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Title: Making sense of public administrative leadership in the Republic of Ireland : an interpretive research project
Author: Chau, C.
Awarding Body: Nottingham Trent University
Current Institution: Nottingham Trent University
Date of Award: 2012
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This research is a research into the perceptions of senior public administrative leaders in the Republic of Ireland regarding their own leadership at the time when Ireland was facing a significant socio-economic crisis. The research examines the senior Irish administrative leaders’ own perspectives on how leadership should be exercised, and explores how they perceived the environment they were in and on how they made sense of their own leadership responses to the perceived environment. The research takes the Republic of Ireland as a national case study, and focuses on the public administrative leadership, which is the leadership of the implementation of public policies, rather than on the political leadership, which is the leadership of the selection of public policies (Montesquieu 1748, Ostrom 1973, Osborne and Plastrik 1997, Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe 2003, Van Wart and Dicke 2008). The research is preluded by a conceptual discussion on leadership, morality, ethics and values (Chau 2007b); a qualitative research on leadership values in the Irish public services (Chau 2008); and a quantitative research on public service delivery perspectives in Ireland (Chau 2009). The research interviews were conducted amongst the top two echelons of public administrative leaders, with participation drawn from the Secretary General or Assistant Secretary levels of the Irish civil service, or their equivalent amongst the State Agencies. The research employs an interpretivist approach (Mason 2002, Willis 2007), exploring how these senior Irish public administrative leaders made sense of their own leadership during the crisis period. In particular, the interpretive approach explores how the leaders perceived their own leadership, explores how they interpreted the environment they perceived themselves to be in, and explores how they made sense of their own leadership in response to the perceived environment. The findings of the research reveal evidence pointing towards a social construction process (Berger and Luckmann 1966) through which the senior Irish public administrative leaders constructed their realities of leadership. The finding reveals that in their constructed realities, which were constructed through their dialectic social interactions, the senior Irish public administrative leaders considered that they made 4 appropriate responses to the socio-economic crisis. The approach which they considered appropriate could be described as a heroic (Ford et al 2008) approach, with particular emphasis on a number of positivistic leadership traits (Stogdill 1974, Gardner 1989, Méndez-Morse 1992, Spears 2000). Further, the findings indicate that in their constructed reality, the senior Irish administrative leaders had interpreted their environment as a significant crisis one, and had internalised a need to implement significant changes in response. However, the findings reveal that despite the perception of a crisis and despite the acknowledgement of a need for change, the leadership response seen as the appropriate response by the leaders themselves was one that reflects a degree of conservatorship (Selznick 1984, Terry 1995) – which is a leadership perspective that emphasises the conserving of various values and institutions (Scott 1995, Terry 2003), and is therefore a perspective that sees activating incremental change (Nadler 1988, Tushman 1988, Dunphy and Stace 1993, Senior 2002, Burnes 2004), even in the face of a perceived crisis of magnitude, as making more sense than pursuing disruptive reform or radical change (Grundy 1993, Kotter 1996). The findings therefore had revealed the existence of multiple constructed realities, some of them even appear to contradict each other. The contribution of this research to knowledge within public sector leadership and management is the contribution to the understanding of how leadership realities could be constructed, and to understand the extent to which, in a particular constructed leadership reality, the driving of disruptive change should be balanced by the maintaining of unwavering continuity even when faced with significant national socio-economic crises. The contribution to practice is to have fostered a less positivistic view of what Irish public administrative leadership should look like, and with a constructionist perspective, to suggest a viable construct of a public administrative leadership perspective that reflects a preference for responding to a significant crisis with a degree of conservatorship rather than responding only with a bias for radical reform.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.B.A.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available