THE BLOG

What Are the Social Sector's Skills and Leadership Needs?

21/05/2013 17:32 BST | Updated 21/07/2013 10:12 BST

Six months ago I was asked by the Minister for Civil Society to lead a review into the critical skills and leadership gaps facing charities and social enterprises, what I call the social sector.

Working alongside a great working group including Skills-Third Sector, ACEVO, NCVO, NAVCA, Small Charities Coalition, UnLtd and UK Community Foundations, we drew insights from a diverse range of organisations, both through face to face meetings and through social media conversations.

From our discussions eight key areas emerged as the critical areas for the sector to address: governance; leadership; routes into and through the sector; skills sharing; digital fluency; data-informed social change; enterprise capability; and collaboration. We have published these findings on a blog site leadingsocial.org.uk where each theme reviews the challenges, reflects on the best practice and identifies solutions - things that we can be doing ourselves in the sector, as well as things that Government could do to support us.

What is clear for all of these areas is that across the sector, individuals and organisations are already rising to the challenge and developing innovative and effective solutions. And there is a real commitment to drive this further, demonstrated by how many people contributed to the review, and by the numbers now signing up to help co-design The Skills Platform to develop a digital platform for the sector where organisations can not only find the right skills and training, but also swap and share their existing expertise.

Many of the challenges we are facing are not unique to the social sector, and the radical shifts in opportunity and changed financial context are also shared in particular with private sector SMEs. If we are to meet these challenges we need to quickly get to grips with areas such as the mostly intergenerational gap in digital fluency, the lack of skilled data driven approaches and a lack of enterprise capability. This will require us to not only give a focus to these areas in our work, but also recognise the value of increased openness and 'boundary hopping' between other sectors. We can, for example, learn from private sector SMEs about how they are using data to inform and drive their businesses, and adapt this to help us inform our service delivery and drive social change.

We also need to build on our ownership of skills and leadership development. We will not get far in developing leadership and skills unless all of us recognise that we are each personally responsible for our own development. What does this mean? Partly that we can each get better at using our personal networks and online resources. But more than that, if every single one of us is trying to improve ourselves because we know that this will improve the end result for beneficiaries, we will create a tidal wave of improvement and innovation.

And beyond that, those at the top of organisations, including those in governance, will need to show leadership in developing and 'growing' people, both by being a role model in this, and through actively prioritising a developmental approach throughout the organisation, including of course for volunteers as well as paid staff. To do this effectively, leaders will need to be prepared to be robust in how we manage people, balancing development, coaching and support with a clear expectation of delivery and performance. But difficult and honest conversations can be highly productive if they support constructive reflection and action.

There is a role that we all have to play in responding to the changing skills needs that we will continue to face, and the diversity of the sector will mean that different organisations will need to reflect on these broader themes and identify priorities and appropriate solutions that work for them.

What we've shared so far on leadingsocial.org.uk should be seen as the starting point, from which everyone across the sector will build. If we recognise our shared commitment to social change, we will all benefit from greater openness in sharing challenges and solutions.