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Why Moving From the Private to the Public Sector Could Benefit Your Career

Our not-for-profit and public sector experts from the UK and Canada explain why private sector leaders should consider the public sector as part of their career plan.

Stepping into the public sector is commonly regarded as a decision made by leaders who wish to contribute and give back to society. Undeniably, the public sector offers a sense of greater purpose, but it also presents a remarkable chance to cultivate a distinct skill set and gain invaluable experience. Particularly as the business landscape faces growing disruptions and intricate challenges, the skills and expertise acquired in the public sector can prove to be truly indispensable for private sector leaders.

Below are three reasons why private sector leaders should make the public sector part of their career plan, as well as three considerations before making the move.

  1. Manage scale and complexity

Public sector leadership roles come with a scale and complexity of responsibilities unrivalled even in the largest of blue-chip global organisations. Handling substantial budgets and managing contracts of significant value make every decision high-stakes, especially when those decisions impact entire communities.

Managing diverse stakeholders, navigating intricate regulations and addressing complex challenges demand a versatile skill set.

The opportunities to grow and develop as a professional in this environment are unparalleled.
  1. Develop systems leadership

Public sector leadership requires rigorous governance, complex problem-solving and the ability to lead through influence rather than direct action. Leaders might be running large-scale operational services, regulatory bodies, commercial entities, critical infrastructure programmes, healthcare services or providing care for an ageing community. They might be addressing children's mental health and promoting well-being, or handling sports trusts and improving life chances in different areas. The challenges are far more expansive and complex than a narrow set of commercial goals.

This requires systems leadership, wherein leaders must navigate networks of stakeholders, each with their own interests and agendas. Leading through influence becomes paramount, as direct control over all aspects is not feasible. Building alliances, collaborating with diverse groups and leveraging relationships are essential for driving large-scale and complex change – a highly sought-after skill in the private sector.

  1. Social impact

The allure of the public sector lies in its potential to work on initiatives that truly matter.

Public sector roles offer a unique opportunity to contribute to the well-being of society and to work on projects that hold immense importance for the country which impacts the lives of the public.

While there is certainly a sense of fulfilment in contributing to such significant outcomes, from speaking to executives who have made the move, we know the real reward often lies in applying the skills acquired in the private sector to solve public sector problems. The profound sense of accomplishment that comes from applying a distinctive skill set and perspective to drive positive change is unlike anything found in the private sector.

What private sector leaders should consider before moving to the public sector:

  1. You don’t need to stay forever

Moving into the public sector doesn’t need to be a permanent career move. Private sector leaders can take a public sector role, serve a single term and move back to the private sector. This is something the Government publicly advocates.

  1. It is a two-way street

While the public sector benefits immensely from a private sector leader’s skills and experience, the private sector also benefits when that leader transitions back into a commercial role.

Experience of country-wide initiatives and multi-billion dollar budgets directly translates into driving large-scale change programmes.

  1. The civil service is a constant

Markets change, business trends change and the FTSE 100 will look unrecognisable in 20 years’ time. Government institutions, however, endure for decades, remaining impartial through different parties and governments. For private sector executives it means joining an organisation steeped in tradition and a culture that understands there are aspects that need to change and those that don’t. This can be both beneficial and challenging for individuals used to the often disruption-led mindset of private sector businesses.

 

Contact our authors for more information on moving from the private to the public sector, get in touch with us here, or you can also find your local Odgers Berndtson contact here.

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Originally published: 28/09/2023
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