Executive Summary

The Government of Brazil is currently tackling a core leadership challenge: improving civil service capability, productivity and innovation. This, in turn, requires a reconsideration of the skills and competencies needed in the senior ranks of public administrations, as well as an analysis of the mechanisms that reinforce these skills and competencies, and an evaluation of the incentives to innovate.

In Brazil, appointment criteria are neither systematic nor comprehensive, and often not based on technical or managerial standards for management positions. This presents risks for public innovation and, more broadly, for the quality of public policies. Initial steps have been taken to address this issue. A 2019 presidential decree establishes some minimum criteria for these positions and enables selection through merit-based processes.

This study examines the role of public leaders in driving innovation in Brazil’s federal government, based on the OECD’s Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability. It first looks at the skills leaders need to steer an innovative civil service that meets today’s needs and prepares for those of the future. Leadership competencies are clear statements about the skills and behaviours that a government expects from its leadership cadre. The OECD has identified three distinct but interconnected groups of leadership competencies for innovation, based on findings from interviews and workshops held in Brazil. These are:

  • business acumen: skills to align processes and resources with innovation priorities. These include coalition building, strategic awareness, financial management, change management, project and people management, and accountability.

  • innovation skills: the OECD has identified six skills areas for public sector innovation that need to be understood by senior leaders: iteration, data literacy, citizen centricity, curiosity, storytelling, and insurgency.

  • mindsets: these approaches include courage, empathy, continuous learning, a focus on results, digital skills, interpersonal awareness, inspiration and empowerment.

The three skills areas above must sit on a solid foundation of ethics and public service values, which guide decision making towards the public interest. These skills groups could help adapt existing and future competency frameworks to the context of innovation in the Brazilian public sector.

Identifying the necessary leadership skills is not enough to drive more innovation in the public service. Once the skills have been identified, OECD countries often introduce a systematic approach to ensure their supply (for example, through learning and development) and demand by those who appoint leaders and hold them accountable. This is usually done through the development of a senior civil service (SCS) system, which sets skills standards and processes to ensure appointees meet those standards.

In Brazil, there are piecemeal interventions across the federal government that primarily focus on the supply side of skills, providing development opportunities for current and future leaders. Several institutions in the Brazilian federal administration have developed their own leadership development programmes, and the Brazilian School of Public Administration (ENAP) has often served as a “hub” for many of the leadership programmes while also developing its own. Organisations such as ENAP or the Ministry of Economy are also mapping civil servants’ skills through a databank to ensure that those looking for talent will be able to reach beyond their own networks to find it.

These organisations are also playing an important role in bridging the gap between the public sector and civil society, the private sector, and academia. Brazilian civil society organisations have been particularly active in the fields of public sector innovation and better governance, helping to promote public leadership and innovation in Brazil. Civil society stakeholders have been working with different levels of government to help them apply competency-based approaches to the recruitment and development of public managers.

However, developing the supply of such skills among potential SCS will not produce results if there is no demand for these skills. Strengthening demand requires engagement and buy-in at the highest political levels. It also requires addressing risk-averse incentive structures so that leaders feel empowered to use the innovation skills they have.

As Brazil is building the foundations for a more coherent and comprehensive approach to innovation, the study recommends that the federal administration also consider the leadership conditions to support its vision of an innovative state. The study provides a roadmap to further develop a senior civil service system by recommending short-, medium- and longer-term actions to:

  • Create a collaborative and unified view of innovative leadership

  • Ensure leadership training is responsive, effective, and available

  • Develop merit-based hiring practices that assess innovation competencies for management positions

  • Include innovation-oriented objectives in job profiles and performance assessments.

This study’s assessments provide a global picture of the areas that can support a more innovative and skilled leadership cadre in the Brazilian federal administration. Investing in building a skilled senior civil service would improve innovation and help Brazil successfully support a more effective and accountable federal public service.

Executive Summary