University of Leicester
2017GATTRMPhD.pdf (1.65 MB)

Managing from the middle: A labour process analysis of middle managers

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posted on 2018-02-20, 10:10 authored by Rebecca Maria Gatt
This thesis examines the labour process (LP) of middle managers (MMs) in a large public sector organisation in Malta. The role of MMs, at least in Anglo-American countries, tends to stretch across management functions (controlling subordinate employees and coordinating work) and labour functions. In the case of Malta, however, the general management functions have not been separated from specialist expert functions which impacts upon the LP of MMs. The MMs analysed in this study were specialist managers, performing a dual-role as managers and experts. As a consequence of the considerable specialised technical functions, professional expertise (PE) - a combination of knowledge, skills and experience - becomes significant and reshapes the terrain on which struggles over LP control takes place. The thesis argues that PE consolidates MMs’ expert role and supports their managerial role. Leverage over the technical coordination of the LP within the organisation’s specialised units is used in the social coordination and control of the LP. In order to investigate tensions between the roles of MMs, in-depth interviews were conducted in the case study organisation with MMs as well as their own managers and subordinate employees. It is found that MMs are not deskilled but subject to a hybrid set of control practices, particularly aspects of professional control. MMs were able to use their PE to draw boundaries, uphold their standing and preserve their autonomy. This autonomy, gained through MMs’ own professional resources, allows them to closely align with top managers’ interests. Although MMs tended to be unionised, they preferred to oppose (‘misbehave’) individually and informally, without obstructing the operations they were managing. In line with previous research on MMs, this thesis emphasises their alignment with management; yet, it also contributes to this literature, highlighting how the non-separation of general management and specialist expert functions accord them much greater autonomy in the LP and tend to weaken managerialism.



Hammer, Nikolaus; Williams, Glynne

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Management

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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