Question: What are the findings of the new report on 'political skills' you’ve just launched?
Mary Chapman:'Leading with political awareness' is the result of a major research initiative carried out by the Chartered Management Institute in partnership with Warwick Business School. We’ve been exploring how better to develop leaders with the capability to manage the political dimension of their businesses.
In the context of increasingly complex partnership working, high media visibility and fast-moving change, political awareness is an increasingly important part of how leaders – across all sectors – deliver improved performance.
The report is based on the findings of a survey of almost 1,500 senior managers from all sectors across the UK.
It provides the first national picture of levels of ‘political skill’ and shows that managers are using political skills to build partnerships as well as to shape the priorities of their organisations.
It highlights what senior executives will need to succeed in the future and provides important insights into how political skills are acquired and developed.
Question: Why is the Chartered Management Institute focusing on 'political awareness' skills? Is politics really relevant to managers?
Mary Chapman:The Institute has a wide-ranging research programme that helps to improve understanding of the challenges facing managers and to promote best practices.
A previous piece of research on public sector leadership, published in 2003, revealed the urgent need for leaders with the capacity to manage the political dimension of their work. Through in-depth research and policy surveys of our 72,000 individual members, we have a deep understanding of the key issues.
The valuable insights from our research are shared with the management community through a wide range of development programmes, qualifications, information resources, networking events and career guidance services, helping managers and organisations to deliver results in a changing and dynamic world.
And yes, politics really is relevant to managers. This isn't about 'dirty' office politics though. Nor is it only about working with policy-makers in Westminster or working in a formal political environment such as local government. Many managers now work with stakeholders who advocate or lobby on behalf of consumer, pressure and political groups. Business is highly visible and subject to intense scrutiny globally.
Other managers work in a complex environment of legislation, regulation and policy advice. Globalisation creates a range of uncertainties that can easily have unexpected or substantial repercussions which managers need to understand and take account of. So political awareness is an increasingly important requirement for leaders at all levels within organisations across a range of sectors.
Question: What were the findings of the research?
Mary Chapman:We found that the most common understanding of 'politics' – agreed on by 59 per cent of managers – is of alliance-building to achieve organisational objectives. Many fewer managers view politics solely in terms of people ‘protecting their turf’ or pursuing personal advantage.
We also examined where managers use political skills. The most important areas are in shaping priorities within the organisation and building partnerships with external partners.
The report shows that the skills needed to build such partnerships are very much in demand and will are a major priority for the future.
The growing involvement of both the private sector and the third sector in delivering public services is putting an increasing emphasis on partnership working.
Similarly, globalisation is opening new doors on a daily basis so this shift to external partnership-building is good news for UK business. There’s a clear message here about why we need to be developing leaders with these skills.
Question: You mentioned the future needs of organisations for these skills. What lessons can be drawn from the research?
Mary Chapman:The report shows that leaders accept that success can be achieved by the way they work with individuals. They recognise the need to talk, and relate to, people on a personal level.
While internal relationships will continue to be important there is now a clear understanding that results will be achieved through wider collaboration.
Increasingly, how good an individual is at using political skills, with employees and external audiences, will determine both personal and business success.
As a result, there is a pressing need for both individual managers and employers to think about how they can improve political awareness skills, for themselves and among their managers.
The report offers recommendations about how to start doing that. Professional bodies also have an important role to play in raising skills, so over the next few months we will be developing a tool-kit to help managers assess their political skills and signposting routes to development opportunities.