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Pedagogic implications of anxiety and loss of agency in public services managers and leaders

Yusuf Ahmad (University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)
Mike Broussine (University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 30 May 2008




The purpose of the paper is to report on the results of an inquiry into the possible reasons why many public service managers and leaders across six European countries report a loss of personal agency and suggests a possible pedagogic response to this.


The nature of agency is explored with reference to theory, and the methodology for the study – heuristic action inquiry – is outlined. The paper argues that spaces within postgraduate education are needed to facilitate managers' critical reflection and working with anxiety, and the article goes on to outline how public services leadership programmes can seek to achieve this.


The paper suggests that programmes need to work both with the cognitive and affective domains, and to find ways of exploring within the curriculum how managers may begin more to see their roles as potentially key actors in the policy‐making process rather than as passive recipients of policy imperatives received from above. The loss of agency experienced by public servants in several European countries suggests that MPA programmes and the like need to work with students' anxieties in a contained way.


Some trends within contemporary public services that lie behind anxiety and loss of agency are identified, including high emphasis on performance targets, centrally driven change, financial stringency, loss of professional and organisation identities, a perpetuation of a “private is best” governmental ideology, and contradictory accountability structures.



Ahmad, Y. and Broussine, M. (2008), "Pedagogic implications of anxiety and loss of agency in public services managers and leaders", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 340-352.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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