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Building on previous research on leadership change in local government, this project develops a new perspective on succession in central government executive agencies and a novel extension of the theory of insider and outsider succession.

Research projects

Chief executive succession and the performance of central government agencies

An ESRC funded project jointly conducted by the Department of Politics, University of Exeter, Cardiff Business School of Cardiff University, and Martin School, University of Kentucky. Oct. 2010 - Sept. 2013.

Research objectives

Chief executive succession is believed to have major consequences for an organisation’s mission and performance. However, in contrast to extensive research on private firms and some recent work on local services, there has not previously been a systematic analysis of chief executive succession in central government.  Building on previous research on leadership change in local government, this project develops a new perspective on succession in central government executive agencies and a novel extension of the theory of insider and outsider succession.
The project addresses the following main questions:

1.    What are the effects of chief executive succession on agency performance?
2.    Do agencies headed by insiders or outsiders perform better?
3.    What is the effect if insider/ outsider background in the context of chief executive successions?

Secondary questions we examine include:

4.    What factors influence agency survival?
5.    What are the main determinants of chief executive duration in post?
6.    The relationship between target difficulty and chief executive background

Research methods

The project combines quantitative and qualitative methods. We have constructed a novel panel data set of UK Executive Agencies from 1988 to 2012.  Key variables include measures of performance, tenure of chief executives, their insider/ outsider background, degree of financial independence of agencies and political saliency to ministers.  The quantitative analysis seeks to identify the broad patterns and relationships in succession and performance as well as addressing the additional questions on agency termination and chief executive tenure. The qualitative work aims to further illuminate whether and how changing the chief executive makes a difference to organisations and the role of different types of insider/outsider succession.


This project for the first time brings together into a single dataset a comprehensive range of information concerning Executive Agencies’ budgets, staffing, funding structure, lifespan, media salience and performance as well as biographical details and turnover of CEOs.  We welcome use of the dataset by other scholars with appropriate citation.


James, O., Petrovsky, N., Moseley, A. and Boyne, G.A. 2015.’The Politics of Agency Death: Ministers and the Survival of Government Agencies in a Parliamentary System.’ British Journal of Political Science.

Petrovsky, N., James, O., Moseley, A., & Boyne, G. A. (2017). What explains agency heads’ length of tenure? Testing managerial background, performance, and political environment effects. Public Administration Review, 77(4), 591-602.

Book chapters

James, O. Moseley, A., Petrovsky, N. and Boyne, G. 2011. ‘The United Kingdom’, in Verhoest K., van Thiel S., Bouckaert G. and Laegreid P. (eds). Government Agencies in Europe and Beyond: Practices and Lessons from 30 Countries. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Click to view chapter.

External activities with policy makers and practitioners

Project members took part in a roundtable event at the Institute for Government in London on 12th July 2011 entitled ‘Unfinished Business: Where Next for Executive Agencies?’ to launch an IfG review of Executive Agencies by Kate Jenkins.

The team presented on the theme of agency rationalisation to high level policy makers at the COST-CRIPO Action conference in Brussels, Expert Session 1, May 2011: ‘Structuring Government in the 21st Century: Managing and Controlling Public Agencies at National and EU-level in Times of Crisis’. Click here to view the presentation.

We also presented interim findings on chief executive succession and insider/ outsider background to chief executives at the Association for Chief Executives of State Agencies (ACESA) annual conference in Dublin, May 2013. Click here to view the presentation.

In August 2013 our team submitted written evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee Inquiry into the Future of the Civil Service (CSR 33). The full written evidence is available here.

Research team

Professor Oliver James

Professor Oliver James

(Principal Applicant)

Department of Politics,
University of Exeter

Dr Nicolai Petrovsky

Dr Nicolai Petrovsky


Martin School,
University of Kentucky

Professor George Boyne

Professor George Boyne


Cardiff Business School,
Cardiff University

Dr Alice Moseley

Dr Alice Moseley

Department of Politics,
University of Exeter