Risks to service recipients are a basic condition faced by frontline managers and their employees in public service delivery. There are rarely right and wrong answers to the challenges they face, so frontline workers rely on their specialised theoretical knowledge, experience, and discretion in decision-making. The question is how frontline managers can support the decision-making behaviour of frontline workers in risky situations, where there is a high degree of uncertainty and potential negative consequences to service recipients. The purpose of this dissertation is to position the concept of risk management in the public administration and public management literatures, and to provide empirical evidence of how risk management is exercised and how it affects frontline workers who face risky situations. The dissertation theoretically develops a risk management concept and empirically validates an associated scale. Interviews with frontline managers are utilised to obtain an in-depth understanding of how risk management is exercised. A key insight is that risk management practices are exercised more when distribution of responsibility is collectivised than when it is individualised. Finally, the dissertation finds that a managerial focus on risk significantly reduces the risk perception of frontline workers – an effect that diminishes as level of professionalisation increases. The dissertation demonstrates that risk management is a resource-demanding leadership behaviour. This gives rise to a discussion of whether there is a trade-off between reducing risks to service recipients and organisational effectiveness, which is related to how accountability in public service delivery is best achieved.
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