2. Contextualising leadership challenges in Brazil’s federal administration

This chapter assesses current leadership challenges in Brazil’s public service from a structural perspective, looking at the organisation of the workforce and the public service leadership. While Brazil’s federal public service has strong merit-based entry, the career system presents particular rigidities which make it difficult to lead innovation in the public sector. In contrast, the high levels of flexibility among management positions present few opportunities to consider innovation competencies in leadership appointments. This chapter also looks at the results of a recent survey conducted for this review, which aims to assess the current state of specific innovation skills and competencies in the broader workforce.


Chapter 1 built a case for how leadership improves public sector outcomes for Brazil; in particular how it stands to develop a more productive, effective and accountable public service, and improve trust in the public sector. It calls for not only appointing qualified leaders, but also implementing a system that identifies needed leadership competencies, and builds both the supply and demand for these competencies.

This chapter assesses current leadership challenges in Brazil’s public service from a systemic perspective, looking at the structures that organise the workforce and the public service leadership. It also looks at the results of a recent survey conducted for this review, which aimed to assess the current state of specific innovation skills and competencies.

Leadership within a complex and rigid career system

Brazil’s federal career system presents particular challenges. The largest part of the workforce is grouped into around 300 “careers” (carreira). While some careers are similar to those of most countries (such as a diplomatic career), most careers appear to be equivalent to job categories. Often careers are attached to individual institutions with their own salary scales, although interministerial job categories have also been created, such as the specialist in public policy and government management career (EPPGG; see Box 2.1) (OECD, 2010).

Box 2.1. The public policy and government management specialists “career”

The career of specialist in public policy and government management (EPPGG) was designed for high-level public policy and management functions, along the lines of the French National School of Administration (Ecole nationale d’administration, ENA). The EPPGG was intended to facilitate the interface between the political and administrative levels of government. As such, EPPGG civil servants are expected to operate in all ministries and federal agencies, and facilitate public policy formulation and strategic management. To fulfil these expectations, EPPGG civil servants go through a common induction and initial training and can be assigned to positions throughout the administration. While in theory the EPPGG civil servants have greater opportunities for mobility than other careers, in practice mobility is not widespread. According to the Secretary of Management, 55% of EPPGG civil servants have stayed in the same area their entire career.1

The EPPGG has a government-wide role and is a corporate resource responsible for:

  1. 1. Public policy formulation: The EPPGG facilitates and supports public policy formulation by ensuring that decision makers receive well-formulated policy proposals and advice in all sectors of government.

  2. 2. Public policy implementation: The EPPGG supports decision makers by ensuring policies are implemented efficiently and effectively, and are accurately monitored and evaluated.

  3. 3. Government efficiency: The EPPGG develops and implements policies and programmes to improve the organisation and functioning of the government machine at macro and individual institution level.

In 2018, 44% of EPPGG civil servants had been appointed to senior management positions2. This is slightly more than other careers from the “management cycle”, such as planning and budget analysts (analistas de planejamento e orçamento), finance and control analysts (analistas de finanças e controle) and foreign trade analysts (analistas de comércio exterior).

EPPGG civil servants work in a wide range of ministries, but are mainly concentrated in the then Ministry of Planning (27%), the Ministry of Justice and the Presidency (10% each).

Notes: 1. Secretary of Management, based on data from the Integrated System for Staff Administration (Sistema Integrado de Administração de Pessoal, SIAPE). 2. Senior Direction and Counselling Group (Grupo Direção e Assessoramento Superiores, DAS), “commissioned functions” (funções comissionadas do poder executivo, FCPE) or other positions that do not require participating in a competitive process (Secretary of Management, 2018)

Source: Secretary of Management (2018), Integrated System for Staff Administration.

Careers often have their own pay-setting process and salary structure, their own unions and staff associations. As such, when one career secures improvements to its salary or working conditions, this often leads to competition from others. This has led to a very fragmented workforce rather than one that can be strategically and collectively managed.

Against this backdrop, vertical career progression is often reduced to automatic seniority-based pay increments and lateral mobility is limited. The lack of a general classification system means that it is not possible to determine equivalent positions across ministries. Perhaps more importantly, the 1988 Constitution does not allow a public servant to move from one career to another without passing a new competitive examination. Successful civil servants enter at the starting point of the salary scale for the new job category, regardless of their former position and seniority.

In this context, leaders will likely have to manage teams from multiple careers, each with their own employment framework and own goals and objectives. This can make the development of horizontal skills, such as innovation skills, more challenging. It can also present challenges to the development of horizontal, multi-disciplinary teams that often create opportunities to innovate. Furthermore, once civil servants have accessed a career, there is very little strategic career development as promotions are based on seniority or appointment rather than performance or talent assessment. This has implications for both the development of skills and the motivation for their use.

A flexible and fragmented leadership cadre

Brazil’s fragmented and rigid career system makes it challenging to identify who are the public leaders in its federal administration. Most OECD countries have some kind of senior civil service system, which serves to support and manage the most senior administrative leaders through separate merit-oriented policies in recognition of their pivotal role in public service performance. While Brazil’s Constitution (Article 37) acknowledges specificities of some functions within the civil service (directors, managers and advisors), the people who perform these functions are not managed in the same way.

The DAS is Brazil’s dominant system of senior managers. It is structured into six levels of management (operational, tactical and strategic management), DAS-6 being the highest ranking. Like in OECD countries, the higher the position, the lower the share of women (OECD, 2017b; Cavalcante and Lotta, 2015).

Additionally, a number of senior management positions are handled outside the DAS system, including senior positions through the FCPE. Until 2019, FCPE positions ranged from 1 to 4, with 4 being the most senior-ranked position. A law from June 20191 established that Level 5 and 6 FCPE positions may be created to replace same-level positions of DAS. The important difference between DAS and FCPE positions is that FCPE positions are reserved for civil servants, while anybody can be appointed to DAS positions.

For clarity and to ensure some degree of coherence with previous work, this report uses the same definition of senior leaders as the National School of Public Administration’s 2018 staff report (ENAP, 2018) (Box 2.2). “Senior leaders” will thus refer to the highest levels of DAS (4, 5 and 6) and the FCPE (4).

Box 2.2. Senior leaders in Brazil – some definitions

Defining public sector leadership in Brazil, with its relatively fragmented public service, is a key challenge. The dominant system of senior managers – the Senior Direction and Counselling Group (DAS) includes non-managerial positions (see, for example, Cavalcante and Carvalho [2017]) and as such should not be considered a career, in particular from a managerial perspective (Pinheiro, 2017). Another important category of senior managers are the “commissioned functions” (FCPE). There are about 22 000 DAS and FCPE positions in the federal government (data from March 2018).

With these challenges in mind, the definition of “senior leadership” used in this report corresponds to the highest levels of DAS (4, 5 and 6) and FCPE (4). This classification is used by the Informe do Pessoal (staff report) of the National School of Public Administration (ENAP, 2018) and corresponds to the “cargos de alta direção” (senior management positions). These positions (especially DAS 5 and 6) have a relevant influence on the decision-making process and on the implementation of public policies. These 4 categories of DAS and FCPE comprise about 5 000 people in the executive (federal level of government).

Decree No. 5.497-2005 (modified by Decree No. 9.021-2017) established that 50% of DAS 4 positions should be reserved for career civil servants. Although the transformation of DAS into FCPE positions in 2016 also introduced new criteria for appointment (being a civil servant), it did not change the real nature of appointments. The same decree set a minimum limit of 60% of DAS 5 and 6 to be filled by public servants, which increased the number of public servants in those positions.

Law 13.844/2019 opened the possibility to transform DAS 5 and 6 into a new category of FCPE 5-6. This means that a larger number of positions would be reserved for career civil servants.

Sources: Cavalcante, P. and P. Carvalho (2017), “Profissionalização da burocracia federal brasileira (1995-2014): Avanços e dilemas”, https://doi.org/10.1590/0034-7612144002; Freire, A., P. Cavalcante and P. Palotti (2017), “Perfil e determinantes da ocupação de cargos comissionados no setor de infraestrutura do governo federal no Brasil”; ENAP (2018), Informe de Pessoal: Março 2018; Lopez, F. and S. Praça (2018), “Cargos de confiança e políticas públicas no executivo federal”; www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_Ato2004-2006/2005/Decreto/D5497.htm; www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_Ato2015-2018/2017/Decreto/D9021.htm.

The main difference between the management of the senior civil servants and the other civil servants relates mostly to the recruitment process, as the senior civil servants tend to be appointed rather than selected through a competitive examination. In addition, pay levels tend to be higher for the SCS, and assignments shorter, with turnover linked to the presidential mandate. The tenure of DAS 1-5 tends to be around 3.5-4 years (Cavalcante and Lotta, 2015). Despite these differences, there is no specific emphasis in the recruitment of the SCS, nor in the management of their careers, their performance or for avoiding conflicts of interest.2

Figure 2.1. Most common differences between the employment framework of senior managers and that of regular staff, 2016
Figure 2.1. Most common differences between the employment framework of senior managers and that of regular staff, 2016

Note: SCS: senior civil servants. Response of 36 OECD countries to Question 85: “How different is the employment framework of senior managers from that of regular staff? [Q85] Please check all that apply”.

Source: OECD (2016), “Strategic Human Resources Management Survey”,


In the absence of an SCS system, appointments into DAS and FCPE leadership positions are, by definition, made at the will of the government and relevant hiring authorities. The management of DAS/FCPE appointments is usually delegated to each organisation (ministries and organisations directly subordinated to a ministry), which tend to have their own rules or procedures for the appointment process and responsibilities (OECD, 2010). While the centre of government (Casa Civil) approves appointments for the most senior DAS positions (Levels 4-6), there is no indication of a regular formal processes for examining senior management appointments (with the exception of investigation on compliance with integrity rules) (OECD, 2010).

The OECD’s 2010 Review of Human Resource Management in Brazil’s public sector found that “In Brazil, the main limitation of the SCS system is its lack of coherence and transparency in appointments” (OECD, 2010). The leadership appointment system could help bring a diversity of perspectives into the civil service, and provide career opportunities for public servants, regardless of their job category (OECD, 2010), helping to round out skills gaps and spark innovation (Pinheiro, 2017). However, in practice, appointment criteria are neither systematic nor comprehensive, and are often not based on technical or managerial standards for management positions (Cavalcante and Carvalho, 2017). Appointments to a vast number of managerial positions are independent of passing a competitive examination3 and at the complete discretion of those who have the power to appoint. There seems to be no documentation of the reasons for specific DAS appointments, and no data are therefore available on why it was felt necessary or appropriate to select an external or internal candidate for a specific DAS appointment (OECD, 2010).

There is great heterogeneity in procedures, application forms and criteria, depending on the hiring and selection authority (Camões and Balué, 2015). In most cases there are no publicly available descriptions of requirements for SCS positions to be filled or of the merits of the persons selected, although some exceptions can be found in a reduced number of ministries (Pinheiro, 2017). At the same time, merit is still too strongly associated with academic and professional background (Camoes and Balué, 2015). As such, appointments to SCS positions usually do not tend to take into account predefined skill sets or behaviours in ways that assess candidates’ abilities to address the complex challenges facing the country.

In Brazil, any significant change to the appointment criteria or definitions for SCS positions has to be approved by a normative act.4 The focus of legal initiatives to improve the qualification of DAS/FCPE has been on ensuring that a significant number of senior-level appointees would come from the ranks of the civil service, including Decree No. 5.497-2005 and the creation of FCPE positions in 2016. While reserving a number of positions previously designated as DAS for civil servants may be a first step towards developing a structured career path in some management positions, these positions still fail to ensure any minimal level of senior management qualification and do not ensure any merit process in those political appointments. Indeed, being a civil servant is not, in and of itself, a “quality stamp” to become a senior manager (see, for example, Pinheiro [2017]; Lopez and Praça [2018]; Instituto República [2018]):

First, although civil servants went through selection processes at the beginning of their careers, the skills needed for entry-level positions are not the same as those needed for a leadership position. Despite being very selective, public competitions usually test theoretical knowledge.

Second, the training system for civil servants does not ensure that training is aligned with the skills and mindsets necessary to innovate and lead in today’s public service. Up to 2019, the right to training for the SCS was regulated in a government decree of 20065, and civil servants had the right to a minimum number of hours of training every few years. This decree created the Policy for Civil Servant Development (Política Nacional de Desenvolvimento de Pessoal), which aimed, among others, to promote the managerial capacity building for civil servants, in order to help them qualify for DAS positions. By law, such training should be a priority in the training plans of the federal public administration.6 ENAP promotes, elaborates and implements training for these positions; however, since there are no job descriptions nor clear performance objectives, the impact evaluation of the training remains limited and difficult to assess. A 2019 decree7 establishes a people development plan (Plano de Desenvolvimento de Pessoas) and introduces new provisions about access to training (namely long-term training). Its implementation is due to start after the publication of this report8 and as such is not included in the analysis.

Third, career progression within the civil service is automatic to a certain extent and disconnected from actual performance. It is automatic after a three-year probation period, because it is only based on the length of service and civil servants cannot be dismissed. In practice, it is possible to reach the top of a career after only ten years. The lack of an efficient performance assessment system implies that it is difficult to assess someone’s performance throughout their career; and the SCS is simply not subject to individual performance assessments. When they do exist, evaluation systems do not tend to be aligned with the possibility to improve one’s performance (Odelius, 2010) or the organisation’s performance. At the same time, in cases of low performance9, civil servants are directed to training or can benefit from an analysis of functional suitability.10 Defining performance indicators could help clarify the SCS’ contribution towards strategic organisational objectives, strengthen incentives to improve performance and identify potential skills gaps (OECD, 2017b). In the Brazilian context, the most common obstacles to implementing performance assessment systems appear to be resistance to evaluations, use of inadequate criteria, unclear results and unsuccessful integration of the performance system with other HRM systems (Odelius, 2010).

For these reasons, developing transparent job profiles and minimum qualifications for DAS and FCPE positions, independent of someone’s status as a “civil servant”, would be an opportunity to articulate the skills demanded for these positions. Decree No. 9.727-2019 is a first step to establish minimum criteria, profiles and procedures to recruit for DAS and FCPE positions and will be further discussed in Chapter 5. It indicates, for example, that recruiting administrations should have an updated job description for the highest SCS positions (DAS 5 and 6). This can help to better define expectations and ensure that high-level DAS and FCPE leaders have the means to lead their workforces to achieve innovative results.

At the same time, this is just a starting point, since the criteria outlined in the decree for these positions are rather broad. Furthermore, selection processes remain voluntary and the hiring authority has full discretion to appoint anyone that fulfils these criteria. The hiring minister may also appoint candidates who do not fulfil these criteria as long as s/he justifies the reasons behind the decision (for example the specificity of the position or the limited number of applications). While this may increase accountability for political appointments to a degree, this decree alone will not go very far in promoting the skills and conditions necessary innovative leadership in the federal administration.

Political appointments exist in most SCS systems and can be associated with a welcome degree of flexibility, in particular when they bring in highly qualified people from outside the public system (see, for example, OECD [2010]; Pinheiro [2017]). However, to achieve these benefits, OECD governments generally implement mechanisms to encourage appointments of people who have the experience and skills required for the job. Chile is one of the most commended examples with the introduction of a senior civil servant cadre (Sistema de Alta Dirección Pública).

Box 2.3. Senior civil service recruitment and selection in Chile:

Sistema de Alta Dirección Pública

In 2003, the Chilean government, with the agreement of all political actors (opposition political parties, non-governmental organisations, civil society), created the Sistema de Alta Dirección Pública (SADP), a central senior civil service system. The aim of the SADP was to establish a professional senior management. Following the reform, there are three distinct groups:

  1. 1. The most senior positions, which are filled by direct designation by the government (1 000 positions out of 2 million in central government).

  2. 2. The SADP, for which recruitment is based on public competition (1 000 positions in central government). There are two levels within the ADP: approximately 1% at the first hierarchical level (heads of service, directors general), and the remainder at the second hierarchical level (regional directors, heads of division).

  3. 3. Middle management positions (2 000 positions in central government) at the third hierarchical level, which form part of the career civil service.

The SADP has been implemented gradually by recruiting by open competition whenever a post falls vacant and by expanding it over time to additional groups. For example, it has been expended to include 3 600 municipal education directors and 2 800 new senior management posts in municipalities. Most of the selection process for the SADP is contracted out to specialised recruitment agencies.

The National Civil Service Directorate is responsible for management of the SADP. However, the Senior Public Management Council (Consejo de Alta Dirección Pública) is in charge of guaranteeing the transparency, confidentiality and absence of discrimination of the selection process. It is chaired by the director of the National Civil Service Directorate and has four members proposed by the president of Chile and approved by the Senate. The selection process, which takes about four months, begins with the publication of the vacancy in the media. A specialised enterprise commissioned by the Senior Public Management Council analyses the curricula vitae of the different candidates and prepares a shortlist for the council or a selection committee (under the council’s supervision).

Professional competence, integrity and probity are some of the criteria used in the selection process. Subsequently, the council or the committee selects the best candidates for interview and prepares a final shortlist for the competent authority for the final appointment.

The SADP was based on international experience. In particular, the experience of OECD countries such as Australia and New Zealand strongly influenced the Chilean model. The system is considered one of the main achievements of the modernisation of Chile’s public management. One outcome has been the decline in the number of political appointees in the central government; they currently represent only 0.5% of the total public workforce. It is also argued that the presence of women in senior positions has increased under the system; they occupy 32% of positions, compared to 15% in the Chilean private sector.

Source: Weber, A. (2012), “Alta dirección pública”.

Turnover of senior civil service positions

Turnover appears high11 among SCS positions, likely a subsequent effect of the high turnover at the political level. While it was not possible to obtain data, experts estimated that many senior civil servants held their posts for around two to four years. In comparison, in most OECD countries senior managers stay at least three years in their position12; only Mexico reported that senior managers stay in their positions less than two years.

Figure 2.2. Average length of senior managers’ tenure in a particular position, 2016
Figure 2.2. Average length of senior managers’ tenure in a particular position, 2016

Note: Response of 36 OECD countries to Q89: “What is the average length of senior managers’ tenure in a particular position?”

Source: OECD (2016), “Strategic Human Resources Management Survey”.

In the short term, the dynamics of the relatively high turnover in Brazil’s federal administration is likely to have a negative impact on innovation (see, for example, Brandão and Bruno-Faria [2017]). First, the short tenure of senior managers does not give them enough time to understand existing processes and policies. Without this understanding, it is harder to identify priorities, make proposals and design innovative ways of working. Second, when leaders expect their mandate to be relatively short, they have fewer incentives to take a longer term perspective towards the development of their own skills and those of their workforce. Third, short mandates also affect leaders’ perceived legitimacy to lead longer term change initiatives; this lack of long-term vision may affect teams’ engagement to work on future-oriented projects such as those requiring innovative and iterative approaches. Finally, turnover of leaders also tends to affect turnover of lower layers of DAS/FCPE positions and other civil servants, because the senior civil servants usually take team members with them when they change positions. Perception from the interviews conducted in Brazil for this report also suggests that civil servants tend to follow a leader that they appreciate, regardless of the sector where they work.

Finally, while intrinsic motivation – such as attachment and engagement towards public sector ethos – is fundamental for long-term sustainability of public policies, it is not clear how the current SCS system could attract leaders based on intrinsic motivation. The relatively high bonuses associated with leadership positions tend to act as extrinsic motivation towards these positions (Instituto República, 2018). In this context, better understanding the incentives that motivate individuals to assume leadership positions should help the federal administration in any future reforms related to improving recruitment to leadership positions.

Findings of the OECD survey on core skills areas for public sector innovation in Brazil

Incorporating change into government functions is one of the most difficult topics facing innovators and public sector leaders in Brazil and elsewhere in the world (OECD, 2018a). To address this challenge, investments in public sector innovation need to start by reconsidering the skills and competencies needed of civil servants and senior officials in public administrations.

There is currently a lack of information about the skills available in the Brazilian civil service. First, most recruitment processes do not formally and systemically assess skills, and second, attempts to map the existing skills in the federal administration are currently at nascent stages. In this context and as part of this report, the OECD conducted a survey to obtain some insights into individual perceptions of skills levels for the six skills areas presented in Chapter 1: iteration, data literacy, user centricity, curiosity, storytelling and insurgency (see Box 2.4).

While the survey is not statistically representative of Brazil’s federal administration, the responses from 2 757 people provide useful insights into respondents’ perception of innovation skills and opportunities to develop those skills across the federal level. The survey findings, described below and also explored in the Innovation Systems Review (OECD 2019a) conducted in parallel with this report (OECD forthcoming) could possibly be further explored in future studies to understand the abilities and preparedness for public sector innovation.

Box 2.4. OECD survey on the core skills areas for public sector innovation

At Brazil’s Innovation Week in November 2018, with the support of the National School of Public Administration (Escola nacional de administração pública, ENAP) and the former Ministry of Planning, the OECD launched a civil service-wide survey to assess respondents’ perceptions of their innovation-oriented skills, of management support and of organisational readiness to use the six innovation skills areas identified by the OECD: iteration, data literacy, user-centered, curiosity, storytelling and insurgency.

Each of six innovation skills areas was further divided until subcomponents and participants were asked to rate each subcomponent on a simple three-point scale against three dimensions: 1) their own awareness/proficiency of the skill; 2) encouragement from their manager to use the skill; and 3) their organisation’s readiness to adopt the skill. The full list of the subcomponents is available in Table 2.1. A small-scale first pilot of the survey was conducted in Chile in 2016 with a group of 20 public sector innovators from 15 different public institutions and services (OECD, 2017c).

The main objective of the survey was to obtain responses from employees of the federal administration. ENAP sent the survey to its mailing lists and 2 757 people responded. Figure 2.4 shows the profile of those that responded to the survey. Out of the 1 540 respondents from the federal administration, 10% reported themselves as being DAS 4-6 or FCPE 4; 16% as DAS or FCPE 1-3; and 74% as civil servants (non-DAS/FCPE). Twenty-seven respondents did not report belonging to any of these groups.

Figure 2.3. Profile of respondents to the OECD survey
Figure 2.3. Profile of respondents to the OECD survey

Note: The category “other” includes categories such as universities, the private sector, civil society and the military.

Source: OECD (2018c), “Survey on Innovation Skills: Organisational Readiness Assessment” (Habilidades de Inovação: Avaliação de Prontidão Organizacional), unpublished.

The survey was conducted in Portuguese with a translation provided by ENAP and WeGov. The survey is available in: https://survey2018.oecd.org/Survey.aspx?s=103bc32f2de64776925449ef61fa243a

Overview of the main findings

The results of this survey are based on the individuals who self-reported as working in the federal, state or municipal administrations (2 336 respondents), and more specifically on the people working in the federal administration. Results show that, overall, individuals’ self-perception of their own innovation capabilities is higher than their perception of their manager’s support and their organisation’s readiness. The same findings were observed in the survey conducted in Chile. Interestingly, on average, the perception of their own manager’s capacity to support innovation is lower than both the individual skills levels and organisational readiness to use them, including when each administrative level is analysed separately.

When managers’ capacity to support innovation in their teams is low, it affects teams’ motivation and reduces opportunities to innovate. This result suggests that individuals may feel capable of more innovation than their management is supporting them to achieve – although it is not possible to measure whether individuals are as skilled as they perceive themselves to be. Employees appear to perceive management as unable to build the bridge between organisations and innovators, which would be consistent with the fragmentation of innovation initiatives identified in the Innovation Systems Review (OECD 2019a).

Figure 2.4. Perception of capabilities on innovation skills in the federal, state and municipal administrations
Figure 2.4. Perception of capabilities on innovation skills in the federal, state and municipal administrations

Note: On a scale from 0 to 1. Perception of self: How capable are you in using this skill? 1: I know nothing/very little about this skill; 2: I have a general awareness of this skill; 3: I have a good awareness of this skill/I use it regularly. Perception of manager: How often does your manager support you to use this skill? 1: Not at all/not very often; 2: Occasionally; 3: Very/quite often; Perception of organisation: Is your organisation ready to adopt this skill in its usual way of working? 1: Not at all/not very ready; 2: Somewhat ready/already using it occasionally; 3: Very/quite ready/already using it widely.

Source: OECD (2018c), “Survey on Innovation Skills: Organisational Readiness Assessment” (Habilidades de Inovação: Avaliação de Prontidão Organizacional), unpublished.

Exploring innovation skills and subskills at the federal level

The survey included six skills and 29 subskills as detailed in Table 2.1. The subskills aim to measure concrete aspects of each skill area.

At the federal level, data literacy is the skills area where organisational readiness achieves the highest score. This could reflect Brazil’s investment in digital governance through the Digital Governance Strategy (Estratégia de Governança Digital) for the federal administration13 (Ministry of Planning, Budget and Management [2018], reviewed separately by the OECD [2018b]).

By contrast, user centricity is, with iteration, the skills area where federal employees score themselves the lowest. Strengthening user centricity in the federal administration has been promoted in several official documents as far back as the State Reform of 1995. The reform’s “Director Plan” brought the citizen to the core of public value through service delivery and public accountability mechanisms towards civil society (Nassuno, 2000). Improvement of user centricity has also been at the core of many winning innovations in the Innovation in Public Federal Management Competitions.14 These innovations range from the 1996 innovation to “Improve customer service to tax payers” by the Ministry of Finance15 to the more recent creation of a web portal which compiles information about the availability of services in municipalities across the country (Mapas Estratégicos para Políticas de Cidadania, MOPS), developed by the former Ministry of Social Development and the Fight against Hunger.16 Future initiatives to improve user centricity could benefit from further research in this field, especially considering that user centricity remains a criterion in the 2019 Innovation Awards.

Table 2.1. Survey on Innovation Skills: Organisational Readiness Assessment: List of skills and subskills areas

Skills and skill sets




Using incremental/iterative project management approaches (e.g. agile)

IT 1.1

Using prototypes to develop and explore how different approaches work

IT 1.2

Using experiments to evaluate pilots, projects and policies

IT 1.3

Risk taking and management

IT 1.4




DL 2

Collecting useful, relevant and timely data

DL 2.1

Accessing existing data collected by the government

DL 2.2

Working effectively with analysts and data specialists

DL 2.3

Communicating data analysis and results to non-specialists

DL 2.4

Basing decisions on data and evidence

DL 2.5




UX 3

Co-creating solutions with users, involving them throughout the process

UX 3.1

Creating and refining evaluation cycles which regularly collect users’ feedback

UX 3.2

Conducting research to find out what users really need from public services

UX 3.3

Facilitating interactive workshops with users to develop or test approaches

UX 3.4

Developing partnerships with organisations that represent users

UX 3.5

Using behavioural science techniques (e.g. “nudge”) in public policy





CT 4

Asking questions or analysing a situation from different perspectives

CT 4.1

Seeking feedback about how a service can be improved

CT 4.2

Identifying approaches that work elsewhere and adapting them for your own project/team/service

CT 4.3

Working in teams with diverse perspectives and backgrounds

CT 4.4



ST 5

Explaining how a project delivers positive changes

ST 5.1

Using multiple methods to communicate project information (e.g. video, infographics, blog posts, etc.)

ST 5.2

Using “user stories” to explain problems or changes from the user’s perspective

ST 5.3

Adapting the message as the situation develops or audience changes

ST 5.4

Communicating the results of the project after it is finished to promote learning and diffusion

ST 5.5



IN 6

Trying out untested or unusual ways of working, even if they may not work

IN 6.1

Working with new and different partners to deliver projects

IN 6.2

Challenging traditional or default positions and perspectives

IN 6.3

Understanding how the organisation works and how to change it

IN 6.4

Building coalitions to drive change and amplify messages

IN 6.5

Source: OECD (2018c), “Survey on Innovation Skills: Organisational Readiness Assessment” (Habilidades de Inovação: Avaliação de Prontidão Organizacional), unpublished.

By further exploring the individual innovation subskills at the federal level (see Table 2.1 for the full list of subskills), results show that federal employees score themselves the lowest in their capacity to use behavioural sciences. This subskill is part of the skill set “user centricity”. Along with the low results of subskill “capability to develop partnerships with organisations that represent users”, these contribute to explain why “user centricity” appears as the weakest skill set at the federal level.

Figure 2.5. Mapping innovation skills in Brazil's federal administration
Results of an online survey (n=1 567)
Figure 2.5. Mapping innovation skills in Brazil's federal administration

Note: Responses of people who reported working in the federal administration. Skills areas: IT: iteration; DL: data literacy; UX: user centred; CT: curiosity; ST: storytelling; IN: insurgency. See Table 2.1 for the full list of subskills.

Source: OECD (2018c), “Survey on Innovation Skills: Organisational Readiness Assessment” (Habilidades de Inovação: Avaliação de Prontidão Organizacional), unpublished

Within user centricity, the subskill related to user satisfaction is one of the aspects where respondents seem more skilled, possibly because user satisfaction surveys are one of the most traditional methods to interact with users. At the same time, research shows that citizen satisfaction data are not yet widely used across the federal administration (Inova, 2018). The Department for Service Modernisation and Innovation (Inova) of the former Ministry of Planning co-ordinated a survey on federal public service satisfaction, based on the perception of managers and of service users. The preliminary findings on the perception of managers suggest that only in about half the surveyed institutions are users involved in service improvement processes. When asked about the tools available for users to express their satisfaction, only 40% of institutions had such tools, and of these, around 69% use service-user surveys or questionnaires, and only 3.5% report using focus groups (Inova, 2018).

The subskill where federal employees score themselves the highest is the capacity to “ask questions or analyse a situation from different perspectives”. The fact that federal employees perceive themselves as highly capable of “understanding different perspectives” could partly explain the low investment on tools to obtain evidence about what those perspectives actually are; for example, using behavioural approaches to understand users’ needs. Assumptions about users have a strong potential to bias results, policy design and outcomes. For this reason, a growing number of countries have been using behavioural insights and ethnography to help institutions better design, implement and enhance public policies and market interventions (OECD, 2017a).

Individual perception across hierarchical levels

Looking at the survey results broken down by hierarchical level, curiosity is the skill set where individuals systematically score themselves the highest. Curiosity is also where they consider their manager to be the most supportive. All three hierarchical levels consider data literacy the strongest skill area at organisational level, which is coherent with the previous findings about the potential impact of Brazil’s Digital Governance Strategy for the federal government.

The comparison between self-perception at different hierarchical levels suggest that DAS 4-6 and FCPE 4 (i.e. senior managers) perceive themselves as more competent in all of the innovation skill areas than the lower levels of DAS and of civil servants in general. Senior managers also perceive their own managers as more supportive than the two other groups.

Figure 2.6. Innovation skills: Self-perception by hierarchical level
Figure 2.6. Innovation skills: Self-perception by hierarchical level

Note: Responses of people who reported working in the federal administration.

Source: OECD (2018c), “Survey on Innovation Skills: Organisational Readiness Assessment” (Habilidades de Inovação: Avaliação de Prontidão Organizacional), unpublished.

Further exploring innovation skills needed in the federal administration

These findings could be relevant to better understand the way managers position themselves in the political-administrative interface. Keeping in mind the limits of the current dataset, further research could investigate whether one possible explanation for senior managers’ relatively better perception about their own managers’ support could be because their “managers” are the political leaders that appointed them.

Another area for investigation could be the apparent contradiction between how senior managers perceive themselves and how the lower hierarchical levels perceive them. Clearly, senior managers see themselves as more knowledgeable and capable in all six skills areas. However most non-DAS/FCPE civil servants perceive very low support from their managers to use the skills they possess. This gap could be explained by a few phenomenon. For example, it is not clear that the core civil servants report directly to senior managers – and therefore there may be a layer of middle management which is blocking innovative senior leaders from connecting to their innovation-oriented workforce. It may also be due to the difference of perception – senior leaders often perceive more innovation in their organisations than the broader workforce does because senior leaders are more closely placed to it, and may manage it through smaller pockets of specialists removed from the view of the broader public workforce. A similar situation was found in Ireland in the results of the 2017 Employee Engagement Survey, which suggest that the more senior grades feel they have more freedom and space to be innovative than lower grades (Government of Ireland, 2017). In either case, the survey results point to a challenge of engaging the broader workforce in innovation in ways that use their skills to their fullest potential.

Brazil could consider further exploring these baseline findings through employee surveys, a common trend in OECD countries. Among the 30 OECD countries that conduct employee surveys (across the central public administration, by administrative sector or by ministry), 22 use them to assess the effectiveness of management.

Figure 2.7. Focus of employee surveys in OECD countries, 2016
Figure 2.7. Focus of employee surveys in OECD countries, 2016

Note: Response of 36 OECD countries to the question: “Q19b: [If you conduct employee surveys,] Do these employee surveys aim to assess the following aspects?”

Source: OECD (2016b), “Strategic Human Resources Management Survey”

This chapter has shown that senior leaders in Brazil find themselves trying to manage and lead a public sector workforce which is highly rigid and fragmented, from an SCS which is itself very flexible. This balance makes it difficult to position learning, development and career progression in a way that can focus on building the workforce needed for innovation in the public sector. It has also shown that many federal public servants perceive significant skills gaps in all aspects of the OECD’s six core skills areas for public sector innovation, and don’t perceive a great deal of support to use these skills from their management teams. The next chapters look at the three areas of the senior civil service system triangle, to determine the kind of leadership needed in Brazil to address these challenges, and systemic interventions necessary to make it happen.


Brandão, S. and Maria de Fátima Bruno-Faria (2017), “Barreiras à inovação em gestão em organizações públicas do governo federal brasileiro: Análise da percepção de dirigentes”, in: ENAP/IPEA (2017), Inovação no Setor Público: Teoria, Tendências e Casos no Brasil, Pedro Cavalcante et al. (orgs.), Brasília, http://repositorio.ipea.gov.br/bitstream/11058/8795/1/Barreiras%20%c3%a0%20inova%c3%a7%c3%a3o.pdf.

Camões, M. and I. Balué (2015), “Análise de processos seletivos para cargos comissionados no âmbito da administração pública federal”, VIII Congresso CONSAD de Administração Pública.

Cavalcante, P. and P. Carvalho (2017), “Profissionalização da burocracia federal brasileira (1995-2014): Avanços e dilemas”, Revista de Administração Pública, Vol. 51/1, pp. 1-26, https://doi.org/10.1590/0034-7612144002.

Cavalcante, P. and G. Lotta (2015) (orgs), Burocracia de Médio Escalão: Perfil, Trajetória e Atuação, National School of Public Administration, Brasília, http://repositorio.enap.gov.br/bitstream/1/2063/2/Burocratas%20de%20m%c3%a9dio%20escal%c3%a3o.pdf.

ENAP (2018), Informe de Pessoal: Março 2018, National School of Public Administration, Brasília.

Freire, A., P. Cavalcante and P. Palotti (2017), “Perfil e determinantes da ocupação de cargos comissionados no setor de infraestrutura do governo federal no Brasil”, in: Paula, J. Et al. (orgs.) (2017), Burocracia Federal de Infraestrutura Econômica: Reflexões sobre Capacidades Estatais, National School of Public Administration and Institute for Applied Economic Research, Brasília.

Government of Ireland (2017), Civil Service: Employee Engagement Survey 2017, prepared by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, https://www.gov.ie/pdf/?file=https://assets.gov.ie/3980/071218101844-ff297100dccb400296a8c39fe8feb7f6.pdf#page=1.

Inova (2018), “Pesquisa de Gestão da Qualidade em Serviços Públicos Federais: Resultados preliminares”, Department for Service Modernisation and Innovation, www.planejamento.gov.br/cidadania-digital/brasil-eficiente-cidadania-digital/Pesquisa_Gesto_Qualidade_Divulgacao_vFINAL.pdf (accessed 4 April 2019).

Instituto República (2018), “Relatório da 3ª Conferencia Anual do Instituto República ‘“Serviço Público: Desafios no Brasil’”, unpublished.

Lopez, F. and S. Praça (2018), “Cargos de confiança e políticas públicas no executivo federal”, in: Pires, R., G. Lotta and V. Elias de Oliveira, Burocracia e Políticas Públicas no Brasil: Interseções Analíticas, Institute for Applied Economic Research and National School of Public Administration, Brasília.

Matheson, A. et al. (2007), “Study on the political involvement in senior staffing and on the delineation of responsibilities between ministers and senior civil servants", OECD Working Papers on Public Governance, No. 6, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/136274825752

Ministry of Planning, Budget and Management (2018), “Estratégia de Governança Digital (EGD) – Versão Revisitada”, Ministry of Planning, Budget and Management, https://www.governodigital.gov.br/EGD.

Nassuno, M. (2000), “A administração com foco no usuário-cidadão: Realizações no governo federal brasileiro nos últimos 5 anos”, revised version of a paper presented at the V Congresso do Centro Latino Americano da Administração para o Desenvolvimento, www.reformadagestaopublica.org.br/Terceiros/Autores/Nassuno,Marianne/marianne.pdf (accessed 4 April 2019).

Odelius, C.C. (2010), “Gestão de desempenho profissional: Conhecimento acumulado, características desejadas ao sistema e desafios a superar”, in: Pantoja, M.J., M.R. de Souza Camões and S. Trescastro Bergue (orgs.), Gestão de Pessoas: Bases Teóricas e Experiências no Setor Público, National School of Public Administration, Brasilia.

OECD (2019a), The Innovation System of the Public Service of Brazil: An exploration of its past, present and future journey, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2018a), Embracing Innovation in Government: Global Trends 2018, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/gov/innovative-government/embracing-innovation-in-government-2018.pdf.

OECD (2018b), Digital Government Review of Brazil: Towards the Digital Transformation of the Public Sector, OECD Digital Government Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264307636-en.

OECD (2018c), “Survey on Innovation Skills: Organisational Readiness Assessment” (Habilidades de Inovação: Avaliação de Prontidão Organizacional), unpublished.

OECD (2017a), Behavioural Insights and Public Policy: Lessons from Around the World, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264270480-en.

OECD (2017b), Government at a Glance 2017, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/gov_glance-2017-en.

OECD (2017c), Innovation Skills in the Public Sector: Building Capabilities in Chile, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264273283-en.

OECD (2016a), Government at a Glance Latin America and the Caribbean 2017, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/888933431042.

OECD (2016b), “Strategic Human Resources Management Survey”, OECD, Paris.

OECD (2010), OECD Reviews of Human Resource Management in Government: Brazil 2010: Federal Government, OECD Reviews of Human Resource Management in Government , OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264082229-en.

Palotti, P. and A. Freire (2015), Perfil, Composição e Remuneração dos Servidores Públicos Federais: Trajetória Recente e Tendências Observadas, Cadernos ENAP, No. 42: Servidores públicos federais: Novos Olhares e Perspectivas, National School of Public Administration, Brasilia.

Pinheiro, I.A. (2017), Em Busca da Congruência entre o Ambiente (à Luz das Demandas da Sociedade), as Estruturas e a Gestão dos Cargos e Carreiras no Setor Público, ENAP Cadernos, No. 49, National School of Public Administration, Brasilia.

Secretary of Management (2018), Integrated System for Staff Administration (Sistema Integrado de Administração de Pessoal, SIAPE).

Weber, A. (2012), “Alta dirección pública”, presentation given at the seminar Fortaleciendo la Capacidad del Empleo Público Colombiano, Bogota, 27 July 2012.


← 1. Law No. 13.844 of 18 June 2019, Establishing the basic organisation of the Presidency of the Republic and Ministries (Estabelece a organização básica dos órgãos da Presidência da República e dos Ministérios), available at: www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_Ato2019-2022/2019/Lei/L13844.htm#art74 (assessed 10 July 2019).

← 2. A clean reputation and moral suitability have been general criteria for assuming any DAS or FCPE positions, according to Decree No. 9.727 of 15 March 2019 on the criteria, the professional profile and general procedures to fulfil DAS and FCPE positions (Dispõe sobre os critérios, o perfil profissional e os procedimentos gerais a serem observados para a ocupação dos cargos em comissão do Grupo Direção e Assessoramento Superiores – DAS e das Funções Comissionadas do Poder executivo –FCPE).

← 3. Article 37 of the 1988 Federal Constitution, Constitutional Amendment No. 19, 1998.

← 4. Articles 37 and 61 of the 1988 Federal Constitution, §1°, II, a.

← 5. Decree No. 5.707 of 2 February 2006.

← 6. Decree No. 5.707 of 2 February 2006. See also Article 9 of Law No. 7.834 of 6 October 1989.

← 7. Decree No. 9.991 of 28 August 2019, on the National Policy for Staff development available in http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_Ato2019-2022/2019/Decreto/D9991.htm

← 8. See Instrução normativa No. 201 of 11 September 2019, available in http://www.in.gov.br/en/web/dou/-/instrucao-normativa-n-201-de-11-de-setembro-de-2019-215812638 (accessed 25 september 2019)

← 9. Less than 50% of expected.

← 10. Law No. 11784 of 22 September 2008 and Law No. 11907 of 2 February 2009.

← 11. Data are not available due to the scattered nature of appointments and dismissals for DAS/FCPE positions.

← 12. OECD Strategic Human Resources Management Survey, Q.89: What is the average length of senior managers’ tenure in a particular position?

← 13. The Digital Governance Strategy defines the strategic objectives, the targets, the indicators and the initiatives of the Digital Government Policy of the Federal Executive (Decree No. 8.638 of 15 January 2016.

← 14. For more information about the awards, see: https://inovacao.enap.gov.br/1o-concurso.

← 15. Ministério das Finanças.

← 16. Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Combate à Fome.

2. Contextualising leadership challenges in Brazil’s federal administration