In 'The Public Sector Fox' Marcial Boo and I identify twelve skills required to become a brilliant public sector manager. Each gets a chapter. But there is a thirteenth skill which cuts across every single one of the twelve and may even be the most important of the lot.
We were tempted to call it networking but this is too limiting and (for some) too pejorative. So instead we have described it slightly more cumbersomely as: knowing how to make use of the goodwill and expertise across the public sector.
There are two reasons why this is such a key skill for public sector managers: first, the chances are that whatever problem you are facing somebody, somewhere will have dealt with it before. Secondly, the chances are that people will be willing to share their experience with you. These are terrific advantages to have and it is worth spending time thinking about how you, as a public sector manager, can fully exploit them.
Here are some ideas:
- Contact the public sector managers you admire and ask to meet. Don’t be inhibited by how grand they are. You might be surprised at how generous senior public servants – and particularly recently retired ones – are in sharing their time with you. Imagine how willing you would be to help out a younger person who approached you for support (hopefully the answer is very willing).
- Stay in touch with the predecessors in your job and also your peers in other organisations. These people have the most relevant understanding of the day to day challenges you face and yet it is astonishing how often managers leave these valuable sources untapped.
- Build relationships with people whose knowledge and skills could be useful in the future; it is much easier to pick up the telephone to ask advice from somebody you know and trust than it is to find a lawyer, or an experienced social worker or an accountant at short notice.
This may all sound horribly unromantic but it shouldn’t just be a utilitarian exercise - getting to know interesting colleagues in the public sector and what they do should be fun and is a considerable perk of the job. Exploit it.