Manager without portfolio


Mandy: A model for Local Government?

In 1997 Tony Blair named Peter Mandelson as the Minister without Portfolio within his cabinet. At the time people thought this was an excuse to give Mr Mandelson a Cabinet position without actually giving him a job.

My guess is that the stated aim of bringing in someone with the soul job of ‘co-ordinating within government’ was probably more or less correct, and if so is something we could learn from in Local Government.

In fact, I would like to advocate that councils start thinking about appointing managers without portfolio.

In general in Local Government we appoint managers first and foremost to manage their teams. We then gather these individual managers, each appointed to manage their teams, and put them together into a management team. We expect this management team to provide the strategic lead for the council (or for the department they work in), to manage their staff and budgets, to mange projects and programmes, to co-ordinate work with other departments and to look after all manner of complex work.

Despite this requirement at the management team level we still appoint our managers based on their ability to manage their own teams and hope that they will be generalists and therefore able to handle all of the other responsibilities.

However, I think this is perhaps a mistake. I know a lot of people in Local Government and many of them are managers and a few of the people I think should be managers are not. Some of these people are fantastic people mangers, some are brilliant strategists, some are ideas people, some are the people I’d most trust with shepherding complex projects through the organisation and others are the networkers, people who join everything together and are constantly finding ways of making our work more efficient and effective.

But rarely are the combination of skills listed above all present in a management team. In part this is because we value the ability to manage the service above all else when appointing our middle and senior managers.

It is for this reason that I strongly advocate the introduction of managers without portfolio. These people would not be laden with the management of individual teams. In fact they might not even be that good at people management and may have been passed over for exactly that reason. However, due to their lack of service management responsibilities these people would be responsible for doing a lot of work for the department or council; developing strategy, delivering projects and co-ordinating all of the good work that is going on.

Surely this is a role we could welcome in Local Government?

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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4 Comments on “Manager without portfolio”


  1. What a brilliant idea. I would be perfect at this kind of role!

  2. Martin C Says:

    Speaking as someone who has just that role – obviously I say yes. I have nobody working directly to me (despite repeated requests for just one assistant) so not only a wide-ranging general role, but also one free from much of the bureaucracy my colleagues have to cope with. Lucky me


  3. [...] helped them rise to trusted positions, usually heading a service or team (although perhaps that’s not always the only way they might be made use of).  They know that their own job is directly affected by the performance of their staff, and rarely [...]


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