have demonstrated professional expertise and skills in communications, we also need to be clear about how we expect them to behave and act.

The purpose of the leadership workstream of GCS 2020 is to define those behaviours we expect from GCS leaders in the 2020s, to help us understand how to be an effective leader and build on the civil service values, leadership statement and the competencies we demonstrate each day in our roles. Our workstream does not intend to change any of that. Instead, we want to define clearly how we want our GCS leaders to behave; outline the behaviours that the Profession and wider civil service expects of its communications leaders; and, once we define it, we want to assess how our leaders are performing against it.

There are thousands of books on leadership theory and we do not want to produce another academic statement of leadership. Instead, we’ll work with the Profession to define how our leaders should behave in a way that is tangible and practical. If we get it right, this leadership model will help GCS leaders at all grades and levels of experience to understand what is required of an effective GCS leader and how we want them to behave.

So far, our workstream has sought to understand how our leaders are viewed by departmental colleagues, and what they want to see from them. From that insight, we know that the GCS is viewed as professional and that the effective and impactful leadership of public service communications is key to ensuring successful outcomes. We also know that GCS members want our leaders to be strategic and collaborative in solving problems, to build trust and to take a unique role at the top table by bringing audience insight into decision making.

We will now seek to define this in a practical way and will consult within the Profession and externally to ensure we are heading in the right direction.

The GCS leadership model will help GCS recruitment and retention, improve how we work in government communications and set up our Profession for success in the next decade. We now hope to engage with the Profession early in the New Year and provide a leadership model which clearly reflects the behaviours the Profession wants to see in its leadership.

Please watch out for further updates.

Tess Tinker is Deputy Director, Strategic Communications at the Department for Education. James Staff is Head of Communications, High Speed and Major Rail Projects at the Department for Transport.