ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Pandemic prompts public sector leadership ‘brain drain’

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 15 Mar 2021

A potential shortage of senior public sector talent is looming after C-level executives who postponed their retirement during the pandemic look set to step back this year.

Recent analysis of the public sector labour market shows a high number of chief executives across local government were due to retire in 2020 but many postponed stepping back due to COVID-19. 

“For many of them, it didn’t feel right to leave during a pandemic,” Jes Ladva, head of the government interim and consultancy practice at headhunter Odgers Berndtson.

This potential exodus of chief executives across local government paves the way for CFOs to step up to the top jobs. However widespread de-layering of management structures across the public sector means that making the move internally to CEO is a much bigger leap than it used to be, Ladva warns. “It used to be that people would come up through the finance director route but now the backgrounds of those stepping up are much more varied.”

In particular, those from a planning, regeneration or social care background are increasingly in the running, Ladva said. “We’re seeing people being promoted internally which is positive because it shows organic growth, but it can be difficult because it then means you know one area of the organisation really well and are too closely associated with it. Sometimes it’s better to move from somewhere else where there’s no legacy.”

Systems leadership and the ability to work collaboratively had emerged as must-have attributes, he said. “Also, the ability to lead and motivate people remotely is a new skill. We’re seeing a much more authentic style of management emerge,” Ladva added.

Ladva said he was seeing more individuals investing in their own personal development to better take advantage of career opportunities, particularly through coaching, mentoring and executive learning opportunities. 

Alison Ring OBE, Director of Public Sector at ICAEW, said: “Chartered accountants have the skills with which to lead local authorities. I would encourage experienced professionals to consider taking on these roles to provide strong financial management experience at a time when many local authorities are facing severe financial challenges.”

Join the Public Sector Community

For accountants and finance professionals working in and advising the public sector, this Community is the go-to for the key resources and guidance on the issues affecting practitioners like you. With a range of dynamic services, we provide valuable tools, resources and support tailored specifically to your sector.

Public Sector polaroid