In tackling administrative reform and in the hope of improving the effective allocation of resources, most European governments have shown a growing interest in adopting private sector management models in the public administration. The assumption underlying this paper is that the decisive variables in the different national contexts have to do with the relationships between the central and the peripheral administrative levels, and the way in which administrative actors at the two levels interpret their roles and participate in the reform process. The paper examines the case of the reform of the Italian Ministry of Finance. In seeking to improve its performance and the services it provides, the ministry reform is intended to introduce a management system in which the key concepts are the planning, programming and control of administrative action and results. According to reform rhetoric, shaping a new class of administrative managers at the local level is the crux of the question. However, research results hint that the "creation" of this new local executive staff is yet to be completed. The working hypothesis advanced is that this is due to local executives' lack of confidence in the "system", inasmuch as the reform process has so far been characterised by a tendency to give them responsibility without autonomy and autonomy without control. The greater their lack of trust, the lesser their willingness to risk the consequences of failure and the greater their tendency to stick to defensive positions and to return to previous "bureaucratic" conceptions and ways of operating.