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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Civil Service Directors’ Network – our goals for 2020

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Matthew Rycroft, Kate Josephs, Frankie Kay and Debbie Hollings-Tennant in discussion at the Directors’ Network event on leading across boundaries in October 2019
(Foreground, clockwise from left) Matthew Rycroft (Permanent Secretary at the Department for International Development), Kate Josephs, Frankie Kay, and Debbie Hollings-Tennant speaking at the Directors’ Network event on leading across boundaries in October 2019
On behalf of the director community, Kate Josephs sets out how the Civil Service Directors' Network, formed last year, is reaching out to grow the community and focus on its collective leadership goals.

We want to maintain some things we’ve already done, and to aim for some goals that need coordinated, sustained effort.

Why we’re writing this

The Civil Service Directors’ Network has been going for about nine months, with an initial focus on creating safe spaces for directors to connect with each other. We have run four themed events, which you can read about here and here, and shared how we designed each event here.

Now, we’re growing the community and taking our work beyond connecting people. 

Our reflections

The network started from a simple need to bring us together as a group to share collective experience, look beyond our departmental silos, and reflect purposefully together. The focus of our interactions has been led by the community – working in the open and sharing discussion topics, we built the agenda for conversation together. It’s a mindset – we are changing how directors give back to foster a leadership community through events that are by directors, for directors. The events provide a valuable safe space, to shed fresh light on today’s environment and the role of public sector leaders.

The support we’ve had through the Cabinet Office’s Civil Service Group and One Team Gov have given us a community to call on to do this. With their support, we were bolder, braver, and more creative by design. We learned that there is power in openness, vulnerability, and empathy. 

Our three big goals

We recently held a retrospective and goal-setting session to discuss these questions and agree on the next steps.

The Civil Service Directors’ Network is made up of motivated and proactive volunteers who all have day jobs, so we’ve prioritised exploring collective leadership through the lens of these three areas:

      • How do we lead collectively?

Collective leadership means everyone taking responsibility for the success of the organisation as a whole — not just for their own jobs or area’ (The Kings Fund, 2014). This type of leadership needs a fundamental mindset and behavioural shift in the culture we create, as well as time and space to think how best to work collectively. 

Public sector leaders are wrestling with the systemic and interrelated nature of many issues. This work is tough, messy, and unpredictable. Navigating this complexity will require directors to work together more seamlessly across boundaries within and – with greater frequency – outside the Civil Service. It is our responsibility and focus to develop collective leadership, nurturing cultures of collaboration, experimentation, and creativity – with openness, learning and willingness to take collective action at their core. 

      • How do we work differently together?

Community is best when it fuels honest conversation, and is fuelled by a culture of curiosity where people are in a constant state of discovery, learning about themselves and others – and this is enabled by safe spaces.

Directors need safe spaces to have conversations that open up possibilities, build connections, do work that they believe has value., and create the change they want to see and do things differently. 

      • How do we lead inclusively?

We want  civil servants to work in environments that allow them all to grow, develop, flourish, and feel valued and included. As leaders, we have a responsibility to create those environments. To create such an inclusive environment, we need to understand who our people are, and those receiving or impacted by the services we provide, and how it all fits together. And it requires a deep, deliberate and sustained effort. 

There are regular, smaller-scale actions we can consciously practice as leaders to be more inclusive. We have a role in everyone’s inclusion and wellbeing if we’re to transform the lived experiences of our people.

Some small things

These are the big goals, whose progress we need to track. But there’s a lot going on in the Civil Service Directors’ Network, and these activities also form part of our year’s commitment. We will:

      • support the creation of fringe events and regional meet-ups
      • continue to work in the open
      • write new things

How can you get involved?

The kind of change we need starts from within. We want to hear diverse views and have open and honest discussions. We are here to learn from our community. If you are a director and would like to join the network, e-mail:

We have a series of events planned over the next few months leading up to CS Live, including Climate Change on 24 March and Productive Disagreement in April, so please join us and the network.

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