The Swedish Agency for Public Management

Developed co-workership and leadership in central government (2016:20)

This report by Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) relates to a Government commission for a developed co-workership and leadership in central government. The commission has been to analyse and suggest how to better utilise the employees’ skills and experience in the agency’s planning, development, implementation and follow-up of various activities. In accordance with the commission, Statskontoret has also analysed which requirements should be set for a leadership that utilises and reinforces the skills and experience of the employees while also taking gender equality into account. Statskontoret has also been assigned to propose how to develop the skills of the central government leadership in order to reinforce the civil service in its ability to remain innovative and collaborative, and to propose how the work on these leadership issues can be further stimulated.

This commission presents one of seven parts from a larger Government commission issued to Statskontoret regarding state governance of the public sector.

The Government has delegated the responsibility for employer policy

Matters regarding the development of co-workership and leadership is part of employer policy delegated to the agencies. In accordance with the Government Agencies Ordinance, all government agencies are to create good working conditions and they shall utilise and develop the skills and experience of their employees. The agencies shall also collaborate with one another to develop and coordinate the government employer policy. The Swedish Agency for Government Employers is the government agencies’ employer organisation. This agency is responsible for providing the information, advice and training that employers in the government sector requires.

A developed co-workership

The government’s commission for the agencies, and the role of civil servants in general, provides the framework for developing co-workership. A developed co-workership differs depending on the needs of the agency’s operation and the central values that needs to be safeguarded. A developed co-workership may, for example, relate to employees participating or being involved in the agency’s development and planning or being given greater freedom to influence their work situation. It may also entail, but is not synonymous with, increased professional autonomy.

We have not seen any indication that agencies in general find it difficult to utilise their employees’ skills, even if there are situations where there is cause to devote particular attention to these issues. Government employees feel that they have more opportunities than employees of other sectors to impact on their tasks and work situation. However, there are different factors that influence the possibilities of utilising employee competence. Above all, it is a question of government and agency steering.

The agencies’ understanding of the commission is essential

A rudimentary condition for the agencies to utilise their employees’ skills is that the agency and its employees have a clear understanding of the agency’s primary tasks and the purpose of the activities. This means, among other things, that the Ordinance with instruction needs to be distinct, that the agency management can interpret and clarify the commission and that there is internal consensus regarding the commission. 

The Government’s steering has an influence

The Government’s need to steer the agencies may influence the conditions for utilising the employees’ skills. The Government may for example need to regulate the agencies in detail, or change the direction of their commission on short notice. The head of the agency therefore has a central role in translating the government’s steering into an effective internal management.

The impact of the agency’s internal management

In their internal management, the agencies need to find a balance between control and trust. Utilising the employees’ skills to a greater extent is in many cases a matter of changing the culture within the agency. The employees need to be given space while also taking responsibility for the agency’s activities. This is a process that may take time, and which needs to be established with the employees.

The appropriate skills and understanding of the role

For management to utilise the employees’ skills and experiences, the employees  need both the skills required for the agency’s commission and general civil servant skills. Changes in the agency’s commission, the situation or staff composition may therefore require the agency to enhance competences in various ways.

Need for leadership within central government

Leadership is something that arises within a specific situation and, according to research, there is therefore no universal answer to what constitutes a good leadership or which skills a leader needs to have. However, trustworthy managerial leadership is often mentioned as an important factor for the organisation’s results and working environment.  Such a situation arises when the employees feel that the leadership is competent, has integrity and is supportive of the employees’ professional development and need for balance between their professional and private lives.

Conditions for developing the leadership

Through its steering of the agencies, the Government can facilitate their work on developing leadership. The measures concerned are to a great extent the same as those involved in facilitating co-workership. In this report, Statskontoret also indicates a number of other factors that are important to develop the leadership within the civil service.

Managers need time to develop their leadership

In order to develop their leadership, managers need to have the opportunity to engage in continuous contacts and discussions with the employees about the agency’s mission. But it is not enough for this contact to be continuous. The contact should preferably be perceived as close by the employees within the agency’s organisational hierarchy so as to give employees real opportunities to participate in developing the agency’s activities. 

Reduced administration can free up time

The managers’ time can to a great extent be devoured by administrative tasks, which means that they are less present in the core activities. The managers would like to have more support in financial and staff administration, scheduling and purchasing.

Small agencies face different circumstances

In our report, we show that there are differences between large and small agencies in terms of their possibilities to develop the leadership. One apparent difference is that the managers of smaller agencies do not have the same opportunities for collegial support as the managers of larger agencies. Nor is there developed support in the form of HR functions in the same way as are available at larger agencies. The Swedish Agency for Government Employers has noted the particular circumstances of the smaller agencies and is currently developing its support for this group.

The head of the agency plays an important role

The head of the agency has an important role to play in giving lower level managers opportunities to shape the activities in a way that utilises the employees’ skills and experience. They all need to know how to work strategically with recruitment and staff development matters in order to live up to the goals set out in the public administration policy as well as the provisions of the Government Agencies Ordinance.

Employer policy at a crossroads

Statskontoret deems that there is limited room, within the framework of a delegated employer policy, for the Government to steer the agencies’ work with co-workership and leadership. The work mainly needs to be carried out separately by each agency and in collaboration through the Swedish Agency for Government Employers. If the Government wishes to take on a greater responsibility for these issues, there is a need to review the delegation of employer policy.

Statskontoret’s proposals

In the report, Statskontoret presents a number of proposals for how the work to develop co-workership and leadership can be facilitated and stimulated.

Proposals within the framework of delegated employer policy

  • Statskontoret proposes that the Government continue the work to develop the agencies’ Ordinances with instruction so that they provide clear guidance in regards to what the agency is expected to achieve and in what order different tasks are to be prioritised.
  • Statskontoret proposes a continued joint function to promote the state sector’s basic values.
  • Statskontoret proposes that the Government make continuous efforts to reduce and prevent unnecessary and time-consuming administration, in order to free up more time to develop leadership and co-workership.
  • Statskontoret proposes that the agency management create the conditions for internal consensus regarding their mission by interpreting the mission and maintaining a dialogue on the subject.
  • Statskontoret proposes that the agency management should make continuous efforts to reduce and prevent unnecessary and time-consuming administration for middle management in order to free up more time for exercising leadership.
  • Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Agency for Government Employers continue to develop support for leaders within central government, preferably by facilitating collegial collaboration or networking. 
  • Statskontoret proposes that the Government commission a review of the employer policy delegation and the role of the Swedish Agency for Government Employers.

Review the delegation

  • Statskontoret proposes that the Government commission a review of the employer policy delegation and the role of the Swedish Agency for Government Employers.