Understanding public leadership

Hartley, Jean (2023). Understanding public leadership. In: Bovaird, Tony and Loeffler, Elke eds. Public Management and Governance, Fourth Edition. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 271–283.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003282839-24


This chapter explores how to recognize different roles and purposes in public leadership, the difference between leadership and management, the key theoretical perspectives on leadership, how shared public leadership is exercised, how context and leadership are mutually interrelated, and the key ethical and diversity issues in public leadership. Public leadership involves a range of actors, including formal leaders such as politicians or public managers and professionals, but they can equally be informal leaders from any sector who are trying to have an impact on the public domain. Public leadership is inevitably concerned with power and politics, judging between the differing and contested values, goals, and interests among different groups in a society, which means that it is often exercised under scrutiny and controversy. Formal public leaders must therefore lead with political astuteness, while also being expected to avoid pursuing sectional interests, so that they can claim that they act on behalf of the whole of society and of future generations. Informal leaders are not bound by such authority and accountability structures and may be more single-minded in their goals and more partisan in their leadership.

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