When crisis and scandal hit a high profile bank (HSBC) the board dismissed some senior managers but despite calls for his resignation not the chair of the board. When asked if he should have taken responsibility as chair of the board and leader of the organisation he( Doulas Flint ) replied , " You bear responsibility but as part of a team". Does this also apply in local government?
Is a leader always responsible if things go wrong? The leader of a defeated political party? The leader of a council rocked by a child abuse scandal? The chief executive of a council severely criticised for a slow and chaotic response to a crisis? The director whose service is placed in special measures ? Some times the cabinet demand the resignation having lost confidence in their Director. On other occasions the director offers their resignation and the cabinet rejects it. That's what happen in one authority where I was a senior managers. The cabinet accepted that they had some responsibility having chosen not to follow the advice of the director on some issues. So although the director bore responsibility for the failings it was recognised that they were part of a team. However even were there is recognition of a collective responsibility at board/ cabinet level there is still the urge to allocate blame and identify culprits. In this case two assistant directors were held directly accountable and forced out. All to often in local government it appears that the media orchestrates a demand to identify those to blame resulting in a high profile dismissal to placate public option. The spot light then moves on with the risks that the root causes are not addressed.
The leader be that the leader of the council, the chief executive as the leader of officers or the director as leader of the department sets the tone, the management style, the policy,strategy, and the priorities. They rely on others to carry out the policy, deliver the strategy and implement the priorities they trust their managers to make this happen through a skilled and professional workforce. If an individual neglects their responsibilities, fails to do what they have been asked to do, doesn't follow guidance then its not reasonable to hold the leader responsible. But what if a big contributing factor was staffing shortages, over reliance on agency staff, lack of training and inadequate supervision all of which could be attributed to draconian budget cuts? The decision to cut the training budget, to reduce management and supervisory posts, to ban overtime and freeze recruitment were decisions made by the leadership! Likewise decisions to out source back office services which subsequently don't deliver the predicted savings or result in taking operational managers away from front line duties with an adverse effect on the service, are decisions made by the leadership. Are these examples of a leaders responsibility but as part of a team or personal failings hiding behind collective responsibility?