A friend has just come back from a family holiday in the south of France. They went with another couple and their children who are the same ages. They stayed at a “gite” complete with a swimming pool and acres of wood land for the kids to explore and ride their mountain bikes. They went via the Euro Tunnel and drove down through France breaking the journey by spending the first night in a noisy motel just off the motorway and the kids had their first experience of stewed coffee and stale croissants. Following an early start and choosing to avoid the toll roads they were making good progress until the car in front slowed down and with its warning lights flashing pulled over. My friend pulled up behind and got out to see if they could help. The driver had the bonnet up and was just starring at the engine. It soon became obvious that his knowledge of the combustion engine and the workings of a modern car didn’t extend beyond how to release the bonnet! “But you own a garage” my friend said. Only to receive the reply,”Yes but I don’t fix the cars”.
How many local authority directors own a garage but don’t know how to fix a car? To run a profitable garage, as my friends holiday companion does, it’s not necessary to be a qualified mechanic. Clearly he has the necessary business skills. So does the same apply to being to being a director in a local authority? Do you need a professional back ground in social services, housing or education to be in charge of these areas? Current thinking is management skills are transferable therefore an individual’s professional background is irrelevant. This is very convenient as most management restructuring involves cutting management posts and broadening spans of responsibilities. Which is how the former director of libraries and museums can end up managing adult social services.
But if you don’t have a back ground in the service you better get yourself up to speed very quickly, you better have people around you who do have the relevant background and experience and you better be prepared to listen to front line staff. And you may not be a mechanic but if you want credibility you need to be able to do more than open the bonnet!
Blair McPherson former director ,author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk