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CASE 4 INSTRUCTIONS It is perhaps unsurprising in an era of individualization, privatization, marketization, and completion


It is perhaps unsurprising in an era of individualization, privatization, marketization, and completion (Berg et al. 2012), that in the human sector and in human service organizations, leadership is often assumed to be a set of activities or roles residing in individuals, echoing the image of the heroic leader. The challenges of human services, though – especially its complexity, ambiguity, diverse stakeholders, and dependence on inter-organizational collaboration in delivering services – will always raise questions about the transferability of management and leadership practices from the commercial sector.

The increasing recognition of leadership of and within human services professions (i.e., non-managerial leadership), the increasing interest in distributed forms of leadership more generally, and the development of human sector approaches indicate that our understanding of human service leadership and its practice continues to develop, as does its distinctiveness. As noted at the outset, contextual appreciation is important in all consideration of leadership, not least in the human sector. The indications are that collective or distributed approaches to leadership are particularly suited to and appropriate for the human sector and that such approaches are likely to gain more attention from both academics and practitioners. Indeed, Berg et al. argue that, in the context of human service: ‘If we see organizational work and social change as potentially a bottom-up process, leadership might be more widely distributed than the theories of distributed leadership imagine’.

The challenge for human service managers is to promote effective relationships with professional workers with significant levels of expert knowledge, allowing sufficient individual autonomy within the remit of their organizational roles. The indications over recent years are that the focus of managers in this context has been of control and compliance rather than development and commitment. Maintaining self-determination and promoting self-esteem and continuing to provide channels for dissent are key factors for a human service sector under severe pressure. Despite issues of ownership, the needs of citizens will always call for appropriate services. For human services to continue to offer high-quality services in restricted circumstances, the challenge for leadership is significant.

Source: Berg, E., Barry, J. and Chandler, J. (2012) Changing leadership and gender in public sector organizations. British Journal of Management, 23(3): 402–414.


1. In what ways are human service organizations similar to and different from their counterparts in the commercial world? What are implications of this for the practice of human service leadership and for the development of future leaders?

2. What are the relative responsibilities of individual human service professionals and their leaders? How can tensions between these parties be managed?

3. Consider one public service example and identify the key challenges for leaders in that specific context. How can future leaders be prepared to deal with those challenges?

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