Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Dr. Eli Teram

Advisor Role

Dissertation Advisor

Second Advisor

Dr. Wes Shera

Advisor Role

Dissertation Committee Member

Third Advisor

Dr. Lamine Diallo

Advisor Role

Dissertation Committee Member



The purpose of this research study was to explore how social work leaders conceptualized and practiced leadership and how their leadership practice influenced, and was shaped by, organizational culture. The relevance and viability of a participatory leadership approach and a collaborative learning culture were also explored. As well, leadership satisfaction and development and the impact of external changes were sought. A qualitative research approach, multiple case study and multi-method design were employed. Forty-one directors and supervisors in three children’s mental health and child welfare agencies in Ontario participated in this study. Research methods included interviews, focus groups, observations and document review, with thematic data analysis, member checking and triangulation of methods to develop emerging themes and strengthen findings. Overall findings were mixed. On the positive side, directors and supervisors appeared knowledgeable about ideal leadership practices. On the negative side, the external context was having a major impact on leadership practice. Even with this negative influence, the leadership practices and organizational cultures varied among the three agencies. Together, these findings revealed the constant change and adaptation required by social work leaders to ensure organizational survival. Competing forces included business skills vs. quality client services; risk taking and innovation vs. ministry requirements; new initiatives vs. limited resources; community collaboration vs. competition; and sector leadership development vs. lack of investment. These contradictions raise essential questions about the feasibility of current ministry strategic directions and the unintended consequences on multiple levels that may result. Further research is warranted to explore leadership strategies that simultaneously challenge these contradictions while operating within them.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season