Formulating a vision and strategic direction for a UN Department/Office

UN Departments and Offices differ in terms of their mandate, their size and complexity, the cultural and geographic context in which they operate, and the nature of their activity.  At the same time, each department operates within the context of the Organization as a whole—the governance structures and mechanisms, central policies and processes, rules and regulations –that also have a significant impact on its performance. 
Vision for a UN department or office integrates these streams and articulates a clear, specific and compelling understanding of what the department commits to achieve. The starting point is the Senior Manager’s Compact that each Head of Department/Office/Mission holds with the Secretary-General. The Compacts set specific programmatic objectives and managerial targets for a given year. On an organizational level, the Compacts identify specific goals that are shared by all departments, such as the efficient management of financial resources.  
> View the Compacts here 

 Developing a vision and strategy

You will be called upon to envision a future direction for a programme of work, or for a division, office or department. The strategic view – including the larger outcomes, potential risks, measures of success, and elements of change – is essential for the leadership to guide the work of the entire entity. 
> Open Strategic Planning Basics for Managers to review the steps in the strategic planning process

Creating an effectual senior leadership team

At the senior level the leadership team is the critical determinant of what the department or office will be known for – both in delivery on the mandate and characteristics of the work environment. Departments and Offices gain informal reputations from what is perceived about the effectiveness and style of their leadership—directly affecting staff members’ decisions about working under that leadership.  
> Review Chapter 10: Management and Leadership in UN, in the Essential Guidebook for Senior Leaders of the United Nations Secretariat to gauge the effectiveness of your senior team.

Building relationships with peers, partners, Member States, other organizations

Most UN departments and offices are engaged with various types of partners, such as donors and implementing partners that may be other UN entities, NGOs, foundations, or private sector organizations. Interactions with Member States take place in these contexts as well as in the course of work with Committees of the General Assembly. As a senior UN leader you have frequent interaction with your counterparts in the Secretary-General's management team. 
Know who’s who 
The UN Protocol and Liaison Service manages the directories of all diplomatic personnel associated with the Missions to the United Nations, and of the Senior Officials of the UN. 
> Go to the site of the Protocol and Liaison Service 
Understand how the Organization is managed 
Review Executive Management Bodies: the Nuts and Bolts of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, found in Chapter 2 of the Essential Guidebook for Senior Leaders of the United Nations Secretariat 
Understand ethical parameters
Working with external partners in support of the programmes and operations carried out on behalf of the Member States must be managed within the context of the ethical framework and the financial rules and regulations of the Organization. Consult the Ethics Office for advice and guidance that is specific to your programme or situation.  
Have the system-wide view
The Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) brings together the executive heads of 29 specialized organizations under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General s to deliver as one—providing broad guidance, coordination and strategic direction for the system as a whole in the areas under the responsibility of executive heads. Focus is placed on inter-agency priorities and initiatives while ensuring that the independent mandates of organizations are maintained. Within the CEB structure, the High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) promotes system-wide cooperation, coordination and knowledge sharing in programme and operational areas. The High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM) identifies and analyzes administrative management reforms with the aim of improving efficiency and simplifying business practices, while the UNDG is responsible for coordinating UN operational activities at the country level.

Negotiating and influencing

As a UN leader you strive for stable, long-term and mutually beneficial relationships with a variety of relevant parties; and you want your department/office to be very positively perceived. Achieving that requires both pro-actively and reactively influencing policy-making and operational decisions in a manner that promotes optimum results and preserves and strengthens relationships in the process. 
Read an article from the Harvard Business Review, The Uses (and Abuses) of Influence, by the Harvard Business Review Staff (from the July 2013 issue), that discusses research by social scientist Robert Cialdini about how persuasion works, and how leaders can use six principles of persuasion.

Leadership styles

Developing as a leader is a personal journey as well as an Organizational imperative.  These resources may be helpful to you.

  • UN Leaders Programme – UN System Staff College
    This interactive executive leadership programme is specifically designed for senior staff at the director-level and promotes a One UN leadership culture. Leadership theory, skills and practices are shared and examined through the lens of global and regional themes, offering opportunities for senior UN leaders to engage with diverse faculty and renowned speakers to explore the nexus between leadership, global and regional dynamics, and geopolitical influences. The speakers range from senior UN officials, academia and the private sector to the arts and culture community. OHRM sponsors a limited number of directors to attend this training each year. Contact Ni Ri ( for more information.
  • Leadership Archive – Harvard Business Review
    The HBR archive contains a wealth of articles, books, short videos and webinars on the many dimensions of leadership.
    > Go the Harvard Business Review site

Essential Guide for Senior Leaders

This guide was developed for senior leader induction and is a useful reference for all senior leaders.

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