City Managers at Work: An ethnographic study on the everyday practices, roles and behavior of local government elites
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This study focuses on the everyday lives of city managers (CMs). CMs are the secretary of the executive board and the CEO of the organisation in Dutch municipalities The context in which these municipalities operate and the tasks they are expected to perform have been changing markedly in recent years, with major responsibilities for social, health and youth policy being delegated to them. These changes doubtlessly have had an impact on CMs, who occupy a pivotal position in municipal government. This study explores what CM’s do and how they take up and enact their roles. Through an ethnographic approach three CMs are studied up close. Through shadowing, interviews, and diary analysis we obtain insight in what activities CMs pay attention to, what roles they perform and how they do perform these roles. A typical CM’s working day is filled with scheduled meetings, ad hoc encounters with and calls to key actors, and unexpected turns. CMs spend most of their time in three categories of meetings, in which they manage up (political office-holders), down (the organisation) and out (networks). CMs perform three roles: Chief advisor, CEO of the organisation and Connector. CMs perform the Chief advisor role in and outside executive board meetings. In this role they are seen as a sparring partner and institutional memory and form a tandem with the mayor. The institutional memory and tandem practices are found as a way of creating power and influence in the executive board. As the CEO of the organisation a CM chairing the management team, builds capacity and creates a strategic perspective for the organisation. As a connector the CM exercising quality control, facilitates political teamwork and coordination and is an ambassador and networker. Therefore CMs do not principally connect outside the organisation, but still need to create connection within the organisation between different actors. Within these roles each CM has his own managing style, which moreover may vary depending on the arena in which they operate (e.g. the executive board vs. the organisation). A CM can have an analytical managing style in the executive board and a directive style as the CEO of the organisation. Also, CM’s role conceptions are related to their managerial practices. Therefore the study found that the three city managers speak the same language, they have comparable meetings, work with comparable actors and play comparable roles. But each put different emphases. The city managers pay attention to activities and actors in a different extent and perform their roles in their own way. The city managers therefore speak with different dialects.