What is a Public Administrator? What Do They Do?
Public administrators serve communities, non-profits, and non-governmental agencies because they want to create positive change and “advance the common good”. Public administrators have usually earned a bachelor’s degree at the minimum. If they want to move higher in the field, they’ll likely need to complete a master’s degree program in public administration.
A master’s degree in this field prepares students to lead others. They need to have higher-level understanding of communication skills, human resource management, law, budget or financial management, data analysis, and theory relating to the public sector.
Once they have earned one or both degrees, these professionals may work in a variety of levels of government or find a non-profit that they believe in. They may also find work as a policy analyst, an emergency management director, or in another similar position in the private sector.
Steps to Become a Public Administrator
One of the most common jobs for a public administrator is a public service manager in one of three government levels: local, state, or federal. However, public administrators may also operate non-profit agencies, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, or even in the private sector.
Because of the vast breadth of positions that someone with a degree in public administration can hold, the tasks they may be expected to perform can also vary widely. However, there are similarities across all of the jobs you are likely to have access to. For the most part, a public administrator deals with management of whatever organization or department they are responsible for. The main difference is that those in public administration will have a much stronger focus on policy creation. And these, in many instances, will be policies that can strongly affect an entire community or government organization. When they aren’t creating the policies themselves, they are expected to be able to advise those who are creating policies and to provide sound reasoning and judgements based on data and gathered information.
These professionals are also heavily focused on developing relationships and networks between various groups so that they can understand the breadth of an industry or community that may be affected by policy changes. In this way, a public administrator becomes a much more involved task than simply managing a group of employees or even a company.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Step 2: Find an Internship
Step 3: Begin the Job Search
Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Students interested in working in a public administration career should begin by earning their bachelor’s degree. This may be in public administration, business administration, or another field that’s closely related. Public administration curriculum should include political science, public policy, governance ethics, and other courses will help prepare graduates for entry-level positions in local government or local non-profits.
While they are in school, students should pause and take note of the different careers that fit within the public administration umbrella. This includes positions such as a director of public works who is responsible for different municipal functions or a city manager who is responsible for managing different city departments and how they function. An urban and regional planner works on programs and strategies that involve land usage. If you know what type of position you are interested in – non-profit vs. private sector, vs government – then you may be able to choose a minor or second major that supports your interests moving forward.
Step 2: Find an Internship
Students who are halfway through their public administration degree program should begin looking for an internship opportunity that will support their career path interests. Many internship opportunities do not accept students who are still in their first two semesters, so you should be far enough into your degree program that your interests are relatively settled.
Some internships are paid, others unpaid. These learning opportunities are designed to offer students work experience rather than monetary compensation. Some opportunities might offer students direct mentorship from a senior leader in city government or access to meetings where working public administrators make the big decisions.
Interns may be selected based on any or all of the following factors: academic performance, creativity, communication skills, demonstrable leadership potential, and commitment to public service. It certainly helps to be passionate about that work that you are trying to be a part of, so you should really try to find a program that you care about.
Step 3: Begin the Job Search
Shortly before graduation, students should begin their job search. If they know what kind of work they want to be a part of, they can begin looking for those types of positions: civil service, federal career, education, administrative service managers, consultants, director of development, program analyst, or program director.
Students who have decided to work in non-government organizations (NGOs) and who have earned their bachelor’s degree in public administration may choose to look for an entry-level position in an NGO or they may decide to begin in a private sector position. Students who are about to graduate with their master’s in public administration may decide they want to serve overseas as a foreign service officer. They can apply for positions with the U.S. Department of State.
Students who didn’t have the opportunity to gain an internship experience, or those who are simply worried about that job search process, may want to consider joining a professional organization before they start searching for a job. The American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) offers a jobs board where graduates can start their search and there are other options as well. Government job boards exist at the federal and state levels. No matter what career most interests you, there are options for finding jobs specifically tailored to your interests if you are willing to look.
Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree
When it’s time for students to consider earning a graduate degree in public administration, they should be aware of what is available. For one this, students can choose between a master’s degree in public administration or an MBA in Public Administration. Some schools have concentrations in specialized areas of public administration, such as non-profit management or fiscal management.
Students may also be able to move into a public administration career by earning their MBA and specializing in financial management. Public administrators with an MBA will have all the training they need to manage a government department’s or non-profit organization’s finances.
What Does a Public Administrator Do?
Public administrators work in government jobs, non-government organizations and non-profit agencies. Working for a state government, they may be one of several emergency management directors, responsible for preparing for and responding to a natural disaster. Working for a non-profit, they may search for grants, petition for a government program to remain open, and more.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that some of their responsibilities include coordinating with other staff to adopt new policies and putting them into action. They may manage or evaluate special programs and be responsible for researching, making plans, and recommending policies and programs in budgets. Then, they ensure that they and their staff are following government and administrative law. They may communicate how effective programs are as they interact with constituents, employees, and stakeholder groups. They may also collect qualitative and quantitative data, then analyze it so they can make improvements.
Effective public administrators ensure they are serving all of their constituents fairly. The public administration field isn’t easy to work in. Looking at a few of the issues they face, they may have to struggle against how people perceive government, believing that employees are corrupt. They have to accept new technologies and how they affect communication. One of the biggest issues they face are lack of diversity in the participation of the citizens and unspoken bias and racial discrimination.
Skills to Acquire
- Commitment to Vision and Strategy to See That Vision Become Reality:
The commitment to public service is an important quality among public administrators. To be successful in their chosen profession, they should have a vision. Beyond the vision, they need to be committed to this goal; if they are, their passion will extend down to the employees at the front desk.
Strategy is a vital part of the vision the public administrator has. The administrator, their managers, and the entire staff should be familiar with the five-, 10-, and 20-year plans.
- Attention to Detail:
In order to understand and quickly respond to the status of ongoing projects, public administrators must be able to see and act on the smallest of details.
- Conceptual Skill:
A talented public administrator should be able to understand how each action they take might affect each part of the agency or organization.
Nobody can do everything in an organization. If a public administrator is able to actively delegate responsibilities to their staff, more work gets done. They should express definite spheres of influence, allowing staff members to have the autonomy to make some decisions. As an example, they may have a more junior public administrator examine current policies.
Public administrators are generally required to hold, at a minimum, a bachelor’s public administration degree. Returning to school for their master’s degree in public administration brings them closer to their goal of leading an entire public services agency. These professionals should be able to transition to various agencies such as government, non-government organizations, consulting, educational, and international organizations.
Public administration officials have opportunities to shift into work dealing with various issues, such as:
- Global HIV/AIDS
- Climate change and its causes
- Securing countries against terrorism
- Ensuring sufficient food and water supplies in underdeveloped nations
- Transitioning incarcerated individuals safely back into society
- Offering new economic resources to urban areas making transitions
- Providing pathways for high-quality education and healthcare to children living in poverty
Because of these issues and others, the more education and experience a public administrator accumulates, the better prepared they will be to address these challenges.
Public Administrator Careers & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Professionals who have earned their Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree may work in non-profit organizations, government organizations, and non-governmental organizations. They will continue to develop their leadership skills, using them to determine the direction the agency or organization should move into. They may also provide financial management, consulting, community engagement, or corporate social responsibility to an organization.
Public administrators in government may help craft environmental policy and management policies or they may manage a local government, such as a city or county. Public administration also involves political science. In this area, the political scientist may research and analyze political theories. They may also work as an aide to elected officials, helping them to interpret legislative issues. A public administrator may work for a community, overseeing its land use and urban and regional planning.
For those public administrators who choose to work in a non-profit organization, they may write grants, raise funds, manage the non-profit, work in advocacy or provide legal assistance, be responsible for community development, coordinate and develop volunteers, or administer a higher education office.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that the public administration field would grow between 8 and 14% between 2012 and 2022. This growth takes place mostly in local and state government. Another factor pushing job growth is that new positions in public administration will be created in state and local governments.
Salary potential is one of the pros when students consider whether they should major in public administration during their undergraduate program. While annual salaries aren’t as high during a graduate’s early career as they are for some other administrative services managers. People interested in entering this profession should remember that, the higher their degree level, the higher their salary and compensation may be. A $68,000 average annual salary is typical for those with this degree. Professionals working in executive director or HR directors’ positions may see their salaries approaching the $80,000 range.
Those who are considering entering a master’s degree program in public administration will be able to find positions in vital areas such as criminal justice, fire and emergency services, homeland security, and emergency management.
Positions that are similar to a public administrator’s role exist within various occupational sectors. These include education, real estate, management, human resources, and private business. While a public administrator may work in government or for a non-governmental organization, creating and offering programs and services for people in need, their counterparts may be employed by nearly anyone within the business world.
- Compensation and Benefits Managers
This professional works in a human resources office, planning and developing programs to pay employees and provide the benefits they were promised. A bachelor’s degree is needed for this role.
- Human Resources Managers
As with the compensation and benefits manager, a bachelor’s degree is required for this role. A human resources manager plans and coordinates training for employees as well as being responsible for their hiring and firing and many other types of employee oversight.
- Cost Estimators
People in this position collect and study data so they can estimate or determine the time, money, materials, and labor that will be required for a job or project.
- Management Analysts
These professionals study a company’s operations and efficiency, then recommend ways to improve that efficiency. A bachelor’s degree is necessary for these types of roles.
- Postsecondary Education Administrators
This position is the close to what a public administrator does, and a degree in public administration may actually be one of the requirements for the position. They oversee academics, student services, and faculty research at the college or university level.
- Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents
These individuals buy services, materials, or products for their organizations. Purchasing managers are responsible for supervising their buyers and purchasing agents and creating policies to be followed by each department.
- Property, Real Estate, and Community Association Managers
These professionals should have a high school diploma or its equivalent as well as training and experience in real estate. They are responsible for the many details involved in managing residential, industrial, or commercial properties.
Advancing from Here
One of the best ways to advance within public administration is to gain experience. This is especially true for those who have already earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree. No matter where you have found yourself working; state or federal government, NGO’s, non-profits, or in the private sector, gaining experience in your field will be invaluable to you and to your future employers. With the proper education and experience, a public administrator may rise to become the Director of Transportation - a cabinet member to the president, work for the CIA, or act as a representative for the United Nations. These professionals manage large programs, and gaining experience and putting a few successes under your belt is just the thing you need to prove that you are ready for the big leagues.
Public administrators may also become consultants and offer organizations professional advice and recommend policies guiding budgets and deadlines. Winning an election as mayor would give a public administrator the chance to lead departments, create new departments, help make new laws, implement laws, and maintain the town’s budget.
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