Leadership Style in the Saudi Public Sector

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 7
Words: 2025
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD

Brief Overview of the Area

The effectiveness of public service cannot be achieved unless leadership styles are properly identified. The analysis of leadership styles in Saudi Arabia is important because this field is poorly discussed in the literature. In this respect, specific attention will be given to the analysis of leadership types, human resource management in the public sector of Saudi Arabia. The research and analysis of the historic environment in Saudi Arabia prove that the country’s workforce is concentrated in the public sector and, therefore, this field is highly competitive among the employees. Therefore, the public sector encounters difficulties in encouraging employees’ training and organizational development. over–centered government, lack of cosmopolitan outlook, monitoring of industrial and service organization provides a challenge for the development of new leadership styles in Saudi Arabia (Ababneh 2009). In addition, most of the leaders perceive themselves as participative and controlling, but it does not guarantee full reliance and adherence of subordinates to the orders given by such leaders (Ali & Al-Shakhis 1989). Inability to face changes, as well as reluctance to solve problems, is among the most serious problems in the public sector in Saudi Arabia (NonnemThroughy means of co-relational research, as well as questionnaire surveys, it will be possible to highlight the prevailing leadership styles in the public sector in Saudi Arabia. To ground the research, it is possible to rely on the research conducted by Nafei et al.(2012). Specifically, the scholars focused on the link between leadership styles and organizational learning. The analysis of employees’ attitudes toward organizational learning will be at the core of the research because it will contribute to the evaluation of public sector management in Saudi Arabia. Examining the leadership styles and management in the public, it will be possible to highlight the major pitfalls and disadvantages in handling the public environment, as well as define the solutions to the identified gaps.

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Review of Relevant Literature

A thorough examination of the literature has revealed that little research has been done on leadership styles in the public sector in Saudi Arabia. The area of interest has been mentioned and described as an instance within a broader context of other problems, including quality management, gender issues in leadership, comparative analysis of public and private sectors in Saudi Arabia, and evaluation of transformational leadership in Saudi Arabian organizations. Drawing the parallels between the discoveries creates a wider picture on the issue of public leadership but is insufficient for making certain conclusions. First, the current research focuses on the perception of leaders rather than followers (Drummond 1997). Managers may perceive themselves as authoritative, but it does not guarantee that personal perception is similarly shared by their subordinates. Second, the research fails to introduce the possibility for a variety of leadership styles (Drummond 1997). Although Saudi-Arabian leaders are risk-averse it does not imply that Saudi managers are as reactive and cautious as their North American partners. The present study aims to explore leadership styles employing a comparative analysis from the subordinates’ positions. While focusing on leadership in the public sector, specific emphasis should be placed on the role of women in administering public institutions. At this point, Al-Ahmadi (2011) points out an increased role of females taking leadership positions in the public sphere. Specifically, the researcher argues, “…commitment to women’s leadership development is an important aspect of broader social change in Saudi Arabia” (Al-Ahmadi 2011, p. 150). Thus, there is a growing tendency to invite women to a senior management position as far as the prioritization of organizational and corporate success is concerned. Despite the new course taken in the public sector in Saudi Arabia, female leaders still encounter significant problems because of improper managerial structure, prejudiced stereotypes, and lack of resources (Al-Ahmadi 2011; Ramady 2010). The role of cultural beliefs and traditions significantly affects women’s participation in leading organizations in Saudi Arabia (Rawaf 1990). The obstacles that women experience are mostly explained by the domination of authoritarian government that prevents the public sectors from modernizing the leadership styles. In particular, Rawaf (1990) emphasizes the tangible influence of women on shaping leadership styles in the sphere of public management in Saudi Arabia.

To evaluate the atmosphere in the public sector in Saudi Arabia, Al-Quantani and Al-Methheb (1999) have overviewed several challenges and difficulties that Saudi Arabian public organizations encounter while implementing total quality management. Similar to Al-Ahmadi (2011), the researchers have mentioned the problem of resources deficiency, as well as unequal distribution of power between top governmental institutions and municipal administrations. As a result, “municipalities are seen as having limited authority, as they are mainly concerned with delivering basic services, and have no power to influence budget allocation or land development” (Al-Rasheed 2009, p. 592). The conservatism and inefficiency of handling public issues are the main shortcomings of inappropriate leadership in Saudi Arabia.

Leadership styles in Saudi Arabia are largely predetermined by cultural tendencies and social environment within which managers prefer power and structure as the basis of leadership. Specifically, Al-Jafary et al. (1989) stress that Machiavellianism is strongly associated with power and is negatively connected to the modern concept of leadership. The emerged leadership styles are placed in the context of a highly traditional and religious society experiencing significant economic growth (Al-Aiban and Pearce 1993). The empirical studies introduced by Nafei et al. (2012) prove the assumption about managers and leaders in bank organizations are not fully aware of the essence of leadership that should be directly associated with organizational learning and change management. In addition, the research reveals a strong necessity to introduce transformation leadership styles to contribute to the performance of managers taking leading positions in the public sphere in Saudi Arabian banks.

Metcalfer and Mimouni (2012) have discovered that “Arab societies have moved to the industrial stage of development without establishing the sound foundations necessary for coping with the demands of modern institutions” (p. 180). However, evaluation of cultural perspective does not provide an insight into the leadership styles in the public sector because it focuses on more generalized problems. As a result, the management and leadership style identification faces serious difficulties due to the identity crisis. There are several driving forces affecting the current situation. In particular, the challenges include authoritarianism, tribal perceptions, and colonization (Metcalfer and Mimouni 2012). Thus, authoritarianism has contributed to the over-centralized government imposing significant pressure on public institutions. In addition, the presented profile of Saudi Arabian leadership explains managers’ attitude to the utilization of human resources in achieving specific purposes in the sphere of industrial and service administration (Achoui 2009; Leader Biography 2012).

Al-Yahya (2010) emphasizes that such factors as “power-influence sharing (IPC) in decision making (participation); use and empowerment of work teams, compatibility between the area of expertise and job content; qualification- job requirement and reliance on competence” prevent Saudi leaders from making a shift to a transformation model of managing public organizations (p. 29). Therefore, such type of leadership underestimates the actual potential of human skills and abilities and distorts the actual goal of leadership. The given research is empirically substantial but does not provide a solid ground for highlighting essential managerial perspectives in the public sector of Saudi Arabia.

The preference for transformational leadership style over transactional one is observed in the studies conducted in the sphere of healthcare. In particular, Abualrub and Alghamdi (2011) have defined that nurses are more encouraged and motivated by the leaders resorting to a transformational model, which dominates by 32 % (Abualrub and Alghamdi 2011). Such a perspective on leadership styles in public management in Saudi Arabia creates a favorable ground for enhancing a multinational environment. At the same time, it does not create a full picture of the leadership in the Saudi public sector.

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The concentration of the workforce in the public sector prevents leaders from arranging their work effectively and in a competitive manner. Though the public sector provides prestigious jobs and salaries, the organizational environment does not ensure high efficiency and competitiveness between the employees (Chaar 2010). As a result, there is a strong necessity to strike the balance between public and private sectors to improve the situation. The main problem of leadership and power abuse in the government is explained by the remnants of the political regime in Saudi Arabia. In particular, “…the government has moved to stave off the contagion on rebellion with a three-pronged strategy consisting of…mobilization of the conservative clergy in deference of the monarchy” (Saudi Arabia 2011, p. 141). Excess control of the government of the public sector introduces as an old-fashion authoritarian style of leaders among the state managers and those monitoring the public sector (Saudi Arabia 2012; Watkins 2008). To narrow down the given research and define a new direction for examining the field, specific emphasis should be given to the analysis of subordinates’ attitudes toward the shaped styles in governing public institutions (RAKISA Initiative 2011).

The above-presented literature indirectly focuses on the analysis of the public sector because it does not provide a general evaluation of prevailing leaderships styles in Saudi Arabia. In this respect, Abualrub and Alghamdi (2011) introduce the analysis of the employed environment in nursing whereas Nafei et al. (2012) are more concerned with the banking dimension.

Research Questions

A review of literature has revealed the shortage of relevant resources and articles dedicated to the evaluation of prevailing leadership styles (transformational, authoritarian, or transactional) in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the public sector. Therefore, the given research should focus on the following issues:

  1. What are the dominating leadership styles and models in the public sector in Saudi Arabia? How is the evidence of the presence of authoritarian style revealed in public institutions?
  2. What are the attitudes and perceptions of subordinates toward the established patterns in leading the public organizations in Saudi Arabia?
  3. What are major obstacles to establishing a transformational leadership style in the public sector in Saudi Arabia?


Since the given proposal focuses both on theoretical and empirical perceptions, a mixed-method approach can provide a full spectrum of data needed to answer the research question (Taylor 2005). The reviewed literature has introduced a specific framework within which it is possible to define the influence of the leadership of state organizations on the work of employees. Therefore, it is purposeful to invite employees and propose them a questionnaire and an interview (Mouton 1990). In this respect, the questionnaire will serve as a quantitative part of research to define leadership profile in governmental establishment whereas a qualitative part of research is assigned to the interview process during which an interview can highlight other traits and features of their leaders and managers. The given technique contributes to understanding how cultural perception influences leadership styles, as well as which challenges employees face while working under Saudi leadership.

The employees and their leaders will be e-mailed about their participation in the research. The letters will be sent to leading health care organizations, police departments, municipal authorities, and transportation departments. The letters will contain information about the purpose of the research, the main objectives, as well as the topic area of the research. Participants will also be provided with survey questions and those who confirm their participation will be warned about the interview. The representative sample should contain no more than 100 participants from various organizations, with approximately equal ratios from the identified organizations. The respondent will be informed that the interview will be recorded.

Timescale for Research

Scheduling a research project is essential to predict all possible time constraints and procedures (Craig 2009). In addition, the schedule allows to systematically overview of essence and scope of research, as well as allocate time and resources for the research accomplishment. In this respect, the given research is designed for 27 months. Extra 2 weeks will be necessary for evaluating the results from the survey and interview.

  • Writing a full proposal – 3 months
  • Informing the participants – 1 month;
  • Waiting for the answer and official consent – 1 month;
  • Analyzing questionnaires and survey results – 2 months;
  • Conducting an interview – 1 month;
  • Cooperating theoretical data with the obtained empirical information – 12 months;
  • Data analysis and evaluation – 5 months;
  • Amendments and revisions – 2 months;
  • Total – 24 months


Ababneh, OM 2009, The Impact of Leadership Styles and Leaders’ Competencies on Employees’ Job Satisfaction, University Utara, Malaysia.

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Abualrub, RF, and Alghamdi, MG 2011, Impact of Leadership Styles on Nurses’ Satisfaction and Intention to Stay among Saudi Nurses, Journal of Nursing Management. vol. 3 no. 1, pp. 1365-1389.

Achoui, MM 2009, ‘Human resource development in Gulf countries: an analysis of the trends and challenges facing Saudi Arabia’, Human Resource Development International, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 35-46.

Al-Ahmadi, H 2011, ‘Challenges facing women leaders in Saudi Arabia’, Human Resource Development International, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 149-166.

Al-Aiban, KM, and Pearce, JL 1993, ‘The Influence of Values on Management Practices: A Test in Saudi Arabia and the United States’, International Studies of Management & Organization, vol. 23, no. 3, pp 32-32.

Ali, A, & Al-Shakhis, M 1989, ‘Managerial Beliefs about Work in Two Arab States’, Organization Studies (01708406), vol. 10, no. 2, p. 169.

Al-Jafary, A, Aziz, A, and Hollingsworth, AT 1989, Leadership Styles, Machiavellianism, and Needs of Saudi Arabian Managers. International Journal of Value-Based Management. vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 103-111.

Al-Quantani, SS, and Al-Methheb, MM 1999, Implementation of Total Quality Management in Some Saudi Public Sector Organizations, Economics and Administration, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 23-38.

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Al-Rasheed, M 2009, ‘Modernizing authoritarian rule in Saudi Arabia’, Contemporary Arab Affairs, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 587-601.

Al-Yahya, KO 2010, ‘The Over-Educated, Under-Utilized Public Professionals: Evidences from Oman and Saudi Arabia’, Journal Of Management & Public Policy, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 28-47.

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Nafei, WA, Khafar, NM, and Kaifi, BA 2012, ‘Leadership Styles and Organizational Learning: An Empirical Study on Saudi Banks in Al-Taif Governorate Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’, Journal of Management and Strategy, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 2.

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Watkins, D 2008, The Common Factors Between Coaching Cultures and Transformational Leadership, Transactional, and High-Performance Organizational Cultures, ProQuest, US.

Appendix 1: Interview Questions

  1. How do you evaluate the atmosphere in your organization?
  2. Is your leader encourages creativity and innovation? If yes, in what ways? If no, why do you think he/she against innovation?
  3. Do you consider the employed environment competitive enough?
  4. Are there are any restrictions in decision making in your organization?
  5. How often does your leader/manager arrange meetings?
  6. Have your organization experienced changes recently?