Monday, 14 June 2010

Public leader, party leader or policy leader?

In many discussions about the effectiveness of elected mayors there is general agreement that one of the key functions is to provide leadership for their local authority. Mouritzen and Swan (2002) classified mayoral leadership styles into three types; public leaders, party leaders or policy leaders.

A public leader is the citizen’s champion, determining the direction the people want their area to take and promoting activities that bring this about;

a party leader is concerned mainly with the implementation of their party manifesto;

the policy leader is focused on operational or administrative leadership.

To function as a public leader requires a long term vision for the way in which their area should develop. This vision should be produced in close consultation with the communities outside the traditional civic arena. Public leaders cannot associate themselves with too many special interest groups. Giving special consideration to one group or organisation, for example the local football club, will undermine any claim to be a wider, general public mayor.

Party mayors are constrained by their party manifesto and party hierarchy. In many cases it is arguable that a party mayor is in power on behalf of the party and not him or herself and so has less direct influence. Hambelton and Sweeting (2004) concluded that the power of political groups to control local leaders was declining and so party mayors were becoming more independently minded. However, Copus (2006) found there was no evidence for this and felt they had underestimated the resilience of local political parties.

“Local political parties retain the right to select mayoral candidates; any party mayor that strays too far from what the local party think fit, could suffer the ultimate sanction of de-selection” (Copus 2006).

The policy mayor is focused on the organisation of their local authority and its ability to provide services, which after all is the principle function of a local authority. This can also be classified as taking on a corporate leadership role.

It is suggested by Mouritzen and Swan that policy mayors can be further subdivided. A policy innovator produces new, original and challenging policies towards service delivery; a policy administrator is concerned more with the details of policy implementation; and policy designers look at implementation of mainly externally generated policy but without concern for details. There was also a fourth category of the policy caretaker mayor; these seem to be content to leave both the detail of policy formation and the administration of service delivery to the bureaucracy of the civic centre.

Copus (2009) highlights the problem faced by elected mayors seeking to take on a corporate role;

“The English Mayor faces a tussle for parity of esteem and power with the chief executive in relation to the overall bureaucracy, or must operate to ensure that the chief executive plays a sub-ordinate organizational leadership role to that of the mayor.” (Copus 2009).

The need to control civic centre empires has led three elected mayors to completely dispense with the post of chief executive and to take on that role themselves. They have appointed a Head of Paid Service in a Managing Director type position which clearly make it sub-ordinate the elected mayor as chief executive.

Lerch and Wilson (2000) say regarding elected mayors that; “Leadership is an inspirational process, inducing others to follow.” And they contrasted this with; “as distinct from office holding, or responding to system driven sources.”

Whether an elected mayor is a leader or an office holder appears to be a function of the individual’s personality, their abilities, the political setting of the local authority and their interaction with the existing bureaucracy of their civic centre.

Which leadership style produces the best results is impossible to quantify as the standards by which a mayor is judged a success or failure are not universally agreed. However, the ultimate arbiter for an elected mayor must come through the ballot box. Applying the criterion of fighting sucessful elections then that makes three time winner Stuart Drummond of Hartlepool the most successful elected mayor in British history to date.

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