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We are all boundary spanners now?

Paul Williams (School of Management, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 21 January 2013




The aim of this paper is to discuss the roles and competencies of boundary spanners in the context of collaboration. It aims to examine the problematic nature of these roles, and to consider the communalities between different types of boundary spanner. It then seeks to interrogate the extent to then seeks which managing in collaboration is different from managing in single organizations, and to question whether it should be undertaken by a dedicated cadre of actors or mainstreamed into all professional, leadership and management practice.


This is an exploratory paper that draws both on a critical review of the literature and contemporary research by the author.


The paper suggests that there are different types of boundary spanner pursuing different roles, but argues that there is a considerable degree of communality between them and the competencies required to undertake them especially in relation to reticulism, communication, co-ordination and entrepreneurial skill. Boundary spanners face considerable challenges in dealing with tensions and ambiguities arising from complexity, multiple accountabilities and governance forms. The question of whether managing in collaboration is different to managing in hierarchies remains contested.

Practical implications

The paper has direct implications for the training and development of boundary spanners either as dedicated actors or as an integral part of professional, managerial and leadership roles.


The value of this paper lies in its focus on the role of agency within collaboration, its identification of different types of boundary spanner, and its critical analysis of the competencies and challenges they face in contemporary public management.



The author wishes to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their very constructive and helpful comments on the first draft of this paper.


Williams, P. (2013), "We are all boundary spanners now?", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 17-32.



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Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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