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Leading change in the public sector

The public sector is currently undergoing radical change in response to the economic recession.

ILM’s in-depth study of public sector managers focuses on their present outlook, readiness for change, and the challenges and opportunities they face.

The report

At a time when public sector managers face considerable challenges, in 2010 ILM set out to gauge their opinions on key issues. We surveyed 1,554 managers at different levels of seniority from across the public sector. Read the full Leading change in the public sector report   

What we found

Feeling the pinch

The research dispels many of the myths about the public sector and its managers, including, crucially, the belief that it has remained untouched by the economic downturn.

Without doubt, the research shows that fallout from the recession has already affected budgets and resourcing levels across the public sector.

Future concerns 

Looking forward, nine out of ten managers believe that further budget cuts are likely. And, if these cuts are managed poorly, they anticipate staff and customers will suffer.

Over half of managers are concerned that cuts will harm the quality of services they provide, while two thirds expect a drop in staff morale and wellbeing.

The months ahead present a major challenge for public sector managers. They expect renewed pressure as cost cutting impacts on day to day operations, with increased concerns about personal job security, the threat of redundancies and headcount reductions. 


But while budgets are under scrutiny and the future outlook is uncertain, it is clear that, on the whole, public sector managers are up for the challenge. Our research shows a committed, experienced and talented cadre of management professionals who are highly motivated to make a difference in their roles.

Job satisfaction is high, with 70% of managers either satisfied or very satisfied at work. Of the two thirds of respondents who had previously worked in the private sector, 61% were more satisfied or much more satisfied in their current role.

This highly positive approach to working in the public sector is put down to working with good colleagues, the value of teamwork, the rewarding nature of the work, and the opportunity to influence change.  


Of the relatively few managers (17%) who were dissatisfied in their role, most blamed poor or unsupportive management or leadership, and a lack of understanding of the frontline by senior management.

Almost half of all respondents agreed there was not effective two-way interaction with the senior management team. Over half the managers believed the senior management team did not understand the functions and responsibilities of other teams.

The use of targets is also a hot topic – it is clear from the research that targets are an important tool for managers to use in dealing with the challenges they face. But while there is considerable support for targets, managers need to be empowered to set realistic localised targets for their team, rather than having uniform targets imposed without consultation.


Despite the challenges, the research identified a strong sense of optimism and opportunity. Nearly half the managers had a positive outlook for the next 12–18 months. The majority identified opportunities to improve performance at work, to innovate and introduce new business processes, develop creative solutions, improve teamwork and communication, and improve staff morale and motivation.

To capitalise on this spirit of optimism and opportunity, policymakers and senior managers need to support and empower public sector managers to make decisions that are appropriate to the circumstances. Managers should be empowered to develop innovative responses to budget cuts that improve efficiency, introduce more effective back office services and improve frontline delivery.

Training threat

One area likely to be hard hit by the pending cuts is training and development budgets. Yet this is an essential tool to support the kind of radical change needed, equipping managers and their teams with the skills to make it happen. At a time when the public sector needs to maintain the highest levels of performance, the provision of ongoing support and development for managers will be critical.

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