What do we know about public sector leaders?

A closer look at Chief Executives in the public sector

Executive Summary

The National Leadership Centre supports a network of over 1,000 chief executive-level leaders who run 850 similarly-sized public sector organisations. For this report, we spoke to seven of them about their personal experiences of leading through COVID, creating a series of “Portraits of Public Service Leaders”. The leadership lessons described within those interviews are relatable across a wide variety of contexts, sectors, and locations. For both this group of seven and the wider 1,000-person network, the leadership challenges have a great deal in common. Knowledge of what works best in supporting CEOs to meet these challenges is growing all the time, and we believe that much of it is applicable across the public sector. In response, the NLC and its partners are launching a joint research and insights hub to share the best ideas and innovations, and help enable a more connected public sector.


Portraits of Public Service Leaders

A picture of the seven CEOs who have been interviewed next to a title saying "Portraits of Public Service Leaders"

During the pandemic, the National Leadership Centre interviewed seven chief executives about their experience of leading key organisations in the crisis. In these portraits, they describe how their leadership had to change, their best advice for others, and what they look forward to next.

How has it felt to lead the public sector over the last year?

The Director of the National Leadership Centre, Stephen Crookbain, introduces the series of portraits.


Read and listen to each portrait by clicking the names below:

Steve Russell, CEO of Harrogate and District NHS Trust
Helen Bailey, CEO of the London Borough of Sutton
Carol Matthews, CEO of the Riverside Group, a social housing trust
Wayne Bowcock, Chief Fire Officer, Gloucestershire Fire & Rescue Service
Betsy Bassis, CEO of NHS Blood and Transplant
Professor Susan Lea, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hull
Stacey Burlet, CEO of Ryedale District Council

Steve Russell describes his biggest challenges and what he learned during the pandemic.


Who is in the NLC network?

The Chief Executive-level community

In this article, the National Leadership Centre describes its network of the Chief Executives of the public sector: who are they, and what do they do?


Our network includes over 1,000 Chief Executive Officers who provide the most senior leadership for 850 organisations supporting tens of millions of citizens and businesses, from Cornwall to Northumberland.


The Civil Service, Fire and Rescue Services, NHS Trusts, Schools and Colleges, Police Services, Housing Trusts, Local Authorities, the Armed Forces, and Universities


These CEOs lead similar size organisations, face similar challenges, and must work together to deliver the country’s biggest priorities.


Every year, 100 of these CEOs attend the NLC’s public leaders programme, spending 12 months building advanced skills and networks. 

National Leadership Centre logo

If you are a member of this network, the NLC can help you get in touch with and work with your peers. Please contact us with your request for more information.


Public sector research and insights hub

Two golden rings connected, background is orange

The teams supporting public sector leaders work together to share knowledge, insights, research, and evidence of what works. For the first time, the National Leadership Centre is bringing this together in one place.

Unified information and data

Different organisations sharing their research in one place.


Read any of 17 academic think pieces on leadership, published by the National Leadership Centre.

The NHS Leadership Academy publishes its best resources for leaders and programme evaluations.

The College of Policing shares its research  plotted on a map to increase opportunities for collaboration.

Solace (a network for local government and public sector professionals) publishes their latest research reports, briefings, and recommendations on a range of policy areas.


Impact not just theory

Each team uses their research to improve their offer to public servants. This hub is the start of that knowledge crossing boundaries.

Alongside the Public Leaders Report, the National Leadership Centre has published the independent evaluation of its first year of delivery, showing increased collaboration between its programme delegates. As a part of this, a rapid evidence assessment was also done on the impact and effectiveness of leadership development activities for senior leaders.


Read more of the Public Leaders Report 2021