Working to make government more effective

Hybrid event

What makes a successful special adviser?

An expert panel featuring Sonia Khan and Baroness Sally Morgan considered what skills are needed to be an effective special adviser.

Panellists (from left to right): Liz Lloyd, Baroness Morgan, Tim Durrant, Sonia Khan and Jennifer Lees-Marshment on stage at the IfG.
Panellists (from left to right) Liz Lloyd, Baroness Morgan, Tim Durrant, Sonia Khan and Jennifer Lees-Marshment discuss what it means to be a good special adviser.

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Special advisers ("SpAds") play a hugely important role in government, and successful ones are key to helping a minister achieve his or her priorities. 

The number of SpAds has more than doubled since 2010, but the job is not well understood by the public – or, in some cases, by special advisers themselves. So what do SpAds do on a day-to-day basis? How do they interact with ministers and the civil service? And what does it mean to be good at the job?  

Building on IfG research from 2020, this event will consider how the role has evolved over recent decades. What skills and capabilities are needed to be an effective SpAd? How should potential future SpAds approach the role? And how does the UK compare with other countries in the way its political advisers operate? 

To explore these questions, the IfG brought together an expert panel including:

  • Sonia Khan, Associate Director at Cicero and former special adviser to Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid
  • Jennifer Lees-Marshment, Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, focusing on the political adviser role in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand
  • Liz Lloyd, former Chief of Staff to Nicola Sturgeon
  • Baroness Sally Morgan, former Director of Government Relations for Tony Blair and Chair of Ofsted

The event was chaired by Tim Durrant, Programme Director at the Institute for Government. 

Follow us on Twitter @ifgevents and join the conversation using #IfGspads.

Our experts

Number 10
Institute for Government

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