Place, power and leadership: Insights from mayoral governance and leadership innovation in Bristol, UK

Robin Hambleton, David W J Sweeting, Thom Oliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
119 Downloads (Pure)


This article aims to enhance understanding of the role of place in urban leadership by examining the way leadership changed significantly following the introduction of mayoral governance into a UK city. In 2012 ten cities in England held referendums to decide whether to introduce a directly elected mayor model of leadership. Bristol was the only city to vote in favour of this radical change and the Bristol Civic Leadership Project, set up before the first mayor was elected in November 2012, was designed to discover what differences the directly elected mayor model might make to the leadership and governance of a city. This article addresses two important questions: 1) Does the institutional design of local governance in a place influence leadership effectiveness? And 2) How, if at all, do the leadership styles of the individual elected as mayor affect the quality of place-based governance? The article identifies three main reasons why place is important in public policy – expression of identity, strengthening democracy and enhancing governmental effectiveness - and considers how the leadership innovations in Bristol engage with these three dimensions of place. As well as presenting evidence documenting how bold civic leadership has transformed the governance of a particular British city, the article contributes to leadership studies by exploring the relationships between place, power, and leadership.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-101
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This article is financially supported by Bristol City Council (Evaluation of the introduction of mayoral governance) and Economic and Social Research Council (Impact Acceleration Scheme).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research


  • Place-based leadership
  • directly elected mayors
  • local government
  • innovation
  • reform
  • power
  • place
  • leadership


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