Do you have an interest in working for the federal government or a branch of local government? Perhaps you have public affairs leadership aspirations in the private sector? In all these cases, proper training in public administration could lead to a gratifying career. Read on for more information about the field of public administration and the skills that come with the education and training that you will need to hone if you want to find success within it.
What Is Public Administration?
The roots of public administration lie firmly in “the implementation of government policies.” But today’s public administrators work in many different sectors to support existing policies and develop new policies as well as programs to implement them.
Forbes Advisor offers a solid and succinct definition of public administration that reflects its broad purview in modern society, calling it “the planning, preparation and execution of policy meant to build and strengthen civil society.” Because governments and other public service organizations around the world rely on public administrators to operate, public administration continues to grow as a distinct profession.
The Role of a Public Administrator
Your workday functions as a public administrator will largely depend on your areas of administrative expertise, the organization that employs you, and your job title. However, experts in the field of public administration have identified specific roles that all types of public administrators tend to play in the professional arena.
The POSDCORB model, short for “planning, organizing, staffing, developing, controlling, operating, reporting, and budgeting,” was developed in 1937 to organize the administrative system of the federal government under the authority of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. POSDCORB summarizes the eight essential roles of the typical public administrator quite well.
Crucial Soft Skills for a Public Administration Career
Although some public administration careers can be obtained without a degree or experience, you may find it difficult to begin working in public administration without a degree and/or at least a year’s worth of experience which demonstrates your practical knowledge in the field. However, you might find it even harder to progress in the public administration field if you do not possess the right soft skills. Often described as human characteristics or personal traits, soft skills may not have a direct impact on what you do as a professional, but they can exert an overwhelming influence on how you do it. In other words, soft skills often spell the difference between a highly successful person and one that suffers from many problems and inefficiencies. Most employers across a wide variety of industries and sectors agree that soft skills are generally as necessary, if not more so, than hard skills (the technically oriented skill set that we will examine shortly). Here are just a few of the soft skills considered highly desirable among public administrators:
Communication and Interpersonal Skills
As a public administrator, you will be tasked with working as part of internal administrative teams to accomplish a common end. You will also likely reach out to external audiences and stakeholders on a regular basis to solicit feedback and inform administrative operations. For these reasons and countless others, the communication abilities of the average public administrator must be extensive, to say the least. When it comes to communicating effectively with fellow administrators and collaborators up and down the chain of command, you must tailor your messages specifically and deliver them with care by developing exceptional interpersonal skills. Relying upon foundational elements such as confidence and empathy, interpersonal skills go a long way toward helping people work together and get more done.
Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills
Because public administrators often face complicated policy issues that require swift responses, problem-solving and decision-making are two of the most important soft skills in the field. Particularly in times of crisis, the ability to identify and address challenges and difficulties is essential to a competent public administrator. After these problems are clearly defined, public administrators must employ exceptional decision-making skills if they want to choose suitable policy formulation and implementation strategies in response.
Leadership and Management Skills
Leadership and management skills drive nearly everything that a public administrator does. A good public administrator will follow a clear vision, think strategically, adapt to changing conditions, allocate resources judiciously, and guide others both through instruction and by example. These critical elements of leadership and management are essential to all effective public administration professionals.
Essential Hard Skills in Public Administration
While soft skills can separate a good public administrator from a great one, you are unlikely to become a public administrator at all without the necessary hard skills. Defined by technical training and knowledge, hard skills provide the foundation that you will need to complete to work in the public administration setting. A few examples of these hard skills are SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat) analysis of your organization’s resources, setting budgets, allocating resources, analyzing policy, measuring KPIs (key performance indicators). These hard skills are tools you can use as indicators to assess the relative successes and failures of your plan objectively and accurately. A quality college program in public administration should help you develop soft skills, but hard skills will be the primary focus of your post-secondary studies. Essential hard skills for public administrators include:
Policy Analysis and Research Skills
Because the development and implementation of effective policy lies at the very root of public administration theory and practice, the ability to analyze and evaluate various policy positions is essential for any public administrator. In fact, it is difficult to solve existing problems and make informed decisions without policy analysis skills. To ensure that your policy analysis is based on proven facts and sound evidence, you must possess extraordinary research skills as a public administrator. Research is beneficial to administrators faced with establishing realistic policy goals and choosing appropriate strategies to achieve them. Research is also necessary to assess the impact of existing policies to identify their strengths and weaknesses and make improvements to optimize success.
Financial Management Skills
To effectively guide strategic policy development and implementation, public administrators must manage more than internal teams and processes. They are responsible for finances as well. Often tasked with handling public funds, public administrators must know how to set and adhere to a budget, perform cost/benefit analysis, take risk management measures, adhere to financial regulations, and allocate financial resources to meet strategic objectives. In many cases, public administrators will be tasked with securing funds by applying for and managing various government and nonprofit grants. Even if financial management is not your area of administrative expertise, you can expect to work with finance professionals a great deal as a public administrator.
Public Administration Education Requirements
The training and education needed to become a public administrator depends on the specific career path you plan to travel in public administration. While some careers in public administration begin with a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field plus a master’s degree in public administration, you can begin with an associate degree in public administration as well. However, with this route, you would likely need at least one year’s worth of experience relevant to the work you are looking to do as well. The same can be said about a bachelor’s degree. While possible to achieve a career in public administration without a master’s degree, you will need relevant career experience before applying to the job you desire. For the next step in your career such as advanced public administration and senior management positions, it is recommended to have a master’s degree, and of course, experience is always a bonus!
How Could a Master’s Degree in Public Administration Benefit Your Career?
Obtaining a Master of Public Administration (MPA) offers advantages for public administrators with firm leadership goals. From the design and delivery of public policies to the complexities of emergency management, a good MPA program will cover the knowledge and skills you need to manage teams of professionals in the field of public service.
The Master of Public Administration program at Post University covers a broad spectrum of subjects including public finance, project management, organizational dynamics, risk management, employment law, and labor relations.
Career Prospects for Public Administration Graduates
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career prospects for public administration graduates show promise, predicting job sector growth for administrative services and facilities managers to increase by 5 percent through 2031. This figure is higher than the 5 percent rate of projected growth for US occupations overall.
Preparing for a Public Administration Career
Hopefully, this article has given you a firm answer to the question “Why study public administration?” Now you must ask yourself if you have the drive and conviction to choose a public administration career path and follow it. A Master of Public Administration from Post University could be a great place to start.
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