Following the passage of the Children Act, 2004, the leadership of children's services in England has been unified through the appointment of Directors of Children's Services. The role is demanding as it requires leading a range of services in each local authority, which are often subject to a high degree of public and political scrutiny. The change of government in May 2010 shifted the nature of these challenges by reforming the guidance to local authorities and by placing restrictions on local authority expenditure. This paper aims to explore the skills required by leaders in this complex and changing environment. The paper draws on the findings of a scoping study conducted for the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services and describes and analyses the skills and capabilities required by leaders of children's services in England. The paper offers a view of what might constitute “effective” leadership, and the skills needed to meet the requirements of improving the lives of children and young people. The paper offers an analysis of the way in which interventions to enhance leadership in this area might contribute to better outcomes for children and young people in the future in an era of significant change following the formation of the UK Coalition government in May 2010.