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Developing “middle leaders” in the public services? The realities of management and leadership development for public managers

Patrick McGurk (Employment Relations and Organisational Behaviour Group, Department of Management, London School of Economics, London, UK, and University of Greenwich Business School, London, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 28 August 2009




This paper aims to assess the actual contribution to organisational change of management and leadership development (MLD) activity for middle managers (MMs) in public service organisations (PSOs).


Using the case study approach, the paper compares the content and outcomes of management and leadership training interventions for MMs in two large PSOs. The organisations, a fire brigade and a train operating company, are leaders in their sectors with respect to management development and “modernisation” of their services.


The paper demonstrates how, in one case, MM development was largely an exercise in regulatory compliance, with little effect on individual MMs' performance or organisational outcomes. The second case demonstrates how MMs were effectively trained to enforce specific human resource policies which contributed to the successful implementation of top‐down strategy yet paid little attention to the potential leadership role of MMs.

Research limitations/implications

The paper highlights the need for further contextualised research at organisational level into the outcomes of MLD, especially in terms of different public service contexts.

Practical implications

The paper demonstrates the dangers of designing and implementing development programmes without sufficient regard to professional practice and the realities of managerial discretion in PSOs.


The paper provides an in‐depth and contextualised insight into the conditions for success and failure in management development interventions in PSOs.



McGurk, P. (2009), "Developing “middle leaders” in the public services? The realities of management and leadership development for public managers", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 22 No. 6, pp. 464-477.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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