Why the public sector has an image problem


Visibility Co.

When you say the words ‘public sector’ to the average punter, it’s probably fair to assume that they might think of bureaucracy and conservatism before creativity or innovation. The reality, in our experience, is that the public sector is full of people who want bold change, and are capable of effecting it. 

The public sector is our heartland. Over the past five years, we’ve worked with thousands of public sector leaders via our masterclasses and programs, as well as with many departments and organisations on private consulting projects, and they are some of the most values-driven, visionary and purposeful people that we work with. 

So it’s clear that the public sector has a major image problem.

It’s a unique type of leader who is drawn to government. They want to contribute to issues that matter. They eschew the larger salaries of the corporate world and delicately dance the line between public good and political short-termism. They’re not just the dreamers, they’re the doers. They’re some of the most agile and resilient leaders we’ve ever met. They are the people we all need more of in our teams. 

Public sector leaders are a seriously underestimated change-making segment of our population. 

We spent two days in Brisbane this month, attending and presenting at the BiiG network Public Sector Innovation Conference as guests of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur. 

We were curious to see whether the title of our half-day workshop – Visibility: the secret weapon for influence in the public sector – would resonate. We felt that many public sector leaders were keen to use their influence more intentionally, but was that assumption correct for this audience? As the registrations kept flowing and our session was moved to a bigger room, it became clear that this is a topic for which there is a huge appetite.

As we supported 150 public entrepreneurs to think differently about their visibility and influence, and its connection to innovation and leadership, we found that far from being passive observers, this was a group of active, hungry participants. They pushed, prodded and encouraged one another to go further, and each person walked away with an individual strategy and plan to bring to life over the next month and beyond.

The public sector is at a critical juncture. The pandemic catalysed change everywhere, and the public sector was (and still is) right at the coal-face. It also instigated a distinct shift in the public trust in government – probably the biggest change in a generation – as we grappled with new threats, not just to our health, but also our job and food security, personal freedoms and, of course, the environment. 

When a system starts to crack and bend and twist and move, it’s easy to worry about its weaknesses, particularly when it’s been unbending in the past. But it’s also the time of greatest opportunity. 

So, what will the public sector do with this opportunity for change and innovation? For reputation rehab? How will public innovators use their influence to capitalise on this pivotal moment in time? 

BiiG conference speaker Beth Simone Noveck, professor and director of The Governance Lab and chief innovation officer for New Jersey, agreed that the time is ripe for change. That the innovation that’s happened during the pandemic shouldn’t get left on the sidelines. That with the uncertainty of now comes the shaping of the future: the chance to listen more deeply, ask more questions, use empathy to understand communities, and take the permission to innovate seriously. She suggested that the leadership opportunity and unique role of public innovators in this moment is in using their valuable problem solving skills and influence to close the gap between intention and action in order to build trust and outcomes. 

We couldn’t agree more. 

So what next? How does the public sector start to close that gap?

Now is the time for public sector innovators to think and play bigger - to elevate their individual and collective influence and impact. To be clear on, and lead boldly with, a clear vision and values, to up-skill on crucial skills like systemic leadership thinking, authentic and effective communication - to get serious about their own strategic leadership, and bring their teams along. To find other public innovators like them - to make the tough, necessary work of shifting the dial on the issues that matter much, much easier. 

If this resonates, join us at one of our upcoming public sector masterclasses and to begin the next phase of your public sector career journey: www.visibilityco.com/events

About Visibility Co.

Working at the intersection of leadership, strategy and visibility, we seek to be strategic provocateurs and catalysts of systemic change, supporting you to unleash the potential within so you can create a better world from wherever you are.

While we’re not big on labels, we’re often referred to as social impact and communications strategists, or strategic leadership advisors, or visibility experts.

Fancy words for a business, led by Julia May and Sarah Anderson, that brings together purposeful leadership, strategy and communications in truly integrative and innovative ways.

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