Distributed leadership: A hidden resource in public organizations

By Christian Nyvang Qvick, Senior Consultant, LEAD

Distributed leadership - There are benefits to involving employees in the delivery of leadership tasks, which is why distributed leadership is gaining traction, but requires that responsibilities are clear and tasks are clearly defined.

Distributed leadership is an approach where managers involve employees in solving management tasks and is an approach that is becoming increasingly popular. A Danish research project from the healthcare sector has indicated that distributed leadership has a link to the quality of public services. The project showed that hospital departments with a high degree of distributed leadership performed better in patient satisfaction surveys. And it showed that in departments with a high degree of distributed leadership, employees experienced a higher degree of innovation, understood as their ability to contribute to generating, promoting and realizing ideas.

For HR managers, distributed leadership allows them to stay close to the practice without being deeply involved in all managerial decisions. It allows for insight and overview at the same time, and the manager can avoid becoming a decision-making bottleneck. Secondly, distributed leadership is particularly relevant for managers with large management spans, where managers can consider how to use their time wisely.

From an employee perspective, distributed leadership is also interesting. Involving employees in solving management tasks can give them a variety in job content and the opportunity for greater responsibility. Secondly, it can also provide a training ground for leadership talent who want to try out the leadership role without jumping into a management job - for example, by taking on roles such as project manager or team coordinator.

Who is included in distributed leadership tasks?

You probably already know them: The employees who, in addition to "normal" work tasks, perform more or less defined management functions. We can call them 'organizational resource persons'. They have special tasks that put them in a managerial role by exerting influence on their peers without having formal personnel responsibility with associated managerial powers. Examples include the shift planner, who has influence over when colleagues should report to work. Or the professional supervisor, who has influence over their colleagues' professional approach to solving tasks.

When we talk about resource people, we can distinguish between those in key positions who perform specific management tasks and those who manage peers on a more general level.

Shift planners, professional supervisors and quality managers are examples of resource persons who perform limited management tasks. Team coordinators, project managers and other resource people who effectively act as a group's supervisor are examples of resource people who exercise management on a more general level.

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