Leadership with Political Astuteness for Public Servants: And Why It Matters

Living reference work entry


This chapter argues that political astuteness for public leaders and managers really matters because it enables them to navigate the dual demands of having a nuanced and detailed understanding of informal and formal politics in order to work with a range of stakeholders over complex and contested public policy and services, but also refraining from being party political. This chapter explores these tensions by examining the construct, the theory, and the empirical evidence about leadership with political astuteness. It draws on highlights from three literatures and a large cross-national empirical project based on a survey and interviews, as well as other studies to unpack what is meant by political astuteness and to present an evidence-based framework of the key skills or capabilities which underlie effective political astuteness. The chapter notes that capabilities on their own are insufficient to be effective because the job demands and the organizational and institutional context create constraints and expectations. The chapter also examines the ethics of political astuteness and argues, perhaps counterintuitively, that political astuteness enables public leaders to maintain an ethical approach to their work. Overall, political astuteness can be used for constructive purposes and is predominantly seen as legitimate by public leaders and managers. Addressing complex problems and challenges, with multiple stakeholders where there are diverse and sometimes competing interests, values, and goals, requires leadership beyond technical, rational management. Political astuteness matters too.


Politics Political astuteness Political savvy Leadership Leaders Ethics Capabilities Political skills 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • E. Berman
    • 1
  • Yijia Jing
    • 2
  1. 1.EAESP/Department of Public ManagementFundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV)Sao PauloBrazil
  2. 2.Fudan UniversityShanghaiChina

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