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Mikkelsen, Jonas Frørup (2023) The Role of the Executive Head in Inter-Governmental Organisations: In Search of Agency: The Cases of the UNECE and the OECD. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis seeks new insight into the role of the executive heads of inter-governmental organisations, particularly the nexus of the relationships with the political world of member states, non-member states, and other multilateral actors, and the inward one towards the more bureaucratically inclined secretariat. I am also interested in how the role of the executive head is organised, through cabinets with responsibilities split between individuals, and how the work is practically carried out. International relations scholar Robert W. Cox’s 1969 essay on executive leadership in international organisations suggests that: ‘The quality of executive leadership may prove to be the most critical single determinant of international organizations’ growth in scope and authority’. It is critically important to distinguish between the role of the executive head and the individual undertaking it. Therefore, the intent of this study is not to add to the body of literature on leadership or to investigate personality cults, but to shed new light on the functional aspects of the political and operational role of the executive head. I will address ‘the possibility that the executive head may be the explanatory key to the emergence of a new kind of autonomous actor [international organisation] in the international system'. The thesis will propose a role-centric analytic framework codifying the tenets of dynamic agency of the executive heads within the structures of inter-governmental organisations. This is based on learnings from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), addressing the question of the importance and influence of the executive head.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Interdisciplinary Studies > Centre for International Studies & Diplomacy
SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Pallavi Roy and Daniel Plesch
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 31 May 2023 12:13

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