Place leadership – what can the literature on place leadership offer a new city leader?


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Place may have struggled for recognition as a factor in leadership studies (Jackson and Parry, 2018), however, place is a well-established concept in local government (Collinge and Gibney, 2010), although not necessarily as a way of understanding local government leadership. Across the last decade, there have been repeated calls for analysis and theorising around the practice of place/city leadership (Collinge and Gibney, 2010, Hambleton, 2014, Rapoport, Acuto and Grcheva, 2019). This paper engages with that call from the perspective of a recently elected city leader and early career researcher with a particular interest in developing practices of critical leadership.

Historically, in local-government, place has been a focus in planning and economic regeneration. Place was then expanded through ideas "joined-up thinking" and "cross-boundary working" to become a popular concept in service design and delivery (Collinge and Gibney, 2010). Now there are calls to nest economic regeneration strategies such as community wealth building within the broader frameworks of (New) Municipalism. An approach which stretches from procurement to democratic renewal to responding to the climate emergency (Barcelona En Comú, Bookchin and Colau, 2019, Centre for Local Economic Strategies, 2019). Each of these actions links to place: meeting local zero carbon targets; increasing local civic engagement; strengthening local economies by increasing what can be locally sourced and ensuring that it is.

At the same time, the Local Government Association has identified that councils have lost almost 60p in the pound from government funding since 2010 (Local Government Association, 2019). Councils like Northamptonshire have already collapsed, and there are regular warnings that other councils are at risk of collapse without significant funding changes (Grant Thornton, 2019). Councils are increasing required to earn and raise their own money, without proper regard for the inequalities of this approach, to try and fund the services their residents want and need. Add to this mix the uncertainty of Brexit and the ongoing rumours and pressures of local government re-organisation and devolution and what emerges is a complex web of issues for local place leaders that ranges from dog poo and weeds to adult and children's social care to Brexit and the climate emergency.

The issues facing city leaders are complicated, and so is the leadership landscape in which they operate. Increasingly it is recognised that leadership of a city is not the role of council leaders alone but needs to be done in collaboration with a variety of people, organisations and institutions who exercise leadership in a place (Budd et al., 2017). Further, even within local government, there is a legislated form of shared-leadership between the powers exercisable by councillors and council leaders, and those exercisable by officers, including the Chief Executive, s151 and monitoring officers. Across the last decade, there has been repeated recognition that there is a lack of focus on understanding leadership in places like cities (Collinge and Gibney, 2010, Hambleton, 2014, Rapoport, Acuto and Grcheva, 2019), this paper seeks to engage with this call.

In May 2019, the author was elected the leader of Lancaster City Council. Although named Lancaster City, the local authority area also includes the towns of Carnforth, Morecambe and Heysham as well as a significant number of villages and rural settlements. The district has a population of about 150 000 and covers an area of 576 square kilometres or 222.5 square miles. It stretches from the sea to the Yorkshire Dales, including two areas of outstanding natural beauty and a national park, as well as areas of high economic deprivation. So, while it is a place in terms of being one local authority, it is also many different places.

The starting question for this paper is to explore what the existing literature on place leadership can offer a new city leader and to identify what questions might usefully be identified both by this researcher from their perspective as practitioner/scholar and other researchers using other methods.


BARCELONA EN COMÚ, BOOKCHIN, D., and COLAU, A., 2019. Fearless cities : a guide to the global municipalist movement. Oxford: New Internationalist.
BUDD, L., SANCINO, A., PAGANI, M., KRISTMUNDSSON, O.´, RONCEVIC, B., and STEINER, M., 2017. Sport as a complex adaptive system for place-based leadership: Comparing five European cities with different administrative and socio-cultural traditions. Local Economy. 32 (4), pp. 316–335.
CENTRE FOR LOCAL ECONOMIC STRATEGIES, 2019. CLES on...regeneration [online]. Manchester. Available from: [Accessed 1 Sep 2019].
COLLINGE, C. and GIBNEY, J., 2010. Connecting place, policy and leadership. Policy Studies [online]. 31 (4), pp. 379–391. Available from: [Accessed 31 Aug 2019].
GRANT THORNTON, 2019. A third of councils at risk of financial failure in the next decade [online]. Available from: [Accessed 1 Sep 2019].
HAMBLETON, R., 2014. Leading the inclusive city: Place-based innovation for a bounded planet. Leading the Inclusive City: Place-Based Innovation for a Bounded Planet. Policy Press.
JACKSON, B. and PARRY, K., 2018. A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Leadership. 3rd ed. London: SAGE.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION, 2019. Councils Can [online]. London. Available from: paper_13.1 WEB.pdf [Accessed 1 Sep 2019].
RAPOPORT, E., ACUTO, M., and GRCHEVA, L., 2019. Leading Cities: A Global Review of City Leadership. London: UCL Press.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Sept 2019
Event18th International Studying Leadership Conference: Putting Leadership In its Place - University of the West of England, Bristol, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Dec 201917 Dec 2019


Conference18th International Studying Leadership Conference
Abbreviated titleISLC
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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