The Institute of Leadership & Management partnered with The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) to research leadership succession planning within the social housing sector. Six, two-hour focus groups were undertaken with CEOs, directors and advocates representing a range of interests in the housing sector, convened by the CIH. The level of awareness of the looming capability gap in the sector was evident, as was the range of possible solutions suggested by participants. The discussions revealed what so many consider to be special about working in the sector, often likening it a ‘calling’, but also an acceptance of how much can be learned from outside the sector and how welcome a more diverse cohort of senior leaders would be. 

Although the research was conducted pre Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, there was a clear recognition of the importance of the need for more diversity and the ability to manage remote teams. There was wide agreement that an investment of time and effort into succession planning is imperative if the sector is to be successful in developing future leaders. There was a call for more imaginative approaches to identifying potential leaders from across the entire workforce, improved access to formal training courses and increased opportunities for coaching and mentoring.

Undoubtedly, changes in government policy not only have a significant impact but also challenge the leadership capability in the sector; inconsistent political leadership being a particular concern. Other changes in the sector also have a significant impact: the decline in home ownership, the often negative perception of the renting population depicted in the media, the cultural shift towards a more commercial orientation leading to a number of mergers of social housing organisations increasing organisational size and consequently bringing an increased focus on governance issues. Clients have changed, they have become more diverse and often more vulnerable, placing increasing demands on social housing organisations. At the same time there is growing emphasis on the active involvement of clients in decision making, a change of mindset for many in the sector.

The participants were able to identify what was needed from this new leadership: technical knowledge is important, particularly with regard to regulation and compliance, finance and risk but key leadership capabilities such as authenticity and empathy, the ability to articulate a clear vision and navigate change, to be adaptable and resilient and work collaboratively building relevant networks and managing complex relationships.

It was reported that a lot of talent is not currently identified, especially when potential leaders do not match the demographic profile of existing leaders. Even when identified, potential leaders are often not given the opportunity to develop the necessary technical knowledge, skills or leadership capabilities. Whereas, where efforts are made to identify future leaders and provide planned experiences and opportunities, positive outcomes were reported. New talent from outside the sector should also be encouraged recruiting those with a willingness to shadow, take secondments and listen to experienced peers and junior colleagues.

CIH members who would like access to the latest leadership content and full membership benefits of The Institute, such as the award-winning leadership development platform MyLeadership, coupled with the contextual housing knowledge your CIH membership provides should go to (CIH website link) to grab joint membership.