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Policy and strategy are not just about blue-sky thinking, say Suzanne Simmons-Lewis and Lyn Whitfield ...
Policy and strategy are not just about blue-sky thinking, say Suzanne Simmons-Lewis and Lyn Whitfield

Today's policy/strategy professional plays a crucial role in the workings of local government. But it is their ability to broaden the role beyond developing policy that will dictate how successful they become.

Influence within the council

'They are close to the leader and chief executive, and can have a fundamental influence on the direction of an organisation,' says Veredus Executive Resourcing director Steve Cooley.

Jan Parkinson, president of the Society of Personnel Officers and strategic director of human resources at Gateshead Council, adds: 'The role is often called the assistant chief executive or head of policy.

'It can sit at all levels of an organisation and where it ends up depends on the skills of the individual.'

Skills needed

For policy professionals to rise to chief executive level, Mr Cooley says candidates must broaden their skills base to link policy and strategy to performance and delivery on the ground.

'Senior policy roles are combined with a focus on performance and project management,' he says.

'Officers need to understand the corporate, service and departmental agendas, as well as the localisation and community agenda.

'Councils are now focusing not just on what they do internally but on their role as community leaders and representatives.

'They need to understand all of those dynamics rather than have a track record of a dry academic, putting in place policies that are never delivered.

'What is critical is how their policies add to the council's corporate vision and [its delivery].

'Today's senior role is for someone who engages with key stakeholders and will be critically involved in the formulation and delivery of these policies.'

Worthing BC is one of many councils that has linked policy with its performance objectives.

Mike Bleakley, Worthing's assistant director, performance and policy, says: 'We can not only develop policies but also apply the common performance management techniques to make sure they happen.'

Background skills needed for a senior policy/strategy role can vary, but most are likely to have strong experience of policy formulation, possibly gained in central government, from a quango or a non-departmental public body.

Where to go next

As well as rising to chief executive level, policy/strategy people with some performance delivery experience can enjoy a career in central government.

'The ability to influence national policy can be very nice,' says Mr Cooley. 'People who understand local drivers and local factors as well as the impact nationally will be in high demand.'

How do I get to the top?

A policy person might start off doing a research job and sometimes might have experience as a community activist.

'They need to have gone beyond formulating the policies and started helping people implement them,' says Mr Cooley. 'They will have a very good understanding of corporate and organisational drivers. If they are particularly good at translating this very quickly they will take on a performance management/monitoring role.

'A good way is getting a secondment opportunity or development opportunity into a service-led department where you have got responsibility for engaging with customers, rather than just putting the policies together.'

Average maximum salaries (£)

1st tier2nd tier3rd tierother

England and Wales 75,93159,11160,43749,190

Counties 88,45858,14254,929 -

Districts 66,28552,49752,78639,255

Mets 87,20156,196 - -

London 91,08774,63077,16159,338

Unitaries 85,92757,44851,60945,217

Source: JNC, 2004

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