Leading through tumultuous events in public sector organizations

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Public Performance & Management Review


Taylor & Francis


School of Business and Law




Department of Water and Environmental Regulation


Shafaei, A., Farr-Wharton, B., Omari, M., Pooley, J. A., Bentley, T., Sharafizad, F., & Onnis, L. A. (2023). Leading through tumultuous events in public sector organizations. Public Performance & Management Review, 46(6), 1287-1317. https://doi.org/10.1080/15309576.2023.2246948


Public sector organizations (PSOs) are subject to turbulence and constant change. A PSO’s ability to lead a coherent response to this rapidly changing environment is crucial to ensuring the continuity of public service delivery. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for dynamic leadership strategies to address turbulent events and promote resilience in PSOs. This study utilized focus groups and interview data from one large Australian PSO to examine leadership practices that were implemented to respond to a series of turbulent events. Specifically, the study adapted six robust governance strategies (i.e., scalability, prototyping, modularization, bounded autonomy, bricolage, and strategic polyvalence) to explore their pragmatic application in the context of the case PSO in responding to two turbulent events (i.e., relocation and COVID-19 pandemic). Findings show that while deploying all the strategies is beneficial, the power of polyvalent knowledge together with dynamic leadership and governance structures within PSOs is one way that PSOs can continue to respond to ever increasing environmental uncertainty and resource constraints. Practical implications are discussed. © 2023 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.



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