The Changing Face of the Ideal Housing Leader

Keith Butler | 9 February 2023

As a leadership acquisition and consulting firm, we spend a lot of time with our clients discussing and defining the competencies and experience needed for leaders to be successful in their businesses; either when we are recruiting senior leaders for them or when we are assessing existing leaders for promotion or a change in their job role.

Whilst a number of the competencies have always been important, such as stakeholder management, the ability to put together effective medium and long term strategies, understanding the customer, and being able to create and communicate a strong vision, others have come more to the fore recently.

Without doubt, over the last 5-10 years or so, organisations that operate in the social housing space have increasingly looked for leaders with a greater degree of commerciality and, where appropriate, have brought in senior managers from outside of the sector to address this. And, during the pandemic – and with flexible working now the norm – the ability to manage, lead and motivate a more remote workforce has become an important new competency that very few organisations had previously recognised or needed.

However, in addition to the above, we have seen other key competencies feature increasingly in the “essentials” section of leadership level job descriptions. In essence, these are the ability to:

  • Work effectively with other areas of the business, understanding how the organisation works on a holistic basis and the importance of breaking down internal silos to deliver effective services.
  • Juggle priorities in the face of conflicting demands for resources, with areas such as building safety, sustainability and energy, mould treatment and investment in new housing stock competing for a share of the limited pot of money and resources.
  • Build effective external partnerships, not only with other social housing bodies and other public sector bodies, but also with the private sector where, for example, technology and other initiatives might be able to add value, and effective collaboration could reduce costs..

Looking more closely at these three areas, there is a common theme: leaders in the housing sector need to have the capability to look beyond their own business area to understand the wider challenges (and opportunities) faced by the organisation and the sector overall. They then need to develop a strategy and operating model that not only takes these into account but which ensure proactive engagement with internal and external networks which could add value, ensure better service delivery to residents and/or realise cost savings. Collaboration and partnership will be key to success moving forward at all levels of leadership.

As a CEO of a London based Housing Association to me said recently: “To be effective in our organisation, leaders at all levels need to have the intellectual capacity and ability to see the wider picture, not just across our business, but across the whole sector and beyond.”

However, whilst recognising this is one thing, the challenge – particularly when looking to recruit new leaders into housing organisations – is how to identify who has the competencies and the approach to be able to deliver in these areas whilst “still doing their day job.” Some social housing organisations are already doing this well, but many others, for one reason or another, are not.

Over the coming months, we will be looking in more detail at these areas and providing practical advice as to how organisations can develop an approach to recruitment, assessment and evaluation that ensures individuals with the skills and competencies needed can be identified, attracted and developed, to the benefit of both individual housing organisations and the sector overall.

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