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Public Sector Managers Lack Confidence

September 26 2007 - Research for The Work Foundation has found that public sector managers lack confidence in their own leadership skills and underestimate their achievements compared to ratings given by their line managers and other colleagues.

Researchers analysed responses from 156 managers, 587 team members and 216 line managers based on The Work Foundation's Liberating Leadership, a 360 degree appraisal tool that rates managers against 42 specific leadership behaviours.

Ian Lawson, development director at The Work Foundation said:

"The results suggest a lack of self-belief among public sector managers about their ability to lead others. They are too ready to believe the stereotype of the quiet, unassuming public sector manager. But this is emphatically not how their colleagues see them behave at work."

Respondents agreed that public sector managers are notable for taking responsibility for their own and their team's actions; not unfairly taking credit for the success of others; and praising when appropriate. Team members rated managers highly for their ability to develop positive relationships inside and outside the organization based on trust rather than suspicion. Line managers credited their ability to set a good example by their own performance and for assertively raising issues. However, public sector managers were seen to be less effective at inspirational future direction and delegation.

Team members consistently rated women managers more highly than male managers on 86 per cent of leadership behaviours (36 out of 42) including keeping promises, consulting others, developing staff, and clarifying direction. Some stereotypical views of gender difference are reflected in recognition of the nurturing role of women managers who nonetheless have a positive view of their own ability to recognize stress, make people feel important and help others deliver. The study found that line managers rated male managers more highly than female managers on 70 per cent of leadership behaviours (29 out of 42) but the differences were small.

Ian Lawson commented:

"Any attempt to become a better leader must always begin with self-awareness. Even small changes in behaviour based on feedback from colleagues can make a big difference to an individual's ability to lead. It is when a person gains effective insights into their leadership abilities that something clicks within them and somehow they expand into a role."


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