This paper contributes to the discussion about varieties in the implementation of New Public Management (NPM) ideas. The example of strategic management in German municipalities is used to point out the relevance of council–administration relations for the implementation of NPM-related management concepts. Based on ideas from institutional theory and public-service bargain models, a concept of trust is used for the analysis of implementation processes. Results are drawn from qualitative research in five case studies. It is shown that trust is a useful concept for understanding the implementation of management instruments in the public sector.