HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Albert J. Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, Emeritus


Many senior government leaders who have attempted to achieve ambitious goals have been quite successful, though others (sometimes very visibly) have not succeeded. What do those who succeeded do differently? Is their success just a matter of luck? What (if anything) do the most successful public sector leaders have in common across agencies with very different missions? To explore these questions, the authors use a reputational approach to identify success, relying on independent experts to nominate leaders from the two most recent completed presidential administrations. In order to understand what successful leaders do differently, the authors also use a control group for comparison. The authors test a range of hypotheses based on the public management literature. Successful leaders do a number of things that control group members generally do not. Examples of these techniques are general good management techniques, including using a strategy planning process, using performance metrics, and working proactively to gain support from external stakeholders. By contrast, change management techniques, which we had expected to distinguish successful leaders, are also used by unsuccessful leaders. Thus, their use does not differentiate the successes.


Kelman, Steven, and Jeff Meyers. "Successfully Achieving Ambitious Goals in Government: An Empirical Analysis." American Review of Public Administration 41.3 (March 2011): 235-262.