How Much Decentralization?

AuthorZsuzsanna Lonti
Published date01 June 2005
Date01 June 2005
Subject MatterArticles
10.1177/0275074004272622ARPA/June2005Lonti/HOWMUCHDEC ENTRALIZATION?
Managerial Autonomy in
the Canadian Public Service
Victoria University of Wellington
Thisarticle examines the extent of managerial autonomy middle managers in Canadiangovernments report in finan-
cial and human resourcesmanagement areas. It analyzes whether during a period of intense government restructur-
ing middle managers’autonomy has increased or not and whether thereare any environmental or structural factors
that couldexplain the variation in the extent of managerial autonomy reported by them. Managersreported the most
autonomy regardingquality and client consultation issues and relatively high levels of autonomy for performance
management, training and development,and staffing decisions. The extent of perceived managerial autonomy was
found to be statistically significantly relatedto being a manager of a work unit in the periphery, managing a small
unit, leading a corporate unit, and having greater emphasis on results.
Keywords: public service; managerial autonomy; Canada
One of the major goals of public management reforms in the past 2 decades has been to
strengthen the managerial capacity of public sector organizations (Maor, 1999). Providing
increased autonomy for local managers is considered a cornerstone of new public manage-
ment (NPM). Kernaghan (1997) distinguishes three major components of NPM: “the reduc-
tion of government activitiesby such means as privatization and contracting out; the creation
of new forms of organizations such as service agencies; and the adoption and adaptation of
new approaches to management, such as empowerment” (p. 53).
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, one of the
main thrusts of reform and renewal in public management is devolving responsibility for
both financial and human resources to line departments and, in turn, to line managers (Orga-
nization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1996). Decentralization of financial
management to line management was identified as an essential prerequisite for meaningful
devolution of human resources management (HRM) function. New public management
advocates a shift from extensive regulation and compliance management to increased
discretion and initiative for operating managers in achieving targets. They argue that
decentralization and devolution of HRM is instrumental in shifting from a rule-bound cul-
ture to a performance-based system. The advantages of decentralization are in creating
greater diversity of practices, better recruitment and training, increased responsibility and
accountability,sharper focus on efficiency and effectiveness,and the provision of better ser-
vices. In the Canadian context, the importance of managerial autonomy is also underscored
in related research on the determinants of flexible work practices in government workplaces,
Initial Submission: December 20, 2003
Accepted: October 11, 2004
DOI: 10.1177/0275074004272622
© 2005 Sage Publications

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