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Home > News > January 2005 > 18-Jan-2005

New research helps councillors assess their skills

According to research from Warwick Business School, there are 10 key skills which local politicians need to master if they are to be effective in leading their local councils and representing local people. The research also shows that councillors are generally more self-critical about their skills than those who know them well through working with them.

The 10 dimensions of political skill identified by Warwick researchers include being a good advocate for local people; being able to take a strategic overview; being personally effective in working with people and managing emotions; having well developed political intelligence or 'nous'; being a good communicator; and being effective in influencing and motivating change in other groups and organisations.

Politicians are used to getting feedback about the way that they lead councils and communities because they work in the full glare of publicity about their actions and decisions and they often have to make unpopular decisions - but much of the feedback can be either hostile or sycophantic often leaving politicians feeling defensive about their skills.

Warwick Business School has used the research to develop the Warwick Political Leadership Questionnaire, a tool for political leaders which aims to provide systematic feedback on the 10 dimensions of skill, and also on how they "read" the local context and the way they tackle the challenges of leadership.

Based on 360 degree feedback, a councillor first rates themselves and then provides details to Warwick of others who know him/her well and who also rate the person on the same set of skills. Raters are chosen from amongst those who work with the political leader inside the council, in the community, in partnerships, and at other levels of government. So raters can be senior managers, MPs, health and police chiefs and community activists for example.

Warwick collected 260 ratings from 19 councils, with an average of 13 ratings per political leader (leaders came from all political parties). Councillors were more self-critical about their skills than those who rated them, which suggests that development and training may help political leaders to identify and capitalise on the skills that they possess or can strengthen.

Warwick beleive these results will also be of interest to the political leadership of other public services, and the team is adapting the Warwick Political Leadership Questionnaire for use also in the health service, criminal justice and other levels of government.

The Warwick Political Leadership Questionnaire was developed with funding from the local government Improvement and Development Agency and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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Warwick Business School

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