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date: 16 December 2017

Summary and Keywords

Classic accounts of the relationship between leadership and public administration used to be straightforward: Political officials exercise leadership in terms of providing direction to government, and administrations implement decisions made by those leaders. Over the past decades, however, both scholarly notions and empirical manifestations of leadership and administration have undergone substantive change. While the political leadership literature continues to be more interested in such aspects as goal identification and definition, and the ways and means by which leaders manage to garner and maintain support for their agendas, the crucial importance of implementation in terms of leadership effectiveness has been explicitly acknowledged since the seminal work of James MacGregor Burns who famously defined leadership as “real, intended social change.” Conversely, public administration scholars have discovered the role of bureaucrats in the leadership process as important subfields of public administration.

To some considerable extent, these reorientations in the political study of leadership and administration have been driven by empirical developments in the real world of leaders and administrators. In many of the established democracies, political leaders have come to realize the importance of administrative resources, and in some contexts, such as in the United States, it seems justified to speak of particular administration-centered approaches to, and strategies of, executive leadership. At the same time, large-scale reforms of the public sector have fundamentally altered the role of bureaucrats in the leadership process. While individual top civil servants, especially (but not only) in Westminster systems, have always exercised some leadership, New Public Management reforms designed to increase the efficiency of the public sector extended leadership roles across the bureaucracy. The relationship between political leaders and bureaucrats continues to display major differences between countries, yet politicization of the civil service in its various forms marks a strong cross-national trend. In some countries, the proliferation of special advisers stands out as a more specific element of change with important implications for the evolving nature of executive leadership.

Such differences between countries notwithstanding, a broad empirical inquiry suggests that the developments in the political and administrative parts of the executive branch in many major democracies are marked by divergent dynamics: While there is a notable trend within the political core executive to centralize power with the chief executive (prominently referred to as “presidentialization” by some authors), the public bureaucracy of many developed countries has experienced a continuous dispersion of leadership roles. The implications of these ongoing changes have remained understudied and deserve further scholarly attention. However, alongside a host of conceptual and methodological issues, perhaps the most difficult and complex challenges to leadership and administration, both for political science and politics itself, relate to processes of internationalization and globalization.

Keywords: executives, bureaucracy, public sector, democracy, presidents, prime ministers, civil servants

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