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The purpose of this paper is to offer insights into the nature of the challenges leaders across local government face, the skills and personal qualities they need in the present environment and how to develop them. Local authorities, in common with other parts of the public sector, are facing drastic reductions in funding, rising demand for services and government expectations that individuals and communities will do more for themselves. This degree of change is unprecedented and it is helpful to understand more fully the emotional, intellectual and practical challenges that it poses. This paper arose out of work with leaders across local government.
Senior managers were helped to explore what sort of leadership they would need to give, in this context, in order to best serve service users, local citizens and communities. They could see the importance of innovation and collaboration but also recognised that cost pressures could easily create conflict and drive people back into their silos. Working with groups of managers, it was felt that they faced the connected challenges of managing themselves, leading and managing others in their organisation and the wider system.
The author found that to be effective, individual leaders needed cognitive and emotional skills and sensitivity, particularly: self‐awareness and understanding of others; the ability to manage interpersonal relationships; and complexity and systems thinking. At the organisational or partnership level, leaders needed a shared understanding of the challenges they face, a shared language for describing them and some shared tools and approaches for tackling them. This was best developed through joint endeavour.
Language matters, it influences how we think and we can use it to build collective leadership or allow it to fracture our organisations and wider public sector systems. The more we need to work outside of our own professional groups, each of which has its own language, the more important it becomes to recognise this and to actively seek to create something that is shared.
The purpose of this chapter is to develop the idea of enhancing collaboration within a public context. It does so by exploring the challenge of working with others across organisational boundaries, when addressing complex issues. It discusses research findings from a Scotland based public service study concerned with collaborative practice and presents an empirical analysis of what it means to work in a relational way. The existing literature is reviewed alongside the study findings, connecting with contemporary theories and debates in the fields of collaboration, leadership and public administration.
The empirical work detailed in this chapter drew from collective and relational leadership theories which influenced the study design and methodological approach. The data collection method took the form of semi-structured interviews and data were analysed using thematic analysis supported by data mapping exercises. Data were obtained through interviews of 20 participants from multiple public service roles and organisations who were involved in similar activities linked to collaboration.
This chapter promotes an approach where disrupting traditional collaborative practice offers new insights in terms of (1) understanding the group process and (2) recognising what processual and behavioural adjustments can be made to enrich collaborative work. This approach was found to offer a number of benefits linked to building trust, promoting meaningful dialogue and altered the conversations that people chose to have.
The reconceptualisation of collaboration specifically illustrates what it means to ‘work in a more relational way’ and how it is understood by those attempting to build collaborative capacity, sustain public services and improve outcomes for citizens and communities. As such, it is this focus on relationships that is considered innovative and important to creating the open collaborative culture required for addressing complex issues and working across organisational boundaries.