Political Acuity

Being politically savvy is an important skill for public servants. Here are some ideas on some of the things to think about is as you develop.

The first phase of this process begins with learning more about you. As you better understand yourself you will be more effective in dealing with others; and the more we can learn about others, the better we can engage with them.

The second phase requires you to be more observant to the people and the dynamics around you. By observing and noting the behaviours of those around you, you can begin to establish base-line data about things like body language and meeting dynamics, which will better allow you to know when to say something and when not to. When the minister asks you “is there anything else you would like to add?” and there is really something else you would like to say, but are not sure if you should, you will likely have a better sense of how to proceed.

The third phase requires you to start thinking very deliberately about networks, alliances and proactive and strategic stakeholder engagement. Building key networks and supportive alliances as part of your formal and informal stakeholder engagement will mean less conflict, less delay, fewer budget overruns and less bad press and reputational damage.

The fourth and final phase requires you to accept that the world around you affects everything you do. What was acceptable yesterday may be a disaster today. By spending some time to assess the context and what it means for us will serve us well.

Summary thoughts

Political acuity is clearly a competency that is worth developing. As a sensitivity to a way of thinking and behaving, it allows us to understand the motivations of people around us, and of the organisation in which we work. It will certainly assist us in achieving our goals and objectives, build a more effective relationship with the political class and will help the government run better. But it is also important as a survival mechanism, as missteps seem to have greater impact in an era of “gotcha politics” and the fast moving and unforgiving world of social media. After all, if we are going to “speak truth to power”, we better think about what we are going to say.

This is an excerpt of an article published in Apolitical,  written by Peter Constantinou, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Administration, York University