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Managerial leadership, identity, and work

Taking a managerial position involves not only taking on managerial tasks and responsibilities but also developing an identity as manager, that is, learning to understand oneself as manager and to enact this understanding in one’s day-to-day life. Such an identity is not fixed, nor is it ever established once and for all; instead, managers are emergent, always in the process of “becoming”. This project explores various aspects of the process of becoming manager: What conceptions to managers have of what being a manager involves? How do individuals develop identities as managers? What happens when these identities are threatened?

One subproject focuses on individuals who have recently been appointed managers for the first time. First-time managers experience a time of significant transition but have nevertheless been paid limited attention in the academic literature. In this study, we explore managers’ identity work over time and in the flow of everyday working life, including interactions with others in the workplace.

A second subproject centers on young managers. It is frequently claimed that the younger generation is less interested in taking on managerial roles. Focusing managers under the age of 35, this study investigates individuals’ motivations for becoming managers, their conceptions of what being a manager involves, and their experiences of being managers. On the organizational level, the study investigates young managers’ work environment and factors therein that support their health or constitute health risks.

A third subproject explores how managers make retrospective sense of experiences of being bullied at the workplace. Exposure to workplace bullying is a traumatic experience that shatters victims’ basic assumptions about the world and poses a serious threat to individuals’ sense of self. Images of managers as strong individuals who are in control of things and can take most anything may exacerbate identity threats. We study the accounts of managers who have been the target of workplace bullying to deepen our understanding of notions of the manager, threats to these notions, and how managers respond to these threats.

Project team

Pernilla Bolander, Christina Björklund, Ingalill Holmberg


The subproject on young managers is funded by Afa Försäkring (“Visst vill jag vara chef! En studie av unga chefer ur ett individ- och organisationsperspektiv”).


Bolander, P., Holmberg, I., & Fellbom, E. (2019). Learning to become manager: The identity work of first-time managers. Management Learning, 50(3), 282-301.