The UK Civil Service

Facts, Analysis and Comment.

Setting Boundaries

It is vitally important that leaders should establish the ethical, financial, legal and other boundaries within which their colleagues should work. Problems (and sometimes severe problems) arise when these are not explicit or, even worse, when senior managers appear themselves not to respect those boundaries. It is particularly important that civil servants should operate within the ethical, financial and legal boundaries laid down by Parliament and it is odd, to say the least, that it is difficult to find a written statement of these. I hope that other parts of this website go some way to defining the ethical etc. boundaries of which I am aware. It follows that I require everyone who works with me to respect these boundaries and to require all their staff to do the same.

Many boundaries are cultural, rather than ethical, in the sense that leaders are responsible for establishing the parameters within which staff deal with each other, with customers, with work pressures and so on. It is worth noting that some staff will constantly test your boundaries and force your intervention when the boundaries are likely to be breached. They will accuse you of micro-management. Other staff will respect your boundaries, and get on with their jobs with very little intervention from yourself. But they may as a result worry that you are not interested in them or their work area. It is therefore important that you explain your approach, and reassure those who think you have taken empowerment just a little too far.


Martin Stanley