Working in and Against Hybrid Landscapes: Reflections on the Skills and Capabilities of Chief Officers in UK Local Government




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Peer reviewed



This chapter examines the educational and developmental demands of public managers, exploring the necessary skills and competences required to move across the hybrid landscapes within which they increasingly work. Drawing on in-depth interviews with chief officers in local authorities across the United Kingdom, it first argues that the work of chief officers leads them to navigate between and across different dimensions: be it between sedimented and emergent institutions; “leaping in” and “leaping ahead” performances of leadership; and bonded or bridging relations. Assessing the requisite skills and behaviors of officers to move across such dimensions, the chapter draws attention to the capabilities of serial adaptation, authenticity, and puzzling. Such capabilities are not easily codified, being generated through experiential learning, and nurtured through the demands of reflexive practice. Spaces for reflexive practice are, it is claimed, integral to the developmental demands, resilience, and well-being of public managers, thereby privileging novel forms of critical reflection, action learning, and leadership development that facilitate the opening up of spaces of learning that straddle both theory and everyday practices. Ultimately, however, such forms of learning do not always sit well with the performance management mechanisms of teaching and learning, as well as learners’ own expectations of the classroom. They arguably destabilize traditional power relations between the lecturer and the student, advancing the conditions for the further democratization of the classroom. The study thus ends with a call for more destabilization and experimentation in the provision of novel spaces of learning for public managers and public managers of the future.



Local Government, New Municipalism, Austerity Governance, Chief Officers


Barnett N., Giovannini A., Griggs S., O’Brien P. (2020) Working in and Against Hybrid Landscapes: Reflections on the Skills and Capabilities of Chief Officers in UK Local Government. In: Sullivan H., Dickinson H., Henderson H. (Eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of the Public Servant, Basigstoke: Palgrave.


Research Institute

Local Governance Research Centre (LGRC)