Understanding the role of SROs in public sector change delivery

Change across the public sector is becoming more frequent, complex, and critical than ever before. Government departments and public sector bodies must react to this and become more effective at change delivery.


Successful change programmes need to be sponsored well. Great sponsors focus on achieving the goal of the change by demonstrating passion, commitment and focus, and instilling this in others. In the public sector, this role is often synonymous with the ‘Senior Responsible Officer (SRO)’.


What makes an effective SRO and how can they ensure they perform their sponsorship role to deliver success? In our experience, five key characteristics distinguish effective sponsors.



Creating a clear shared vision


With so much changing, it can be confusing to see where any initiative fits in. Traditional public sector levers such as spending reviews, policy change and budgets sit alongside macro-level issues affecting all parts of our economy and country including Brexit, the COVID pandemic and the drive for Climate Change. Whilst the reasons for change are obvious on one level, SROs need to distil this landscape quickly and succinctly, and articulate a compelling story for their organisation that inspires their colleagues and secures the commitment of their peers.



Building business ownership


The public sector landscape is complex, with multiple government departments, central and local organisations responsible for parts of the end-to-end delivery of services and numerous non-departmental government bodies involved in differing capacities. SROs need to work closely with their Accounting Officer (AO) and navigate the ‘corridors of Whitehall and beyond’ and build a sense of ownership for the delivery of benefits from their change programmes. They need to ensure that the different public sector organisations involved are ready and ‘pulling’ for the change.



Safeguarding the vision


Governance requirements within the public sector are plentiful. Whether at the level of the GMPP (Government’s Major Projects Portfolio) and independent assurance from the IPA (Infrastructure and Projects Authority) or the various boards and committees required on individual programmes, it is an inherent part of delivering change in the sector.


Engaging with the necessary government bodies and getting the right people involved with the programme governance to make informed, timely decisions for the change is key. SROs need to ensure they involve key stakeholders from the start and keep them engaged and committed throughout delivery.



Supporting solution delivery


Public sector change programmes almost always involve multiple delivery partners including management consultancies, software providers, systems integrators, and many others. Although the programme will have a delivery organisation headed by a Programme Director or Manager, SROs need to ensure that they provide the necessary support and challenge to this delivery organisation to focus on key milestones and drive the programme at pace. Central to this will be rapidly removing blockers to progress and visible and clear leadership of key communications across the programme.



Leading the way


SROs will already be senior leaders within the public sector. They will hold a position of power with the ‘day job’ that they have in their organisation. SROs need to use this leadership experience and translate it into what is needed for the change – creating a sense of excitement, setting clear expectations with everyone, and putting in place an environment where everyone can succeed.


SROs, like their private sector ‘sponsor’ counterparts, are central to the delivering change successfully within their organisations and across their partners.



Do you need change expertise?


At Project One, we help and support our public sector customers to shape, mobilise and deliver their most critical change programmes. Our team of change experts have over 15 years of experience and work with senior leaders in their SRO roles to provide independent change leadership support through every step of their change journey.


If you would like to discuss your specific challenges and our public sector experience to see how we can help, please get in touch.

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