The Senior Management Service in the South African public service was established as a leadership tier made up by development-oriented individuals who are able to make government’s vision of a better life for all a reality. The purpose of this research study is to explore and interpret how public service leadership is understood, communicated and legitimated in design and in practice. The study aims to gain deeper and critical understanding of issues from individuals’ perspectives, and is premised on the view that language has not been given sufficient attention in public service curriculum design and leadership development programmes. Yet, language and discourse express and
constitute the values and beliefs underpinning structures and practices of communication, learning, and work. Participant samples are drawn from curriculum designers who guide the development of public service education, training and development interventions; and managers who have participated in the Executive Development Programme (EDP) of the National School of Government.
This qualitative study applies Norman Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis, with interest in the intended curriculum and the lived, and the local and distributed contexts of social practices of public service leadership. The study highlights some of the linguistic
turns in the discipline of Public Administration, and the interdisciplinary intersections in the d/Discourses of public service. Taken-for-granted worldviews are noted in how leadership is construed and the context in which it is practised, with implications for curriculum and policy critique. The study makes recommendations about ways in which
subordinate and dominant worldviews may be reappraised, while also building bridges across the multiple worlds of situational practitioner knowledge and language, and those of scientific theory and methodology. Moreover, the study brings a critical discourse
perspective to the languages and texts through which leadership development endeavours may be recontextualised, legitimated or deligitimated to accomplish particular purposes in the public service.
Key words: public service, public administration, leadership development, intended. curriculum, lived curriculum, critical discourse analysis