Managing Innovation on the Public Frontline: Three Approaches to Innovation Leadership

Ditte Thøgersen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Purpose: For decades, there has been a call for the public sector to be more innovative, and there is widespread agreement that managers play a crucial role in meeting this goal. Most studies of innovation management focus on top-level managers, despite the fact that most innovation activities take place on the frontlines, deeply embedded in professional practice. Meanwhile, micro-level studies of innovation tend to focus on the agency of employees, which leaves a knowledge gap regarding the mobilizing role of frontline managers. This is unfortunate because frontline managers are in a unique position to advance the state of the art of their professions, in scaling public innovation and in implementing public reform.
Design/methodology/approach: To explore how frontline managers approach innovation, a case study has been constructed based on in-depth interviews with 20 purposely selected frontline managers, all working within the Danish public childcare sector.
Findings: The article explores how frontline managers perceive their role in public innovation and finds three distinct approaches to innovation leadership: a responsive, a strategic and a facilitating approach.
Originality/value: This paper contributes to the research on public management by applying existing research on leadership styles in order to discuss the implications of how frontline managers perceive their role in relation to public innovation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Public Sector Management
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)150-171
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: December 1, 2021.


  • Public service innovation
  • Innovation management
  • Frontline
  • Innovation leadership
  • Leadership styles

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