Skilled Up: What the Finance Leader Needs to Know


By Jo Pitt, Local Government Policy and Technical Advisor, CIPFA

Local government faces severe funding squeezes leading to challenging times ahead. This means that directors of finance, chief executives and members of the management team will all need to draw on their skills as leaders if they are to successfully deliver public services in the future. 

Increased devolution of services and control is an important part of this challenge and leaders have to develop strategies for a delivery landscape that will look very different from the one that operates now. There is no longer an acceptance that one size fits all, and the individual deals being negotiated emphasise this new approach. 

Working with Grant Thornton, we have recently produced an insight that captures the challenges faced by finance leaders. Within Skilled Up: What the Finance Leader Needs to Know we consider a handful of thematic shifts that start to describe good leadership in today’s public sector:

  • From control to collaboration
    Financial pressures and national reform have created powerful incentives for organisations to work together with the aim of collectively achieving more than they could by themselves. This can involve the blurring of organisational boundaries through sharing of posts, merging of structures or pooling of resources – or simply closer alignment of priorities and effort. Some senior finance professionals see themselves as influencing 'whole system' budgets across services and local partnerships as much as controlling the budgets of their own organisation.
  • From leading organisations to leading systems
    System leadership can involve challenging decisions and a leap of faith for leaders in relinquishing some direct control for the greater good, and operating in potentially more risky and less well-defined territory. The mindset and behaviours required to be an effective 'system leader' run contrary to the clichéd view of traditional public services (siloed, cautious and inflexible) to instead create organisations that are responsive, flexible and mutually supportive – seeking to collaborate by default.
  • From service provider to co-creator, commissioner and social entrepreneur
    There are still some top jobs in local government that involve leadership of monolithic delivery structures, for example where councils continue to directly deliver certain services such as refuse collection or housing repairs. However, these are increasingly rare. The headcount of local authority employees has reduced significantly. Local authorities, whether overtly or tacitly, have undergone a long-term shift towards commissioning. 

There has also been acceleration in the development of new and alternative delivery models, such as local authority trading companies, leading to a far more mixed economy of service provision. Many modern organisations also focus on co-production and co-creation with local communities and partners. A blend of the skills required to deliver well, commission effectively and operate commercially are must-haves for the leaders of the future.

Discover more

These themes and many other are explored within the Skilled Up: What the Finance Leader Needs to Know report, which can be downloaded on the CIPFA Thinks Insights main page.