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Keywords:

  • collegiality;
  • leadership;
  • maternal and child health;
  • professional;
  • tendering

Drawing on research into cultural and organizational change in the Victorian Maternal and Child Health Service during the 1990s, this paper examines implications for the nursing leadership provided by service coordinators. The project included a quantitative survey of nurses and semistructured interviews with managers and coordinators. Under a strongly neo-liberal state government in Victoria, Australia, services were fundamentally restructured through tendering processes. A competitive, productivist culture was introduced that challenged the professional ethos of nurses and a primary health orientation to the care of mothers and infants. This paper focuses on the pressures that the entrepreneurial environment presented to maternal and child health nurses’ identity and collegial relations and to the coordination role. It argues that coordinators emerged as a significant nursing management group at the interface of administrative change and the management of professional practice. Although many nurses skilfully negotiated tensions with peers and management, their leadership role needs further clarification and support.