Our standards

Leaders in the Government Communication Service come in many different roles and grades, from various backgrounds, working across different professional disciplines and they bring to public service communications a range of skills and experiences.

Our leaders may be responsible for large teams of communications professionals; lead a workstream or be a thought-leader. They may work in central departments or in arm’s lengths bodies based across the UK.

GCS Leadership Objective

A new leadership objective has been created for 2024/25. To demonstrate our commitment to developing talent at every level, this objective is for all GCS leaders, not only those working at SCS Grade. 

‘As a senior leader in the Government Communication Service, I will actively grow the capability of our people, foster collaboration across GCS and help navigate the changes that 2024/25 might bring for our profession’.

Leadership Framework

diagram showing the leadership structure as described in the text

Diagram showing the definitions of leadership qualities

How to use the GCS Leadership Framework

Strategic thinking is at the heart of good communications. We deliver the priorities of the Government by understanding the most effective ways to influence within the resources that we have, making deliberate choices to provide the most effective outcomes for the public benefit. We consider the big picture, including the social and political context, being flexible and responsive to a rapidly changing world and understanding the changing needs of our audiences.

Government communications professionals at all levels also need to:

Be connected and perceptive to our audiences, understand their perspective using research, behavioural science and emotional intelligence. We will listen to, understand and interpret the needs and priorities of our audience from a range of diverse backgrounds.
Be creative in finding new, innovative and effective ways to engage and influence our audience. We will foster an environment that supports bold and courageous communications, encouraging teams to continually push the boundaries of creativity.
Be collaborative with one another and work in partnership across government and professions, as well as with our partners and audience. We will take collective responsibility and have clear accountability throughout, taking an audience-based approach to our communications.

Who should use the GCS communication leadership framework?

This framework is for leadership at all levels, across all roles, grades and communications disciplines.

GCS professionals should aspire to demonstrate all these strengths, and they should be considered an essential part of any appointments and/or promotions. This is particularly relevant to senior leaders focusing on securing the right people, developing the right strategy and, critically, creating the right culture.

Using the framework to recruit, train, and appraise performance

For example:

  • Use the framework for recruitment – test the strengths in interviews as part
    of the blended success profile approach to interviewing
  • On the job learning – finding opportunities in your day to day work that allow
    you to practice doing things differently. This may involve changing jobs in
    order to get the development opportunities you need
  • Stretch assignments – signing up for new activities, projects or assignments
    that allow you to stretch yourself and develop new skills and behaviours
  • Feedback – seek formal or informal feedback from a range of stakeholders
    on the areas that you are developing (your manager, direct reports, peers
    or customers)
  • Learning from role models – identify people who are excellent at the things
    you want to develop. Observe them (perhaps by job shadowing) and reflect
    on what you can learn from the way they do things. Ask them questions to
    help you understand what they do and ask for feedback on your behaviour
  • Coaching or mentoring – seeking a coach or mentor who can help you
    reflect on your leadership journey
  • Leadership workshops and training – through civil service learning or
    GCS for example
  • Widen your network – for example by working on a cross-government
    GCS project, attending communication industry events or seminars
  • Get involved in a project that requires you to engage with the big picture
    and the longer-term strategy
  • Look for opportunities to learn how things are done outside the civil service
    so you can bring into new ideas to your work.

1. Strategic

Strategic thinking is at the heart of good communications. In an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world, GCS professionals need to make sense of this complexity while maintaining a focus on the bigger picture, and to place things in their wider political and social context. They will need to be flexible and responsive to their environment, knowing that priorities can change, while
also setting a clear and consistent long-term direction and destination for government communications and prioritising their resources to focus effectively.

Examples of strategic behaviours

  • Shaping the communication priorities of your department, external audiences and the wider government, and prioritising your resources to achieve those objectives
  • Agreeing and communicating your long-term goal, and keeping this in mind when making decisions on day-to-day priorities
  • Understanding the inter-dependencies between policy, operations and communication, and translating complicated policy and operational challenges into a key message or call to action
  • Diagnosing and addressing sensitive and complex problems, and using strategic communications to help solve them.

2. Connected

Building a strong connection with our audience is crucial if we want to be responsive and ensure that their perspectives form the heart of public service communications. Those audiences are increasingly polarised and fragmented, so GCS leaders need to be perceptive and use a number of tools – including research, behavioural science and emotional intelligence – to understand, interpret and influence a diverse range of needs and priorities.

They need to build these connections from the inside out, developing strong personal and
strategic relationships with their own colleagues and stakeholders, as well as
wider audiences.

Examples of connected behaviours

  • Building relationships with a broad range of people from different backgrounds and levels, both within and external to Government, seeking multiple perspectives to improve thinking and bring the audience needs into designing communications
  • Actively building teams with different skill sets and experiences to solve problems; creating a culture that encourages diverse thinking and variety –a fusion approach
  • Making time to listen to staff, audiences and stakeholders on the ground; utilising all insight channels to understand the public mood and dominant narratives to ensure that our communications resonate
  • Understanding that human choices are often emotional rather than rational; designing communications to resonate with the heart and head to move people.

3. Creative

The best communicators look for new and creative ways to engage, influence their audience and solve problems. As channels continue to proliferate and the public becomes increasingly discerning about the media landscape, GCS leaders need to foster an environment that encourages teams to be bold and courageous in their communications. They should empower teams to push the boundaries of creativity and solve complex challenges through managed risks, as well as tried-and-tested methods, innovating and adopting the latest game-changing approaches from across the industry>

Examples of creative behaviours

  • Committing time and resource to trialling new techniques, communications solutions, platforms and channels to solve problems
  • Accepting mistakes, and diligently learning from them, emulating the ‘fail-fast’ culture of start-ups
  • Using creative leadership techniques e.g. divergent and convergent thinking
  • Encouraging challenge and creating a safe space for experimentation where all colleagues can cultivate creative ideas
  • Using practical solutions to foster creative environments, such as online collaboration spaces; ‘play time’ initiatives used by start-ups; using a percentage of the campaign budget to test innovative approaches; and flexible and inclusive working patterns.

4. Collaborative

GCS professionals work best when they work together, solving problems in a truly cross-government operation. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been defined by an unprecedented and hugely disruptive level of digital innovation, and communicators will only respond to this challenge effectively if they break down silos and collaborate at all levels, bringing different teams, departments and the wider Civil Service together behind one goal.

We should take collective responsibility and have clear accountability throughout this process,
while looking to build relationships across the wider industry to bring in new ideas, learning and expertise from outside the Government.

Examples of collaborative behaviour

  • Working with others to identify shared communication challenges across systems and prioritising the best outcome for the audience over narrow team or departmental objectives
  • Recognising differences and understanding creative tension to overcome barriers and find where objectives align
  • Bringing a broad range of people together in mixed teams from different disciplines, and encouraging cross-system working and knowledge-sharing within and between departments and partners
  • Asking who is ‘not’ in the room, and making sure other voices are heard to improve effectiveness
  • Bringing ideas and learning from outside the government to enhance performance.

5. Trusted

As the custodians of public trust, GCS professionals have a duty to deliver authoritative, credible and honest communications. This is increasingly important in the current climate, which has seen a decline in trust in the institution of government and the media alongside a rise in misinformation and fake news. GCS professionals need to foster trusted relationships within their own teams, provide trusted counsel to boards and ministers, and feel able to speak truth to power while holding themselves to the highest professional and ethical standards in their public communications.

Examples of Trusted behaviours

  • Demonstrating confidence and professional expertise to internal clients and external partners to be seen as credible and trusted
  • Using insight and evidence to build trust in our advice; sharing strategies to ensure that others understand what you are trying to achieve
  • Taking accountability: doing what you say you will, and telling people if you have responded to their feedback
  • Owning mistakes and failings; identifying processes to ensure we are learning from them
  • Building relationships that allow us to be honest and frank with colleagues and stakeholders; demonstrating active listening and understanding their motivations and concerns and sharing yours, as appropriate.