UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Working with City Leaders

Engineers, designers and planners are increasingly confronted with the complex and distributed system of leadership in the world's cities. From the changing roles of national and local governments, the shifting contours of the smart city agenda, the embedded short-termism of political mandates, to the rise of business partnerships and global networks with other cities, the political environment urban practitioners face today is varied and challenging.

Today, effective city leaders are those individuals and businesses that understand how to navigate and shape this complexity, and turn challenges into innovations.

Working with City Leaders is a short course which equips professionals with a practical guide on how to effectively engage city decision-makers and to operate with insight into political challenges and a greater confidence at a strategic partnering level in cities.

With the guidance of expert practitioners in the area of urban policy and innovation, the course challenges professionals to develop a fundamental set of policy and strategic skills which will shape their capacity to steer the future development of cities and the way they are led, managed and governed.

The four key themes covered on the course are:

  • The changing character of city leadership in an urban age.
  • Major city trends influencing strategic projects and consulting demands.
  • The different kinds of innovation to address leadership and governance deficits in cities.
  • How to engage, communicate and marshal others to deliver projects while also building a strategic agenda for a city.

For further information, please contact our Professional and Executive Education Coordinator, Naomi Britton

Key skills for city leaders


Comparative benchmarking is now a critical part of a city leader's toolkit. The benchmarking of processes and performance metrics to one's peers is already familiar to many leaders in business, but now, with over 200 indices published and millions of data points available with which to measure cities, city leaders themselves are learning how to use and to make the most of benchmarking tools.

Benchmarking doesn't just allow cities to diagnose performance in things like infrastructure, innovation, or quality of life. When used wisely, it also helps cities understand who their real peers and competition are, to measure the impact of new policies or reforms, and to spot opportunities to enhance their identity and influence in the international arena.

Business Leadership

Chambers of Commerce are as old as cities themselves, but in the current cycle, as more and more cities are globalizing and pursuing international roles, their ability to achieve their objectives often depends on a more strategic model of business leadership.

This new kind of leadership organisation doesn't just advocate for narrow business interests, but instead thinks about the development of their city beyond short term political horizons, building cross-sector agendas, promoting business solutions to metropolitan challenges, and arguing the case effectively with higher tiers of government.

In the new nexus of collaborative distributed leadership of cities, the role of business is once again to the fore.

City Networking

City Networking is a public/private activity by which business, entrepreneurs, government or communities meet to form relationships and to recognise, create, or act upon opportunities. In the last 10 years there has been 4 new city networks every year engaging with business to share ideas and to develop joint policy. It is fundamental for city leaders to understand the vast landscape of city networking.

Integrated Thinking

Integrated thinking refers to a big picture mentality in which a person recognises the interconnections between various elements which form larger systems, patterns and objects. Thinking holistically is the opposite of analysing something, which involves breaking down a larger system into its details.

Integrated thinking is important for a city leader who must understand how the different functions of the city work together to achieve shared goals. For example in business; an IT professional is mostly concerned with his department and role, the CEO must recognise how IT contributes to the overall business and profit objectives.

Integrated thinking allows a leader to designate the responsibilities of each department while keeping the big picture in mind.


Negotiation is a method by which people settle differences. It is a process by which compromise or agreement is reached while avoiding argument and dispute. In any disagreement, individuals understandably aim to achieve the best possible outcome for their position or organisation. However, the principles of fairness, seeking mutual benefit and maintaining a relationship are the keys to a successful outcome.

Working with Governments

City leaders all around the world face a conundrum of how to meet rising citizen expectations with powers and institutional frameworks that are ill-equipped to do so.

If we set aside rare exceptions, such as Singapore, if city leaders are to address this conundrum they have to negotiate and partner successfully with governments above them at the national and regional level.  This mediation is especially important at a time when cities on the one hand are known to make their national economies more globally connected and productive, but on the other hand they are often perceived to have benefited at the expense of smaller towns and rural areas.

In the coming decades, a fundamental task of city leadership will be to find creative solutions to these rising frictions. In the short term this may mean securing new funding for necessary infrastructure, or protection of national research or education budgets. But in the longer term it requires a fine-tuned leadership intelligence to establish real complementarities with other cities and surrounding areas, gain more legislative and investment autonomy, and find consensus on questions of planning, housing and immigration.

The intergovernmental dimension of city leadership highlights the fact that leaders need much more than to develop good plans and sound policies if their cities are to manage their growth and adapt to the competition. We may live in a century of cities but mayors are certainly no closer to ruling the world, so that makes it essential that they align strategy across multiple layers of government and develop shared responsibilities and platforms to implement it in a way that offers benefits to the city and the wider nation of which it is a part.

Meet the experts

Michele Acuto
Prof Michele Acuto

Professor in Diplomacy and Urban Theory

Greg Clark 2017
Prof Greg Clark

Global Advisor and Chairman of The Business of Cities
Visiting Professor at UCL STEaPP

Ellie Cosgrave
Dr Ellie Cosgrave

Lecturer in Urban Innovation

Tim Moonen 2017
Dr Tim Moonen

Director of Intelligence at The Business of Cities

Our previous courses

Fundamentals of City Leadership - Arup London

Fundamentals of City Leadership was a highly interactive, one-day workshop delivered by UCL STEaPP's City Leadership Laboratory, to mid-career engineering practitioners from Arup.

The workshop equipped participants with a practical guide on how to effectively engage with city decision-makers and to reach beyond simply being receivers of a political agenda into developing a set of fundamental policy skills with the guidance of experts in the area of urban policy and innovation, Prof Michele Acuto and Prof Greg Clark.

The Fundamentals of City Leadership workshop expands upon the City Leadership Laboratory's ethos of connecting urban innovation and policy practice across boundaries and partnering with centres of expertise around the world in cutting edge education and research.

Images from Fundamentals of City Leadership

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