The Politics of Management:
Thinking Like a Manager

Course Leader: Richard Paton

Focus of the Course

This is a unique course developed completely by the professor, Richard Paton over 27 years.

The course deals with how managers and executives lead organizations in government and non- profit organizations. The course aims to help students to think like managers or executives and to develop the analysis and concepts needed to manage in modern organizations or to understand how to work with managers.

The course has been designed by Richard based on his management experience and continuous learning about how to assess management situations and develop effective strategies to succeed in complex organizations. It is one of the highest ranked courses by students for its relevance and usefulness for working in organizations. It has been ranked as one of the most useful courses by alumni of the program in surveys by the Masters of Public Policy and Administration.

This course has a unique focus which is designed for students at the beginning to the mid- point in their careers. It will be of particular value to:

  • Students who are about to enter the work environment and would like to know more about how organizations work, to determine if an organization is well managed or has a good work environment and the challenges the realities of management in the workplace.
  • Students who have several years experience in government or non- profit organizations who want to understand better the challenges they face as managers, potential managers or as staff working with managers.
  • Students who have a strong policy interest and want to understand the management realities that shape policy development in public organizations.

The concepts and approach to the course aims to complement other courses in the program by focusing on the challenges that manager’s face managing in complex organizations.

The core focus of this course is: what does it take for managers to be effective in their jobs? It deals with the complex, dynamic, jagged, and often disorganized world that managers face, and how they must deal with these realities. This course will enable students to work on some real practical management issues and challenges and to reflect on their own experiences in management or tendencies in working with groups.

Five methods are used to achieve the course objectives:

  1. the use of specific analytical and diagnostic skills in analyzing the external and organizational environment; power mapping;
  2. the development of knowledge of key concepts involving how managers make choices within the context of multiple roles, agendas and deal with pressures and conflicts (these concepts are drawn from readings in the public and private sectors;
  3. the assessment of management and operating styles of managers and how this can impact on their effectiveness as executives; and the assessment of management styles or work experiences of students;
  4. the application of these concepts and skills to the discussion and analysis of cases and management issues or specific managerial jobs in government and nonprofit organizations;
  5. the integration of the case experiences and key course concepts with the experiences and challenges faced by individual students in organizational environments.

The best way to learn to “think like a manager” is to discuss the choices that managers can make in diverse management situations and organizations. Cases are the best way to simulate these choices. Unfortunately there are few if any public administration management cases available in Canada that deal with the complexities that managers face in public and non profit organizations. For that reason the professor has had to write the cases for this course which focus on managers having to make decisions regarding their priorities and role in the context of their environment and the issues they face.


The first two classes are (Session 1 and 2) focused on development of some of the perspective and key concepts that will be used throughout the course. The centerpiece of this is the “Thinking Like a Manager” framework chart prepared by the professor which summarizes the basic concepts of the course. This is the framework that will be used throughout the course in reviewing all the cases.

The next three classes (Sessions 3-4) utilize cases to apply some of the course concepts to management situations. The main focus of these classes is the development of skills in analyzing the environment faced by managers; power and dependency relationships and management choices regarding operating style. These cases will involve some discussion of management strategies. This will prepare for later cases and will help students to learn to “think like a manager”.

After applying the concepts and framework to two cases, Session 5 deals with the key elements of the operating style of managers and the choices they can make on role; work-life balance; leading teams; and organization/decision making. Since the focus of the course is managers managing, it is essential to have a good understanding of operating style in order to tackle the remainder of the cases in the course.

The second half of the course, classes 7-11/12 involves cases where students are asked to bring together all the key concepts of the course to analyze complex management situations and propose strategies for the manager involved. The cases for the course change a bit each year- but they usually involve HQ line departments and central agencies, regional offices of government departments and a non-profit organization.

Each class will involve a combination of discussion of a particular case, and role play situations. In addition in some classes students will be asked to table an issue for discussion or summarize a reading. This will normally be done in the last part of the class.

The professor usually engages 1-2 guest speakers with a background in executive coaching or management in governments or non profit organizations.


The text for this course is authored by the professor, Richard Paton. The course utilizes the textbook, The Politics of Management: Thinking Like a Manager for the key concepts, strategies and framework for the course as well as some insights into the operating style of managers and the choices they can make in leading organizations.

In addition the course draws from a range of business and public administration literature that is practical and useful for understanding management and management style.

Finally, a unique aspect of the course is that it involves 7 cases; all authored by Richard Paton, which provider realistic situations faced by managers and require students to apply the framework and key concepts of the course to develop effective management strategies.