Introducing a new standard for civil service line managers: Five minutes with Carol Bernard from the UK’s Government People Group

By on 17/03/2024 | Updated on 17/03/2024
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Carol Bernard, executive director of line management capability in the Cabinet Office’s Government People Group, discusses being yourself in the workplace, a new line management capability programme she is introducing, and the civil servants she admires.

This is part of a ‘Five minutes’ series featuring speakers from the Global Government Forum Innovation conference (London, 19-20 March). At the event, Bernard will be participating in a Global Government Women’s Network session on hybrid work.

What are you most interested in discussing at Innovation 2024?

I am really interested in discussing how the Civil Service can be at the forefront of innovation, particularly how we can continue to attract talented people from all backgrounds and ensure our staff have the skills and knowledge and the working environment that encourages innovation.

What drew you to a career in the civil service?

I came into the public sector to make a positive difference to society. I worked my way up to being a chief executive in the Probation Service quite young. Having worked with civil servants through the central team, it inspired me to join the civil service as I felt that it would open up amazing opportunities and enable me to make a more significant contribution to society. I have not been disappointed!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your working life? 

The stand-out piece of advice that I was given was by Lorna Fitzwilliams a few years ago, who said ‘my difference is my superpower’. Being a Black woman, I know how important it is to be proud of who you are and what you bring to the civil service. I have always advised people to be authentic and bring their ‘whole self’ to work. Lorna said it in a simple yet very powerful way.

If you could introduce one civil service reform, what would it be? 

It would be the one that I am privileged to be currently introducing – line management capability. This is a programme that will set a consistent standard and support for line managers across the civil service. Line managers play such an important role improving wellbeing, performance and productivity and it is important that we recognise this.

Read more: ‘Upskilling civil servants will boost efficiency’: Five minutes with Karl Andreas Sprenk from Estonia’s Government CIO Office

Which civil servant – past or present – do you most admire and why?

There are many civil servants that I admire: Alex Chisholm, Esther Wallington, Mark Preston to name but a few. However, the one that I will never forget is Sir Graham Smith, who is sadly no longer with us. He was a chief inspector of probation and he embodied the civil service values. One skill he had was real active listening. When he spoke with a person, no matter how junior, they came away from the conversation truly believing they were important and their views really mattered, which gave confidence to the most junior members of staff.

Which country’s civil service or which government department or agency are you most inspired by and why?

I had the privilege of working in the Ministry of Defence for several years. One of the things that most inspired me was both civil servants and the military working in collaboration with governments across the globe. As such, learning from other nations and sharing best practice is just the way things are done!

Read more: ‘Listen, learn and speak your mind’: Five minutes with Henriikka Tammes from Finland’s finance ministry

Are there any projects or innovations in your country that might be valuable to your peers overseas? 

I know that building a consistent whole-system approach to enhancing line management capability is something that will be valuable for peers overseas. I know, a shameless plug for the Line Management Capability programme!

Which three famous people, alive or dead, would you most like to invite to a dinner party? 

Maya Angelou, Bob Marley, Bruce Lee. Grab me if you want to learn more!

Do you have any unusual hobbies? 

I am not sure how unusual it is but a few months ago I returned to ice skating after not doing it since teenhood. I find it terrifying at times but I absolutely love it!

What is your favourite book? 

It’s generally the one that I am currently reading. My daughter recently surprised me with the book Worthy: How to Believe You Are Enough and Transform Your Life by Jamie Kern Lima. It inspired her so much that she wanted to share it with me and so of course I will love it!

What was the first piece of music you bought?  

Exodus by Bob Marley is the first album I bought that I feel able to share!

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