Leadership in Public Sector Organisations: a brief literature review

By John Dudovskiy
April 7, 2014


Numbers of authors have addressed different aspects of leadership in public sector organisations in their works. Generally, public sector leadership has been described as “more specific than general leadership and more expansive than political leadership” (Raffel, 2009, p.4). There have been attempts to classify the types of leaders and followers in public sector organisations within a certain framework. One of the most notable examples of such works belong to Wart (2009), how specifies the types of leaders and followers in public organisations in the following manner:

Types of work



New ideas



Types of




Managers Executives with policy responsibilities Transformational leaders


Community leaders of volunteer groups Legislators and advisory board members Lobbyists and policy entrepreneurs


Small group leaders Leaders of social movements Philosophical zealots and social trend setters

Types of leaders and followers

Source: Wart (2008)

Gallos (2008) declares employee motivation to be one of the most significant challenges met by public sector organisational leaders. Bertocci and Bertocci (2009) offer more detailed explanation to this viewpoint by stating that whereas managers in private sector have greater level of freedom in terms of rewarding and motivating employees through tangible motivational tools such as bonuses and pay rises; managers in public sector do not have such opportunities most of the time due to budget constraints and greater level of accountability associated with budget spending.

The nature and extent of accountability to stakeholders in public sector represents another point of difficulty to organisational leaders, Stanfield (2009) argues. The author asserts that unlike private sector organisations, in pubic sector there is a greater level of scrutiny of performance from media and a wide range of other stakeholders, and this situation creates extra difficulties for organisational leaders in public sector.

Moreover, Gold et al. (2010) state that expectations of citizens for improved services at a lower cost present substantial amount of pressure for public sector managers at all levels to perform their duties. According to Goldsmith et al. (2010) there is a need for systematic research on public sector leadership that would approach leadership as a process. Goldsmith et al. (2010) attempt to justify this claim by referring to the continued emphasis on cases of presidents and political leaders.

Furthermore, scientific analyses of major consulting firms and think tanks such as KPMG, Deloitte, Reform and Institute for Government provide insights into emerging trends and realities within public sector leadership issues. For example, a major global consulting firm Deloitte has identified strengths, myths and emerging realities within public sector leadership in UK in the following manner:

Enduring strengths Disabling myths and their consequences Emerging realities
Smart people Traditional productivity thinking cannot be applied to public-sector work High-productivity organisation
Huge investment in human development The public sector cannot be expected to demonstrate commercial skills to private-sector standards Demanding and skilled organisation
Motivated people It is clear what needs to be done but the system will not let it happen Exercising leadership at all levels

Strengths, myths and emerging realities within public sector leadership in UK

Source: Deloitte LLP, 2010


Gallos, J.V. (2008) “Business Leadership: A Jossey-Bass Reader” 2nd edition, John Wiley & Sons

Gold, J., Thorpe, R. & Mumford, A. (2010) “Handbook of leadership and management development” Gower Publishing

Goldsmith, M. Baldoni, J. & McArthur, S. (2010) “The AMA Handbook of Leadership” AMA

Raffel, J.A., Leisink, P. & Middlebrooks, A.E. (2009) “Public Sector Leadership: International Challenges and Perspectives” Edward Elgar Publishing

Stanfield (2009) “Defining Effective Leadership: Lead in Whatever You Do” Tate Publishing

Wart, M.V. (2008) “Leadership in Public Organisations: An Introduction” M.E. Sharpe

Category: Leadership