Conceptual Skills in Leading Change: A Competence Approach to Public Sector Leadership

Arif Fadhel Ahmed Jasim

Programme: PhD Business Management

Year of Graduation: 2019

Supervisor: Prof. Ashly Pinnington


Conceptual Skills in Leading Change: A Competence Approach to Public Sector Leadership


This thesis examines conceptual skills in leading public sector change through interviews and focus groups with a sample of 123 participants based around 18 focal leaders who were all top managers of government organisations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These qualitative research methods are supported by field observations of public leaders at work and primary and secondary documents on public sector change and organisational and individual performance, in addition to a wide range of qualitative methods, totalling 12 distinct forms of data collection. The thesis concludes on the significance of individuals’ conceptual skills in leading public sector change by presenting a framework of conceptual skills relevant to four areas of leadership: self-regulation, sense making, integrative leadership and innovative leadership.

The results from this phenomenographical research and its qualitative methods indicate that leaders’ conceptual skills influence the quality and extent of productive, self-regulation, sense making, integrative leadership, and innovative leadership in the public sector. The research suggests that these leaders employ high-level conceptual skills in leading public sector change and can be categorised into three levels of utilising conceptual skills. These skills influence the four areas of leadership competence and are ranked in descending order, from the most advanced to the least developed. This study presents a model for adopting conceptual skills, which states that the highest level of leading change in the government sector requires a set of conceptual skills that are essential to achieving the desired change. Then, the middle level group of leaders have a lower set of conceptual skills, and progressively fewer skills still at the third level. The highest level of leaders makes fewer conceptual errors, and these errors increase as the levels decrease. Furthermore, just as there are essential conceptual skills to lead change, there are also misconceptions. Erroneous adoption of conceptual skill by change leaders may prevent and inhibit desired change.

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