07 MAY 2018



Against a backdrop of the National Development Plan Vision 2030 (NDP) envisaging a significant role for the Public Service Commission (PSC) in building a capable and developmental state, the PSC recognises that there is a need to strengthen the capacity of Senior Management  Service  in the Public Service. The PSC is a constitutional body entrusted with responsibilities to investigate, monitor, evaluate, propose measures, give directives, report and advise on the organisation, administration, the personnel procedures and practices, and the effective and efficient performance of the public service[1].

Public Service Senior Management Service is critical for the NDP’s vision to become a reality. Inspired by the desire to establish capable Public Service institutions which promote human resource development capacity for effective, selective and sustained interventions to positively alter South Africa’s development trajectory. Chapter 13 of the NDP cautions against primarily focusing on policy and management skills and training, very possibly at the expense of technical and professional/behavioural skills. According to Professor Patrick Fitzgerald, there is a strong implication that this could be what has been happening for some time[2]. True leadership with a balance of technical and behavioural/soft skills is what is required to achieve the vision of the NDP.

A glance at the Public Service Human Resource Development and Development Framework, indicates that enough focus has been on the hard core (technical) skills at the expense of behavioural/soft skills which can be acquired through coaching and are becoming more critical in the 21st century. Simply put, focus has been mainly on “what am I to do as (i.e. technical skills) a Senior Manager/Leader”? as opposed to “whom am I to be[3]” (i.e. behavioural skills?).  Many leaders have fallen into that performance trap.

This opinion piece gives a brief overview of the importance of embedding the soft skills at Senior Management Service (SMS) level (i.e. Directors, Chief Directors, Deputy Directors General and Heads of Department) in the Public Service at a deeper level of consciousness if the government is serious about fast-tracking the achievement of the vision of a capable and developmental state. The challenges alluded to in the NDP are mainly around the leadership effectiveness of Senior Managers. One of the key aspects of leadership is self-awareness. “Having self-awareness means that you have a sharp realisation of your personality, including your strengths and weaknesses, your thoughts and beliefs, your emotions, and your motivations. If you are self-aware, it is easier for you to understand other people and detect how they perceive you in return[4].”  The constructs of behavioural skills create a more positive, open-minded and creative approach to changing situations, change of leaders and develop a more accepting attitude.


 The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) issued a Ministerial Directive on compulsory capacity development, mandatory training days and minimum entry requirements for senior managers in April 2015[5]. This Directive emphasises the need to have competent Senior Managers who will be able to deliver on the mandate of government. The compulsory training programme entails the successful completion of the Senior Management Leadership Programme with either the National School of Government or a Higher Education Institution accredited with the National School of Government (NSG) as a one of the requirements to enter into or progress within the Senior Management Service (SMS).A Senior Management Leadership Programme is defined as a 12 to 24 month leadership programme which is recognised and accredited in the terms of the minimum requirements of the NSG.  An example of such programme is a Masters in Public Administration[6].

The SMS competency framework was introduced in 2003 and is applicable to the four SMS levels, namely Directors, Chief Directors, Deputy Directors General and Directors General or Heads of Department.  “The core intention of competency-based assessment is to identify skills gaps of members of the SMS and ensure continuous development through targeted training and development. It also assists in providing an independent scientific analysis of a senior manager’s skills profile, so departments are guided in the direction of continuous learning and development[7]”. The competency framework puts emphasis on generic core management competencies.

The Compulsory Induction Programme (CIP), which targets all new public service employees, is aimed at ensuring that all public servants are oriented to the public sector, and to their respective job responsibilities.  However, the massive roll-out of the programmes has continued to encounter challenges due to financial constraints.

The Public Service has well defined frameworks for managing individual and organisational performance. One of the key frameworks in this regard is the Performance Management and Development System (PMDS). The goals of the PMDS are to provide a framework to enhance individual employees’ performance and thereby contribute towards improved organisational performance.

A number of other initiatives such as the Executive Coaching and Mentoring Programmes will be implemented by the DPSA and the NSG to enhance the leadership capabilities of Senior Managers in the Public Service.  However, these programmes are at an infant stage. The private sector has made much more progress with regard to the implementation of some of these methods as a way of facilitating learning and self-development.


It is therefore important to bear in mind that even the best policies will fail in the absence of capable state institutions and leadership. To succeed, capable state institutions have to be led by a purposeful and transformational political and administrative leadership that is committed to pursuing a developmental agenda.  In the absence of a purposeful-transformational political leadership, it would be impossible to build a capable administrative leadership and effective bureaucracy able to systematically develop and implement policy tools to realise the developmental objectives set by political leaders.

Purposeful-transformational leadership refers to a leader who is driven to make a difference, fully conscious of his/her role and responsibility regarding the achievement of the desired future or outcome for the collective he/she serves[8]. Executive Coaching is one of the relevant methods for developing purposeful driven leaders across sectors, in particular the Public Service. Executive coaching is aimed at inspiring leaders to make behavioural changes which transform themselves and the people around them, and thereby increase organisational results and performance[9].

A study by Oliver, Bane, & Kopelman has found that when two months of coaching was added to leadership training, the training combined with the coaching resulted in an 88% improvement in productivity while training alone increased productivity by only 22.4%.[10]

Leading edge research by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) book and Hay Consultants indicates that the best leaders have both Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and EQ.  The emotionally intelligent leader has the skills to involve their people, build trust and gain buy in. They don’t try to  do everything themselves rather they get the right people ‘on the bus’ and then leverage their talents.  This requires that they have both the right attitudes and the right skills and behaviours, in particular, good listening, coaching and feedback skills. Executive Coaching also creates self-awareness which enables leaders to be more Attentive (offering good listening), Affectionate (offering care to those that they lead); Appreciative ( noticing the strengths and good qualities of others and acknowledging them), finally Accepting (where leaders recognise that they can only change themselves and no one else[11]. Furthermore, values driven leaders have the ability to impact performance[12], improve results, “create an atmosphere of psychological safety for all officials to engage in”[13] and create trust, and openness which enables difficult issues to be discussed. Coaching has also been shown to help leaders develop a clearer understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

When leaders are more confident about who they are and what they need to do, they are better able to motivate employees and mobilise them for action.


Achieving the ideals of a capable and developmental state is not only about the Senior Managers’ technical qualities but includes behavioural/soft skills. Some Senior Managers lack the behavioural skills to lead, influence and motivate their departments to realise the objectives of a developmental state.

Today “soft skills are the new vital hard skills of success”. Every year, Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, sits down to write a letter…in fact, 400 of them. In each one, she tells the parents of her senior executives what their adult-child is doing for the company, and why they are a gift to the company. The response from her colleagues is: “This is the best thing that’s happened to my parents. And, it’s the best thing that’s happened to me!” Needless to say, Nooyi is enjoying a high approval rating in her 11th year as CEO. Why is that? Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (EI) theory would say it has everything to do with her mastering ‘the soft stuff[14].

Executive Coaching requires Senior Managers to consider at length their various leadership roles within a developmental state, and the impact these have on individuals, communities, societies and institutions.

[1] Section 196 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

[2] Fitzgerald, P. (2016). Building a Capable State. Concept Paper prepared for the fifth debate on the implementation of the National Development Plan organised by the WITS School of Governance, in partnership with the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme and the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation, 29th March 2016.

[3] Warner, M & Wilder, J. Rare Leadership. Moody Publishers, Chicago, United States of America, 2017.

[4] Andre Retief, COMENSA National President, COMENSA Newsflash: May 2018

[5] Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). (2015). Directive on compulsory development, mandatory, training days and minimum entry requirements for Senior Management Service.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), (2014). Directive on the implementation of competency-based assessments for members of the Senior Management Service (SMS) in the Public Service.

[8] Adv. Madonsela, T. Forward to a book titled- Leadership: Perspective from the Front Line. Edited by Veldsman, T.H & Johnson, A, J. (2016). KR Publishing, Randburg, South Africa.

[9] Irissou,K. Coaching and Mentoring-The Definitions. Chapter from: Mentoring and Coaching. Articles from Human Capital Review-http: www.humancapitalreview.org. Edited by Herholdt. Knowres Publishers, South Africa, Randburg, 2012

[10] Oliver, Bane, & Kopelman, 2001 …… insert title of study and journal/book details. Please also read: Department of Public Service and Administration (2015). Guideline for mentoring and peer support mechanisms for the Senior Management Service.

[11] Deepak, C. The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking your Potential for Greatness. Harmon Books Publishers, United States of America, 2010

[12] Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.

[13] Mokgolo, M.M., Mokgolo, P., & Modiba, M. (2012). Transformational leadership in the South African public service after the April 2009 national elections. SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 10(1), 1-9.

[14] https://www.investopedia.com

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