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PAIR3052 Dilemmas of Leadership

Module Overview

Have you ever considered what it takes to be a political leader? Have you ever wondered why political leaders make the decisions that they do? Have you ever thought about the types of dilemmas that leaders face every day as the seek to enact forms of democratic politics? Modern democracies place enormous expectations on their leaders. In popular talk, new, better or stronger leadership is the favoured solution to almost every policy problem we face, from climate change to Brexit. Press coverage of politics focuses almost exclusively on the lives of leaders, both public and private. And yet, when scholars study and teach politics we often look past leaders, and focus instead on institutions, parties, economics and demographic drivers of social and political change. This course seeks to redress this imbalance by providing an introduction to the role of leadership in politics and policy-making. We will consider politics from the perspective of the individual leader. We will focus on the dilemmas that leaders confront as the seek to enact forms of democratic governance. We will ask whether political leadership is distinctive from other forms of leadership. Our course material will be drawn from case studies of actual leaders, from antiquity to the present day. We will not neglect institutions but rather than getting bogged down in debate about the extent to which leaders are constrained by them, we will consider how what leaders do and say constitutes institutional regimes.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The ability to analyse the content and application of core approaches to defining and understanding political leadership The ability to analyse the content and application of the concept of political leadership across different areas of political action, including civil society, political parties, policy networks and the institutions of government, especially the executive. Awareness of the challenges and dilemmas faced by leaders in the political sphere

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • In-depth understanding of the dilemmas that confront political leaders and different levels of government
  • In-depth knowledge of the key theoretical debates as they apply to political leadership
  • Application of key theoretical debates to practical, real world, policy problems
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Ability to undertake an independent research project and apply findings to key theoretical debates
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Group work and presentation skills


Introduction - conceptualising and theorising political leadership 2. Present-day theories of political leadership
(i) institutional analysis
(ii) contextual analysis (iii) narrative analysis 3. Political leadership at work
(i) The executive and legislature
(ii) civil society
(iii) political parties (iv) leadership during crises governance
(v) leadership and accountability

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module consists of a series of seminars, where students will discuss relevant readings, give presentations, and engage in structured debate, discussion and reflection.

Independent Study130
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Assessed Groupwork Sessions  () 30%
Essay  (3000 words) 70%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisites: PAIR1001 OR PAIR1002 OR PAIR1004 OR PAIR1005

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