‘If I make any mistakes it will be very public’, says director taking charge of three councils

Liz Bruce

All eyes will be on Liz Bruce next month when she takes up one of the biggest senior management roles in  social services as executive director of adult social care for the tri-borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster in London.

Leaving her post as adults’ director in Manchester, a Labour-run northern city, and moving to work across three, relatively wealthy and Conservative-run London boroughs will be a significant shift.

“And I don’t think it will be easy. The profiles of the three boroughs are very different in many ways. While they are sharing some services, there are others they retain sovereignty on, which will present challenges. I see my job very much as one focused on building relationships and enabling change. But it’s very exciting because I see it as the new way of working as a director of adult social services in the future. Of course that means that all eyes are upon it and if I make any mistakes it’s a very public arena,” she laughs.

Nurse, social worker and teacher

Known for her success in joining up health and social care in Manchester she will be expected to do the same in the London tri-borough. Her background makes her peculiarly fitted for such work as she has been, at various times, a qualified nurse, teacher and social worker.

“I trained as a nurse after leaving school and was nursing children with learning disabilities. There was a teacher who would come in to work with the children and I thought, ‘that’s something I’d really like to do’, so I left nursing to do my teacher training instead, which I loved. Eventually it led me into working in multi-professional projects for adults with learning disabilities. I was working alongside health and social care staff on change management so I did my social worker training as well. I think that breadth of knowledge and skills has really helped me in my work as a director of adult services.”

But it has occasionally also been a double-edged sword. In Manchester, and previously as director in Warwickshire, she has taken on larger portfolios than many other adult directors, including homelessness, troubled families, domestic violence and public health.

“Certainly it’s made the jobs more challenging but it’s also been valuable in allowing me to take a strategic approach on issues,” she points out. Such an approach has been vital working in the North West, she says, as otherwise the high levels of social deprivation and health inequalities would be overwhelming.

More prepared to be radical

“But because of those challenges I’ve always felt councils in these areas are more prepared to take radical approaches to problems. That has been the joy of past few years- the ability to be very innovative.”

While Bruce has no doubt the public sector needs to adapt and work in partnership with the private sector and entrepreneurs, she is also conscious of the need for public sector workers to be a source of pride.

“It means we work in a democratic environment which is very important since our job is to serve the community,” she says.  This will be particularly important in the future because, she says, communities can no longer be passive recipients of services.

“Our only option is to work with communities and use them as a social asset in caring for the elderly and vulnerable- not only a person’s family but community groups and the voluntary sector That is the only way we can possibly meet rising demand with so few resources.”

Liz Bruce on…

A social care leader must be…visionary, forward thinking and collaborative. I also think it’s very important to have integrity and courage.

If I wasn’t a social work director I’d be…probably a lawyer, but still representing those who are marginalised and vulnerable. In the future I think perhaps I would quite like to move into politics.

I’m most inspired by…strong women leaders who overcome barriers and great odds to get where they want to be but continue to stay true to themselves.

My staff describe me as…I actually did ask my staff to contribute to this one and some of the things they said were: “tenacious, visionary, unafraid to say something that is unpopular, doesn’t shy away from difficult decisions, high expectations but also supportive, likes a glass of wine!”

What keeps me awake at night…management of risk- particularly wondering if I know where all the risks are.

The government could make my job easier by… removing barriers between departments, both legislative and financial.

I’m proudest of…the work I did in Warwickshire promoting personalised and individual budgets. I’m also extremely proud of the health and care integration we’ve done in Manchester across three clinical commissioning groups and three hospitals.

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