The changing context of public leadership and management: implications for roles and dynamics

Pedersen, Dorthe and Hartley, Jean (2008). The changing context of public leadership and management: implications for roles and dynamics. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 21(4) pp. 327–339.



Purpose – Reform, transformation and restructuring have become endemic in public services. This paper aims to examine the central “modernisation” and improvement themes of public service reform in Denmark and the UK.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on the authors’ reflections on experience and analysis, drawing on the UK and Denmark as sites where there have been substantial efforts to undertake public services reform. It argues that there has been a weakening of the hierarchically organised state in favour of more differentiated governance regimes that cut across the public, private and voluntary sectors. However, the new dynamic image of public leadership and the apparently enlarged opportunities for managerial discretion seem to be counter-balanced by a strengthening of central interventions and controls.

Findings – The paper identifies that managing the tensions and paradoxes of governance regimes has become a key element of the work of public service managers, and that this means that three sets of dynamics need to be worked with. First, the dynamics of self-creation means that authority is not solely formal but that self-constitution is necessary. Second, the dynamics of strategising means that managers cannot rely on a fixed legal or professional set of values but must be able to decode, challenge and develop varied sets of values and goals, working with varied rationales for action. Third, the dynamics of networking and negotiation mean that management and leadership positions are partly created through negotiated relations in a network-like governance structure.

Practical implications – These dynamics mean that teaching and learning have to address new challenges if programmes for public service leaders and managers are to be enabling.

Originality/value – The paper highlights the challenges facing public sector leaders and managers.

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