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New public management and social work in Sweden and England: Challenges and opportunities for staff in predominantly female organizations

Elisabeth E.B. Berg (Department of Human Work Science, Lulea University of Technology, Lulea, Sweden)
Jim J.J. Barry and John J.P. Chandler (Organisation Studies Research Group, University of East London, London, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




This paper aims to explore the issues for middle‐level social work managers arising from the development of the new public management, with its emphasis on the intensification of work, the measurement of performance in service delivery, and cost efficiencies. This is commonly thought to have affected those working in human services such as social work adversely. This paper explores the nature of these consequences, from the point of view of those centrally placed in its implementation.


The methodology adopted in this paper is designed to acknowledge and explore the perceptions of middle‐level social work managers as they contribute to the social construction of the new public management. This is accomplished through in‐depth interviews with a sample of their number in Sweden and England.


The findings reveal that social work managers are not only comfortable dealing with budgets but also enjoy the autonomy this affords them in their relationship with their subordinates. The findings also reveal that they appreciate the benefits of the more generalised knowledges of management, used in their work with junior colleagues, who they attempted to lead rather than manage and who they respected as colleagues. This has further implications: the possibility of new career opportunities for these predominantly women managers.


The managers in social work see the knowledges gained from their position as managers as transferable to other areas of the public and private sectors, thereby opening up new career opportunities. They were also found to enjoy dealing with budget issues, contrary to earlier studies.



Berg, E.E.B., Barry, J.J.J. and Chandler, J.J.P. (2008), "New public management and social work in Sweden and England: Challenges and opportunities for staff in predominantly female organizations", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 28 No. 3/4, pp. 114-128.



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