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Empowering middle managers in social services using management control systems

Per Nikolaj Bukh (Department of Economics and Management, Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg, Denmark)
Anne Kirstine Svanholt (Department of Economics and Management, Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg, Denmark)

Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

ISSN: 1096-3367

Article publication date: 21 April 2020

Issue publication date: 15 June 2020




This paper examines how a public sector organization combined management control systems (MCS) to comply with increased uncertainty and conflicting objectives of tight budget control, flexibility, and quality care simultaneously. It also analyzes how middle managers interpret management control intentions and manage conflicting objectives, and how locally developed MCS are coupled with top management goals.


This paper uses a case-study approach, based on interviews with top and middle managements, as well as document studies conducted at a medium-sized Danish municipality.


Both constraining and enabling control systems empower middle managers and facilitate tight budget controls. Furthermore, middle managers play a crucial role in the use of MCS, develop local control systems, adjust existing control systems and influence the decisions and strategies of top management.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is context-specific, and the role of accounting in professional work varies due to the specific techniques involved.

Practical implications

This paper shows how MCS, including budgeting and planning systems, can be applied in social services to help middle managements obtain tight budget controls while also improving service quality.


This paper adds to the limited extant research on the role of middle management in a control framework and demonstrates how MCS can balance conflicting goals in social services when uncertainty increases. Furthermore, this paper shows how the vertical coupling of MCS is tight when budgeting is employed for planning purposes.



When collecting the data, Anne Kirstine Svanholt was an industrial Ph.D. student. The project was funded by Innovation Fund Denmark, KMD, COK and the Association of Municipality CFOs. None of the funders had any influence on the selection of research site, or the research process. We wish to thank the participants from the municipality for participating in this research project.


Bukh, P.N. and Svanholt, A.K. (2020), "Empowering middle managers in social services using management control systems", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 267-289.



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