Key findings:

  • Overall, trust in CEOs has fallen overall by 8% since 2011.
  • CEOs in the financial services sector are the most trusted senior leaders, while those in local and national government are the least trusted.
  • Female leaders at all levels are more trusted than their male counterparts.
  • Trust in line managers has been maintained.

Released today, the Trust in Leaders report reveals the levels of trust in British leaders and managers, and how it has changed over the last seven years.

The Institute of Leadership & Management has carried out research into business trust since 2009* to see how employees perceive the trustworthiness of organisations and their bosses.  Using an overall trust score out of 100 across seven dimensions of trust (ability, understanding, fairness, accessibility, openness, integrity and consistency), The Institute surveyed more than 800 leaders and managers to assess whether the levels of trust had changed since the last research was carried out in 2011.

The 2018 findings revealed workers trust their CEOs considerably less than they did in 2011.  Compared to 2011, the results show trust in CEOs has fallen by 8%.  Respondents noted the biggest performance failing for CEOs was understanding the role of their employees and the contributions they make.



Despite this, the financial services sector should be buoyed by the results; of all the sectors researched, financial services leaders are considered the most trusted, followed closely by those in the health sector.  By comparison, the least trusted CEOs work in local and national government, closely followed by engineering/manufacturing and education.

At a time when gender equality regularly hits the headlines and there is insufficient diversity in FTSE boardrooms, more respondents said they trusted female leaders and female line managers than their male counterparts.  However, both male and female leaders perform poorly in accessibility, openness, consistency and understanding the roles of their staff.

Kate Cooper, Head of Research, Policy and Standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management, said: “With a decline in trust being a recurring theme reported in the media – against the backdrop of organisations going into administration and falling rates of productivity – CEOs are so much more high profile than they used to be.  Headlines about high levels of CEO remuneration, putting their own interests over those of the company and, most importantly, their employees, haven’t helped the situation, so it’s not surprising levels of trust have fallen over the last few years.

“Our research clearly shows there is a lack of trust at the top level, but interestingly, it is being maintained at the more personal level of line manager.  This is bad news for CEOs and should be a wake-up call for them.  For any organisation to be successful, trust is not ‘a nice to have’, but is intrinsic to the culture of the organisation.  The more someone trusts a colleague, manager or team member, the greater the likelihood that they will collaborate, share information and work effectively together.  Trust helps organisations to run smoothly, increases engagement, improves processes, drives individual and team performance, ultimately benefitting the customer or service user.  The more CEOs are trusted, the more likely employees are to believe in their ability to navigate the organisation through difficult times of economic uncertainty, such as those we are experiencing with Brexit.”

The Institute is currently working with the University of Birmingham exploring the sort of leadership development interventions that are needed in the public services to ensure a pipeline of great leaders are ready to face a challenging future.


  • to download a copy of the full report, Trust in Leaders.
  • to access The Institute’s online learning resources on building trust for free (until June 11).
  • to try out The Institute’s flagship e-learning tool MyLeadership where you can identify your development needs around ‘Building Trust’ for free (until June 11).


Notes to editors:

Kate Cooper is available for interview. Please contact Pippa Hanson / Luke Aldridge at Camargue: [email protected] / [email protected] or 01242 577277. You can download a press pack here.

To accompany this story, we can provide the following:

  • A copy of the Trust in Leaders report – including anonymous comments from survey respondents
  • Copies of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Trust research reports
  • Interview with Kate Cooper, who led on the research
  • Images of the report’s infographics

The Institute of Leadership & Management surveyed 834 business leaders and managers in November 2018 via an online survey.

* In 2009 The Institute of Leadership & Management undertook research to develop and validate the Index of Leadership Trust (ILT). The ILT provided a sophisticated measure to analyse six core dimensions of trust.

The research was repeated during 2010 and 2011, providing a measure of the trajectory of trust in line managers and CEOs over a three-year period. The data collected provided an overall trust score and a more detailed breakdown of six core dimensions of trust: ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency.

With trust being an issue that is ever present in the news headlines, The Institute decided to revisit this topic and undertake fresh research to provide useful insights into the current perceptions of the trustworthiness of today’s organisations and their leaders. In this new research we have amended the dimension of ‘openness’, splitting it to create two dimensions of ‘accessibility’ and ‘openness’. It has also further investigated the other five dimensions of trust.

The Institute of Leadership & Management is a world-renowned specialist membership body that raises professional standards of more than 30,000 leaders, managers, coaches and mentors. Our mission is to inspire great leadership, everywhere. We are a registered charity and governed by a board of trustees.