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Leadership Development – A Prerequisite for Sustainable Capacity Building

May 24, 2016

Capacity building has occupied the centre stage in the INTOSAI arena for many years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  Over the years, the INTOSAI community has produced numerous guidelines, frameworks and best practices designed to help SAIs bridge capacity gaps in almost all aspects of SAI work environment, from auditing standards and methodologies to human resource management, performance management,  information and communication technology, stakeholder relations and citizen engagement to name a few.

While this is a clear demonstration of the SAIs’ overwhelming desire to achieve a greater impact on society through improved performance and better utilization of available resources, the undeniable fact is that many SAI’s are still unsatisfied with the level of progress they are making in translating this aspiration into measurable and sustainable results.

SAI’s continue to spend considerable resources in implementing new systems and methodologies only to see them sitting on the shelves gathering dust or confined to the bottom drawers in management offices.  Many changes to working practices and procedures were painstakingly made but were either quickly rebuffed or quietly resisted by staff at the implementation stage.  In all cases the end result is that SAI’s have failed to realize the full benefits of such initiatives.

“Capacity building involves change and change requires leadership”. 

According to the CBC publication entitled “Building Capacity in Supreme Audit Institutions – A Guide”, capacity building is a complex process of organizational change. The guide also states that “…Experience has shown that, to succeed, a capacity building program must have the full support and commitment of the senior management of an SAI”.  If you look closely, you will realize that almost all of the capacity building interventions available to date require changes to be made whether in the organizational structure, legal framework, business processes, human resources, technology etc.

SAIs implementing such interventions without making the required changes will almost always fail to realize the benefits thereof. In cases where leadership skills are lacking, embarking in the implementation of such initiatives amounts to “putting cart before the horses” and, as a result, many SAIs will continue to revolve in the vicious circle of building technical capacity only to lose the best of their talents to other public or private sector organizations.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel”

It is quite heartening to see the topic of leadership development gradually gaining priority and popularity in the INTOSAI community.  The IDI has recently announced its Young Leaders Program to start in 2017 (  AFROSAI-E has identified leadership development as one of its strategic priorities and already launched a pioneering Executive Leadership Development Program in partnership with the Swedish National Audit Office (

Having been one of the participants in the latter program, I can now clearly see the positive impact of leadership development on the successful implementation of capacity building strategies.  Gaining a better understanding of how my own behaviour as a leader is affecting the outcome of capacity building efforts was one of the most important learning points for me. Following a systematic change management approach, broader involvement of staff, communication and celebration of small successes along the way also stood out as critical factors that we need to take into consideration when implementing capacity building projects.

Are SAIs ready for this mind shift? 

No one can deny the need to build the technical capacity of those at the grass roots of the SAI; it is an absolute necessity for the SAI to function properly. However, to overcome the above mentioned challenges, SAIs should focus their attention more on the leadership skills of those at the top layer of the organization.  This is where the strategic direction is set and decisions are made to ensure sustainability of success and retention of technically proficient and engaged work force.

With highly skilled and well equipped leadership teams, SAI’s will be able to:

  • Take a holistic and strategic approach to capacity building by articulating a vision, setting strategic priorities and managing implementation with the “big picture” in mind.
  • Manage change in a realistic and controlled manner taking into account the crucial influencing factors such as organizational culture, staff readiness, communication and follow-through to achieve objectives.

As we all know, there is no shortcut to success.  Leadership development is a long term undertaking which takes a considerable investment of money, time and effort, but the rewards will more than likely outweigh the costs.



Abdalla H. Hamid

Deputy Auditor General, National Audit Chamber - Sudan