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Public School Principals All Have Management Styles. Which is Best?

Examining various management styles

Organizations want to know what bosses can do to get the best results. New research by AU School of Public Affairs’ Nathan Favero examined just what kind of public management style leads to the better outcomes in a paper to be published in the International Public Management Journal.

Favero, SPA assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy, coauthored the article, “Public Management on the Ground: Clustering Managers Based on Their Behavior” with Kenneth Meier of Texas A&M University, and Mogens Jin Pedersen and Vibeke Lehmann Nielson, both of Aarhus University in Denmark.

Their cluster analysis study focused on behavior of public school principals and identified four manager types: firefighters, laissez-faire managers, administrators, and proactive floor managers. The researchers ran a regression analysis with different variables to see how the styles were linked to student performance, teacher goal commitment, teacher absenteeism, and teacher job satisfaction.

The results showed “firefighters,” who spend much of their time handling individual students and personnel matters, were associated with worse outcomes. These reactive managers do not emphasize social skills or organizational culture in hiring. Firefighters operate by objectives and written plans, with less focus on financial, administrative, and strategic management.

Instead, principals with the most successful students and happy teachers were “administrators” or “proactive floor managers.” The authors describe administrators as traditional office desk managers who emphasize process over strategy or outcomes. They are not big on delegating, networking, or personnel issues, but prefer to spend their work time on financial and administrative tasks. While they have high expectations for the school’s performance, they provide limited feedback to teachers. The proactive floor manager employs modern management techniques -- setting goals and delegating tasks. This type of principal trusts teachers and sets high expectations for students. They view their role as that of a leader whose job it is to inspire and focus their employees on meeting desired outcomes.

The researchers found the “laissez-faire managers,” with a passive style of management, had mixed results. These principals generally used a non-interventionalist approach --not getting involved in discussions about teaching methods and or buffering teachers from conflicts with parents. While students performed well these schools, teachers had high rates of absenteeism prompting the authors to say the effectiveness of their style fell “in between.”

"Classifying managerial behavior is a complex task but suggest their cluster analysis is a novel approach to the empirical study of public management," said Favero. "The data is observational or non-experimental, so the results do not allow a direct causal interpretation. It’s difficult to disentangle whether managers operate a certain way because of the school’s environment or if their actions affect outcomes."