This article presents a critical perspective on prevailing perceptions of strategic management in the public sector. With some notable exceptions, most of the strategic management literature is characterized by (a) a focus on the top managers as essential in the organization, (b) a perception of tightly coupled relations between top management decisions and organizational behaviour, (c) a neo-rational trust in decision-makers' ability to calculate the consequences of their decisions, (d) a perception of organizations as rigid systems whose change can only be accomplished by heroic top managers, and (e) an understanding of organizations as unitary actors and conflict as primarily taking place in the environment. Based on research in organizational behaviour and Public administration these notions are criticized and an alternative perspective envisioning a more humble role for strategic top management is suggested. Often (a) managers are better portrayed as puppets, (b) managerial decisions better understood as rational rituals, (c) unintended consequences of decisions the rule rather than the exception, (d) organizational change better understood as relatively independent of leaders and (e) politics better portrayed as taking place within the organization rather than outside in the environment. The implications of the analysis for management in the public sector are discussed. It is argued that the prevailing heroic model must be balanced with a more realistic and situation specific understanding of the role of strategic management in the development of the public sector.