Placing ethics at the heart of public sector leadership

One of the most important roles of a public sector leader is to work on behalf of others, especially those who may struggle to be heard in wider society. A strong sense of ethics is therefore essential to those looking to lead and affect positive change in public administration.

As a public sector leader who strives to make a difference, the following elements of governance can support you in making future ethical decisions:

Examining significant theoretical frameworks

Contemporary concepts of leadership have moved away from the belief that leaders are born and not made. We now focus more on the idea that anyone can learn the skills it takes to be an effective (and also ethical) public sector leader¹.

In the era of the 21st Century Public Servant, where ethical considerations are at the forefront of our minds, certain learning and leadership models, including the Situational theory, are key². This asserts that social interactions and an awareness of others are pivotal for understanding the welfare of a community and its’ needs:

‘It’s about being human, that’s what we need to do³’ (Mangan & Needham 2014).

Exploring relevant theories like this one can help you form strategies for keeping the interests of others at the core of your efforts.

The role of commercialism

Public sector leaders can often find themselves under scrutiny, particularly when  commercialising their services. Senior Teaching Fellow, Helen Hurford-Dawson, explains the fine line between commercialism and ethical governance:

“There are some big questions; do citizens really want to see public service managers making further money out of their ‘tax pound’ - particularly if they have a performance-related salary? Our new module will cover ethical and governance questions, the business skills end of it, issues of accountability and what the citizens’ proposition is.”

Recommended read: Three tips for effective leadership in the public sector

If this kind of debate resonates with you, tackle your challenges with caution and keep your community’s needs at the forefront of your mind. A thorough appreciation for the duties of leading in commercial aspects, such as accountability, taking ownership, and resilience will enable you to approach this with confidence and enthusiasm.

Creating ethical leaders capable of change for good

Using examples of the shifting nature of leadership in public management and government, you can explore what it means to be a socially-conscious leader, from theory to practice. Learn to develop highly transferable leadership skills that you will be able to put to work in your career directly and immediately with our 100% Online Masters of Public Administration. Your enhanced understanding of ethical management and decision-making can help prepare you for the next stages of public sector leadership.  

Find out more by filling out our ‘request information’ form and a member of our team will be in touch to discuss how you could make a difference in your public sector career.


¹ Williams, M. (2013) Nature vs nurture: can you learn to be a successful leader? The Guardian [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 10.01.2018]

² UNKNOWN (2015) The Situational Leadership Theory. Gamelearn [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 10.01.2018]

³ NEEDHAM, C. & MANGAN, C. (2014) The 21st Century Public Servant. University of Birmingham [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 14.08.2017]

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