Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to present a set of strategies for effective managerial self-change within the substantive setting of a cleaned-up bureaucracy. Design/methodology/approach - Using inductive methodology, data have been collected and analysed from a large Australian public-sector bureaucracy by means of 26 personal interviews conducted between 2000 and 2002. Findings - A conceptual model of managerial self-change is presented stressing the importance of both cognitive and behavioural strategies within the context of an 'awareness-understanding-accomplishment' feedback loop and learning process. The model incorporates and extends some of the major concepts in the extant literature on thought self-leadership and learned optimism by incorporating attributional analysis into managerial cognitive thought patterns. The findings also suggest refinements to the concept of managerial credibility within cleaned-up bureaucracies. Research limitations/implications - Findings are derived on the basis of a substantive case study of one cleaned-up bureaucracy in a particular country. Further research needs to expand this base to encompass other organizations in a wider range of countries across different cultures. Practical implications - The model draws attention to how the behaviour of organisational subordinates within cleaned-up bureaucracies is significantly affected by the attitudes and actions of their immediate manager. By adopting a set of strategies contained with the conceptual model, managers can learn how to change themselves. Originality/value - The paper departs from the prevalent tendency of the extant literature to employ laboratory or experimentally derived data by using systematically gathered and grounded empirical data in a naturalistic organisational setting. Additionally, the findings have more to say about the nuances of a particular organisational context rather than generalising across numerous contextual environments.