Synopsis: Research Project on City-County Managers Leadership


This research project investigates individual and organizational attributes of servant leadership Behavior (SLB) among local government leaders in the United States. Servant identity and moral potency are investigated as individual attributes, and organizational social capital and co-production of public services are investigated as organizational attributes of SL. Service climate serves as the mediating process between servant leadership and organizational attributes. Mixed research methods approach – a survey and a comparative case study analysis is utilized to examine the SL attributes. The survey data is obtained from 67 counties and 410 municipal governments across the State of Florida. Two counties and two municipal governments will be chosen based on the high and low servant leadership behavior scores obtained from the survey to conduct the in-depth case study analysis and comparisons.

Municipal leaders are the closest to their constituencies who need to listen and respond to the needs of citizens. The leaders need to serve the public in an ethical manner while keeping up the values of public service (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2000; Nalbandian et. al. 2013; Hart, 1984; Rohr, 1989; Cooper, 1982; Svarra, 1987). Servant leadership approach offers good potential at the local government level for given its community focus. The municipal leader routinely works closely with the community and are required to integrate the practice of ethics and service culture in ‘public service’. This builds on the Greenleaf’s idea of institutions as servants. Greenleaf emphasized that if just one major institution makes a substantial move towards distinction as servant and sustains it, the quality of total society will start to improve. Local governments are uniquely situated as institutions to perform and sustain as servant’s overtime, then only a substantial improvement is possible in the communities they serve.

Importance of Research

For long, public administration scholars have argued about how to develop the moral and service-oriented behavior of public servants, which is a daunting subject (Menzel, 2014; Cooper, 1992, 1982). Investigating the motivational and psychological dimensions of moral and servant identity as critical developmental dimensions of SLB answers the question that why certain individuals will behave as servant leaders and others won’t. This is a significant contribution towards servant leadership literature in public sector in resolving the puzzling question whether the moral and service-oriented behavior can be developed among public administrators. Third, this study extends traditional PA theory to the New Public Service (NPS) paradigm. NPS recognizes the role of the citizen as a partner in the governance process. This study contributes to our knowledge base in implementing leadership models and internal organizational mechanisms which can strengthen relationship building, trust, and employee engagement, create a conducive organizational culture to forge successful partnerships with citizens. Forth, understanding individual and organizational attributes would significantly contribute toward servant leadership development and training materials for the local government administrators. The ultimate goal is to improve the service culture of local government departments so that the agencies are responsive to the needs of their constituents.

How Might this Study Findings Influence Practice?

Examining servant identity and moral potency as servant leader’s individual attribute will help practitioners towards the development of servant leadership behavior. At present, servant leadership behavior is conceptualized based on the normative service and ethical orientation of leader’s. This research will change the approach from normative to the developmental servant leadership. Assessment of moral potency and servant identity is a new addition to the leadership development and ethics training of public administrators. The investigation of overall conceptual framework in the context of local governments will suggest a recruitment policy in selecting local government managers who are high on servant leadership.

Description of Research Methodology

County and municipal government agencies form the empirical context of the research. The leader and his directly reporting sub-ordinates are the respondents in the study. For the consistency in the data collection, the heads of the specific departments who directly report to the city/county manager will be selected. The research design is comprised of an online survey and a complimentary comparative case study based on the servant leadership scores obtained in the online survey.

Survey: The survey will be conducted online using FIU Qualtrics. Link to the survey will be sent to the county/city municipal government employees. Separate questions will be asked of the department leaders and their directly reporting subordinates (responses from both will reduce common source bias). The questions will be organized in blocks for each of the variables. The questions (Likert scale) for each block are drawn from previous studies that have validated them. Each variable will be constructed as an index from the pertinent questions. Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) will then be used to identify the individual attributes of SLB and its organizational outcomes.

Case Studies: Based on the survey scores, I will identify the county and city governments which depict high and low SLB. I will then conduct in-depth case studies of the two counties to understand the deeper dynamics of how SLB is manifest (or not) in the agencies, and how SLB affects organizational outcomes. The contrasting cases would be useful in not only verifying the survey findings but also in uncovering the other factors that are pertinent to SLB manifestation. I will conduct the case studies on site. It will include in-depth, semi-structured interviews with the agency’s officials (leaders and subordinates) and examination of secondary documents (e.g. leader’s mission statements). The interviews and relevant secondary documents are coded using NVIVO qualitative data analysis software to identify the common themes. The case studies will conclude with contextual individual and organizational factors across the cities and counties.

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