Values in Leadership: Approaches of Victorian Local Government Managers

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Dempsey, Kate (2006) Values in Leadership: Approaches of Victorian Local Government Managers. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Since the 1980s the public sector in Australia, including local government, has been imbued with the language of business management. In part, this has occurred because other levels of government have brought changes to the operation of local government and also because public sector managers have accepted the conventional wisdom that the private sector provides the better model for managing large organisations. But how useful is this way of operating in the public sector? This thesis argues that local government management continues to be 'captured' by the dominant ideology of neoliberalism. This ideology has shaped the politically conservative policies of many western countries and is based on economic theories of public choice and agency, which essentially argue that the market is the key sphere of influence that, if it is left to regulate itself without undue government intervention, inevitably brings order and prosperity. The neoliberal theory of the market - economic rationalism - still appears to dominate language and thinking within local government, and this may not be in the best interests of either local government organisations or the communities they serve. Management theories arising from the private sector, in the main, do not take account of the direct engagement of local government with local communities, the ethic of service, the breadth of services provided and the political environment of local government. Nor do they fully address issues such as the impact on the practice of management of CEO values, worldviews and unconscious motivations. This research aims to take account of the rich unspoken, unconscious meanings in human dialogue and interaction. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the breadth of experience in being a local government CEO, the researcher conducted face-to-face semistructured interviews with 18 (23per cent) of Victorian local government CEOs. Then the researcher observed one local government CEO at her workplace, over a period of six months. The thesis draws on socio-analytic theory to look beyond currently popular management theories, with their emphases on rationality and instrumentality, to examine the beliefs and motives local government CEOs bring to their work. It concludes that local government is not a non-profit variant of private enterprise and that the importation of business language and tools has damaged local government's service role. It argues for a renewal of commitment to the values of service and to leadership that encompasses both rational and non-rational aspects of managing people. The real work of the leader is to participate in a relationship with staff that acknowledges that projections, splitting and denial do occur and to be patient with their effects. The more able a leader is to contain the projected fantasy material of those around her, the better leader she will be.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 350000 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Hospitality Tourism and Marketing
Keywords values; leadership; Victoria; local government; managers
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