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Managing social work: Organisational conditions and everyday work for managers in the Swedish social services
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2967-2866
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The personal social services in Sweden have undergone major changes during recent decades, partly due to the reforms caused by the influence of New Public Management (NPM) and partly due to the trend towards greater specialisation. These changes have had consequences for both social work management and for social work practice. The consequences for practice have gained attention both from research and from the field, but the consequences for managers have rarely been discussed. In this thesis therefore, the attention is directed towards the managers.

Inspired by a mixed methods approach, this thesis aims to explore the personal social service managers’ perceptions of their organisational conditions and the content of their everyday work, as well as to interpret the managers’ experiences against the background of NPM influence, increasing specialisation and the specific circumstances that come with managing politically governed organisations.

The results show that the personal social service managers in general were former professionals with extensive social work experience. The managerial work was to a great extent perceived as reactive, entailing constant interruptions and acute situations. The managers experienced a heavy workload that appeared to prevent them from engaging in strategic work and leadership to the extent that they would have liked. Substantial proportions of managers were dissatisfied with their own levels of influence compared to that of politicians and, in general, the managers perceived themselves to have more influence regarding aspects that were operational (such as methods and working procedures) compared to aspects related to organisational structure. Through the managers’ descriptions of their relations with politicians, it was revealed that the roles could be muddled, and that both managers and politicians could have difficulties in distinguishing between politics and administration, or politics and profession.

Several changes that could be attributed to the influence of NPM were described by the managers. Some changes had consequences for the more technical side of management, e.g. decentralised budget responsibility, increased focus on cost effectiveness and downsizing of support functions. Other changes were more related to the overarching concept of management, which had consequences for the choice of managerial training, the expectations placed on the managers, and to some extent the managers’ own views on what good management should be.

Despite the many indications of changes that may be attributed to NPM, an important result in this thesis is that NPM does not appear to have permeated social work to the degree that might have been expected. Rather, there are clear indications of a remaining professional identity among managers on all managerial levels, as well a continuing bureau-professional regime within the personal social services.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of social work, Stockholm University , 2016.
Stockholm studies in social work, ISSN 0281-2851 ; 33
Keyword [en]
Social work, managers, social work management, social work administration, social work leadership, human service management, managerialism, marketisation, New Public Management, organisational conditions, social services
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-129244ISBN: 978-91-7649-416-5OAI: diva2:920490
Public defence
2016-06-10, Aula Svea, Socialhögskolan, Sveavägen 160, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare
Available from: 2016-05-18 Created: 2016-04-18 Last updated: 2016-05-13Bibliographically approved

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Shanks, Emelie
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