/ 20 November 2009

New leadership model could improve service delivery

New research suggests the leadership model for the public service in South Africa may have to be overhauled to improve service delivery.

Dr Goonasagree Naidoo, a senior lecturer at Unisa’s college of economic and management sciences, recently completed research on the development of a model of African leadership and its applications in practice for South Africa.

The research suggests that leadership in Africa differs fundamentally from the Western leadership models.

”There is little understanding of the qualities required for effective leadership in the South African public sector,” Naidoo says. ”Furthermore, leadership theory is driven by conflicting interpretations. However, fundamental to improved leadership is a clearer shared understanding of which leadership behaviours, approaches and models work in delivering public services. Many leadership development initiatives based on Western leadership models have been undertaken by the government but there is little evidence so far as to their effectiveness.”

Meanwhile, the public service sector is under pressure from a host of new initiatives arising from the government’s transformation agenda, Naidoo says.

”With the demands from communities for improved service delivery, it is highly unlikely that government will relax the performance pressures it exerts on public service institutions.”

Naidoo says there is a serious need for effective leadership to improve public service delivery.

”There have been over 500 protests pertaining to service delivery over the past decade. Despite the increase in government funding to public service institutions, the auditor general’s reports indicated serious challenges with regard to service delivery. For example, of the 25 municipalities investigated in the North West province, only four received unqualified auditor general reports.”

Public managers could transform situations by adopting more than one leadership approach, Naidoo says.

Based on Naidoo’s research, a unique model of Western and African leadership is suggested, combining diverse perspectives, approaches and sensitivities to culture and language, socioeconomic and political perspectives with elements of both strategic leadership (a combination of managerial and transformational leadership) and traditional African leadership (with an emphasis on ethical and moral leadership).

Naidoo’s research is part of extensive work by Unisa’s college of economic and management sciences to support public service with cutting-edge research. Other areas that have been the focus of the college’s research include an investigation into the allocation of public responsibilities in various government spheres, the ethical behaviour of officials, the lack of public participation in policy determination, changes in the field of labour relations and a representative public sector.