Senior Civil Servants’ Craftwork

An up-close and personal narrative on the heart of Dutch government.


Governments wield awesome powers, but what do those at the very top of governments actually do?


In this dissertation, Erik-Jan van Dorp studies senior civil servants up-close and personal. Based on rare direct observations, elite interviews, as well as quantitative data, he illustrates the inner workings of Dutch government through the beliefs and practices of civil servants.


He observed them at work: advising ministers, managing, juggling the important and the urgent. Drawing on the literature of managerial work, craftsmanship and politicisation, this study conceptualises the work of senior civil servants as craftwork.


The book presents analyses of what makes senior civil servants rise to the top. It then reveals what they do when they get there, and how they do it. 


Gripping qualitative case studies, situated in the prime minister’s office, provide in-depth knowledge of how senior civil servants deal with the politicians and politics in the 21st century. Moreover, having observed senior civil servants for hundreds of hours, Van Dorp brings to life the everyday practice that is senior civil servants’ craftwork: serving and shaping, taming chaos, and performing visibly backstage.


These findings are powerful and practical, both for academics, students, and practitioners.

Front cover Senior Civil Servants' Craftwork
Erik-Jan van Dorp


Erik-Jan van Dorp studies senior civil servants up-close and personal. He defended his PhD thesis ’Senior Civil Servants’ Craftwork’ in September 2022. Currently, Erik-Jan works as an assistant professor at the Utrecht University School of Governance in the Netherlands. His research has been published and discussed in several leading peer-reviewed journals and (Dutch) national media.


More publications: Google Scholar
CV: LinkedIn

Utrecht University