“Join the ranks of London’s great leaders”, proclaimed the quarter page advert in several national newspapers. The large picture of a crown was certainly eye catching. The salary was attractive but that’s not what made me do a double take; it was the words “you don’t need to be a police officer to apply”. This was a superintendents job at the Met, the largest police force in Europe.
‘You would be working in a politically sensitive environment, so you would need to know what’s important to politicians’
Why was I so surprised? I mean, you don’t need to be a teacher to run a school, or a social worker to be director of social services, so why should you need to be a police officer to become a superintendent?
The advert made it clear what was required was leadership and transformational experience. That’s what senior management post in they public sector are about these days – that and financial management skills, communication skills and the ability to quickly analysis complex information. You don’t need direct operational experience in a particular service, you don’t even need to have worked in the public sector; a bit of private sector experience is probably seen as an advantage these days.
On the beat
Of course, you would be working in a politically sensitive environment, so you would need to demonstrate you were aware of what’s important to politicians, who the local power brokers are and an ability to gain the trust and cooperation of the local communities. But you wouldn’t have needed to pound the beat or have been exposed to the canteen culture.
‘You need to get to know the services but the skills required are ones of leadership’
I don’t expect the lack of frontline experience will go down well with the beat officers and we know from every single TV detective show ever made that mavericks cops think that the politics of modern policing gets in the way of catching villains. Senior police officers are already portrayed as remote, finance driven and media obsessed. But then so are senior managers in every part of the public sector.
I have no problem in principle with this idea. I was obliged as a director in local government to take over a range of services that I had no background in or operational experience of; obviously you need to get to know the services but the skills required are ones of leadership, being able to manage people and manage change.
So where are the last bastions of resistance? Could it be the NHS where it seems you have to be a doctor to manage a hospital! Will there come a time when Holby City has a chief executive with a non-medical background?