Finding a political navigator

The closing date for applications for what I called one of the most interesting communication jobs anywhere in the world, passed a few days ago.

This is the search for a Director of Digital Engagement, a senior UK Civil Service position in the Cabinet Office, at the very heart of government.

Judging from quite a few conversations I’ve had over the past two weeks, some experienced senior communicators in the UK did what I did – requested the information pack with all the details about this job, which came via email.

Quite a collection of documents, the most important of which is the job specification, a 9-page Word document that expands in considerable detail on the information in the original job ad (which is no longer publicly online, not even in Google’s cache).

Did I consider applying? A few people have asked me that question. The short answer is no, not seriously.

After thinking about this for the better part of a week, I concluded that while I believe I could meet the competencies, skills and experience detailed in the job spec, I am convinced that the indispensible skill requirement for this job is one that is conspicuously absent from my best-skill repertoire: the proven ability to effectively navigate the political seas across the breadth and depth of government – the most critically-important skill for this role, in my view, far more important than any amount of direct and real experience with social media let alone website building or even organizational communication experience itself.

It’s a skill that the job spec makes clear is pretty important. But I think it underplays that importance.

I believe that finding a single individual who can combine that ability with all the senior communication experience and social media knowledge that the job spec details is practically impossible, especially given the nationality restrictions and the hugely ambitious goals the government has in mind with what they want to achieve within just two short years:

Within two years the use of world class digital engagement techniques should be embedded in the normal work of Government.

No, this is not a job for a single individual who matches all the attributes the job spec calls for. Far better a person with the political skills as the figurehead, the navigator, who brings in the communication and other essential skills to execute and deliver on those goals.

The more I thought about this, the firmer this view became. For a single individual, it is indeed a job to die for, I jokingly said to myself – or the job that will kill you.

Even though I had decided that this is not the role for me, I still wanted to talk to the Cabinet Office recruiters about it, perhaps to see what they might have to say to my notion that this isn’t a job for a single person.

The job spec offers the name of an individual plus a phone number. Earlier last week, I did call a handful of times; each time, the person answering the number told me that the person I wanted was in a meeting. Busy I guess. I was too, as it happened, on the road much of the week.

So no conversation took place, more’s the pity, before the closing date.

Still, I was (and am) very interested indeed in the scope and scale of what this job means in our society as a whole and what evolutionary changes will take place in how the government enables effective engagement with the people, whether it’s world class or anything else. It’s made especially interesting and challenging as, somewhere in that two-year timeframe, is a general election.

Unquestionably, a killer job.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Chip Griffin

    I don’t know the UK system, of course, but if the same position were created over here I would agree with your observation that the ability to navigate the political waters surpasses the need to know the nitty-gritty of social media and similar tools/media.

    To work in such a role in government, one ought to have an interest in technology, but a true sense for how to deal with politicians and constituents. I happen to be a big fan of people who have blended experience in multiple sectors (government, non-profit, corporate) as I think it makes more well-rounded individuals in a variety of jobs.

    But in government there is simply no substitute for good political sense. Like it or not, government does not run like a business and those who have tried to treat it as such, without political sensibilities, typically do not succeed.

    Of course, from a selfish standpoint, I would have loved to see you in such a role!

  2. neville

    Good points, Chip, thanks. I do believe that political skills are paramount for this job. Indeed, if a job like this were available in just about any major democracy I can think of, the same would be true.

    I do like your observation that government does not run like a business. Very apt for this role,

    The scope of what the government seeks to achieve via this advertised role is such a tremendous challenge, one I’d love to be involved with in some way as I’m sure many a senior communicator would also!

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