Doing more with less : an assessment of senior executive attitudes and behaviors towards innovation in a federal agency


Author/Creator ORCID




University of Baltimore. College of Public Affairs


University of Baltimore. Doctor of Public Administration

Citation of Original Publication


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Over the last four decades, the interplay between leadership and innovation has garnered increasing discussion in public administration literature. There is growing evidence that leaders play a significant role in fostering innovation in organizations; however, there has been limited attention devoted to executive leadership support for innovation within the public sector at the federal level. This qualitative narrative inquiry was designed to explore the applicability of Bass and Avolio's model of transactional and transformational leadership in the context of public sector bureaucratic innovation. The impact of attitudes and behaviors of public sector leaders support innovation is not well documented. The lack of research examining various leadership styles and their impact on innovation poses a major gap in knowledge for federal agencies trying to find efficient and effective management strategies in tight budgetary times. Based on this information, the purpose of this research study is to explore, identify, and understand the perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of career senior executives and the impact of their leadership styles on innovation within their federal agencies. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to assess leadership and innovation. The unit of analysis was a group of ten Institutes and Centers within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH). These agencies represented diverse organizations that diverge in areas of available resources, organizational culture, and organizational structure. The interviews explored emerging themes and provided ideas for encouraging the use of innovation within federal agencies. Written government documents were employed to corroborate the interview findings. The study results confirm previous studies that the role of the leader in the group process is important to creating an environment for the use of innovation based on four significant factors: administrative discretion, length of service in the Senior Executive Service, transformational leadership, and organizational culture. The results also indicate the transformational leadership model offers the best approach to support innovation. This includes results-oriented strategy, risk-taking, adequate resources, rewards for innovators, and replication efforts to sustain innovation. The study findings show that innovation is being used at the federal level. The findings also suggest that communicating the value and importance of innovation, assessing the need and use of innovation, fostering and rewarding innovation, and cultivating a greater awareness of innovation principles and practices in training and development are all vital aspects to the use and success of innovation. Lastly, the findings indicate the importance of considering more expanded studies into innovation use across federal agencies to enhance their management and decision-making processes.