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What is Public Administration?

August 20, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Public Administration is an area of work where leaders use public policy and their administration skills to improve the good of the public while also affecting positive change. An individual who is a public administrator should have the skills to work in and with all levels of government be it local, state or federal. They may also work in the public sector for non-profits as well. 

Public administration skills will include project and program management and can be used in both government and the public sector. Public administration should highlight skills in decision-making and public policy implementation. Competent leaders will be able to draw on their understanding of HR and budget management, be good communicators and apply law and data analysis to both the government and public sectors. Public administration includes the ability to strategize, plan and implement projects and programs that will enhance the community that the individual is working in. 

Public administrators may have post-secondary education including an MPA program, master’s degree, bachelor’s degree or a college-level public administration degree program. They will often have a public administration major in these degrees. 

Academic Disciplines Involved in Public Administration

Public administration is part of the public sector that oversees various government agencies working to product public policies and manage programs. It can also include the creation and design of those policies and programs. Public administrators direct public workers to manage not only government agencies but also public sector organizations and nonprofits. It involves planning, organizing, running and controlling operations plus advising policymakers on formulating and achieving public policy objectives. The work settings are not limited to the government. They can also work in academic and healthcare settings or the private sector as well. 

While academic courses are critical to the role of public administration, the individual also must have a commitment to their community and want to see it improve. Shaping policies that improve the area is important and being the public face of those shaping and creating public policy is part of interacting with various constituent groups. No matter where you work, you are enrolling in a career that is centered in public service. 

Finding the right academic discipline that works for you means looking at the various roles you may eventually fill. Your skills could be focused on public management, human resources, budgeting, operations, communications, public policy analysis or data analysis. You could be focused on one or all of those areas depending on your position. That means whichever major you take; you may want to choose one that covers all these areas or take a specific core of courses then take others after that are more specific afterwards. You do not want to limit your employment opportunities. You want the door to be open, whether it is with the government, as a lobbyist, a public relations company, or other groups that work with both creating and influencing public policy. 

If you are interested in being a public administrator, how do you go about it? What majors can prepare you for public administration and how they prepare you for it?

There are various majors you can take to become a public administrator. But the first step has to be that you have completed your high school degree. To be a public administrator you will need post-secondary schooling which means you have to have been successful in completing your high school diploma either in person or online. 

Then the decision is what to aim for next. Most public administrator positions require a Bachelors’ degree. There are ways to do it without it, but this is the most common route. It is important to note that if you are aiming to become a certified public administrator, requirements may vary by state. 

  • Step 1: Get your bachelor’s degree. This tends to be the minimum schooling if you want to have a career in public administration. However, that doesn’t mean the academic discipline has to be in public administration. It could be a major in criminal justice, political science, business or a general social science degree. While majoring in public administration is going to be a good thing, there are opportunities for other degree focus as well.  All degrees are going to prepare you as a student to communicate well in both oral and written forms and will teach research and analysis skills.

    Choosing to focus on a degree based in a public administration program will allow you to get a head start on the specific knowledge required to move into the field right out of school. It should also be noted that while a degree is important, many have learned the basics of their career in the public service setting and may be able to bypass the degree due to extensive work experience. 
  • Step 2: Get real-life work and community experience. While a degree is certainly needed in most cases, having work experience is a plus whether it is an internship that went with your degree or having employment in the field while going to school. Internships mean there is a chance for employment after school, but other avenues of work help as well. Get involved as a volunteer in your community so you can build relationships and have a working understanding of how public policy works. Adding real-life experience to your CV is a bonus. 
  • Step 3: Think about doing a master’s degree. While this usually isn’t required for entry-level positions, it can be a big boost if you want to apply for more advanced positions. Some are flexible enough to allow you to work and do school at the same time. It can enhance leadership and management skills as well as hone your skills in a particular area such as public relations, public policy analysis or complex public issues.  An MPA student who has this degree can also target areas such as how law, public policy and government all interact when working on creating and implementing various community systems and rules. 
  • Step 4: Obtain your Public Administration Certification. This is a step that is asked from in some public administrative capacities and can vary from state to state. This can happen through the NCPMC and they will link you to programs in your state. Most programs require approximately 300 hours of learning and projects and will cover all facets of public administration. Some will have seminars and professional development plans and often include a final exam that has to be passed. It is also certified under the Certified Public Works Professional and American Public Works Association and the Certified Public Finance Officer. It depends on where your skills and preferred employment lies. 

Types of Jobs in Public Administration

While many people think a public administration career is only applicable to government positions, there are other employment opportunities outside this realm as well. Working in a government capacity is diversified and can include being city manager, heading up a government agency or even healthcare administration. Below are listed some of the job opportunities and their salary ranges: 

  1. Government Work – Federal level – Salary $40,000- $100,000 with a median of $45,000 early on and $100, 000 after a decade
    This job is one of the first that comes to mind when people talk about public administration. This offers a broad range of opportunities for those with the right public administration degree. Whether you have a bachelor’s degree, public policy master’s degree or a general master’s degree in public administration there are various levels of employment available in multiple fields depending on what your degree and certification are focused on. All of the following civil servants‘ positions deal with important issues that can critically affect the needs of the population of the country. Being able to analyze and implement policy, manage budgets, watch over expenditures and communicate with clarity to government constituents are all part of these jobs in the federal government’s realm: 
    • Manager of Finance
    • Human Resources manager including a specialist in labor relations
    • General Operations manager
    • Analyst 
    • Accountant
    • Tax specialist
    • Buyer or purchasing agent
    • Data analyst or logistician
  2. State or Local Government Employee – Salary $41,000 – this is a median amount and will vary depending on position and years of service.
    The jobs found at this level of government are similar to the federal level but working on a smaller scale. The job content is remarkably similar. Areas in education, transportation and healthcare need managers but also support at various levels. There are also opportunities in the area of civil service that are geared to those whose skills are strong when it comes to working directly with citizens. Here are some of the local and state offices open to those with a public administration degree. 
    • Director of Community Health
    • Police Commissioner 
    • Part of Educations Board of Directors
    • Transportation Board
    • City Director
    • Urban Planning 
    • Director of Parks and Recreation 
  3. Public Administration Consultant – Salary average is $72,000
    If you have both a public administration degree and real-life experience, then there is a public administration job opportunity to be had in consulting. This job description includes being able to offer skilled and professional advice and enhancing policymaking about budgets and program deadlines. You will focus on areas such as private and public sector organizations and how they operate and how they can then achieve their goals more efficiently. You may also work on ways to increase an organization’s funding or supporting their work towards policy goals.
  4. City Manager –Salary averages around $86,000
    This position is higher up in the levels of government. A city manager works towards improving government performance, success and overall efficiency. The goal is to run a city on well-honed business principles. In smaller jurisdictions, this position can be labelled as a county manager. The day-to-day progress of the area you are managing is the central goal of this position. City or county managers are usually chosen by the area’s elected officials. If it’s a smaller area this position could be part-time. 
  5. Education Administrator – Salary Average is $61,000
    This position falls into the area of academics. It could be a preschool, public school, college, university or even a daycare. The goal of this position is to manage the day-to-day activities and offer leadership to these various educational institutions. There are also other areas that your skills can be used. Museums, community service organizations, correctional institutions and any other non-governmental businesses have an integrated educational component to them. Education holds many roles that a public administrator can fill. Demand for individuals who are qualified to hold this role is growing as better education management is demanded at all levels of service. Some administrative skills needed will be:
    • Managing budgets, record keeping oversight, financial record oversight
    • Working with the community, parents, students, teachers and employers
    • Marketing and employee recruitment 
    • Supervision, motivation and training of teachers and support staff
    • Guidance program management and other support services for students
    • Working with task groups and educational committees
    • Evaluating and implementing policy and rules
    • Handling course assessment and complaints processes
    • Buying required goods and processing invoices
  6. Budget Director – Average Salary of $89,000
    This is a tough job but perfect for those public administrators who have the right degree and experience. With budget cuts coming around the country and at all levels, this limited funding needs to be meticulously allocated so the money is not wasted and is targeted for the areas of need. An experienced budget director is required for this. Overseeing the economics of cities or areas is important as is figuring out how to gain more economic growth. A budget director is going to have to be an effective liaison between the government and business interests.

    The public administrator duties in this position will include researching and analyzing statistical data to find a path to reducing expenses, building efficiency and creating a healthy organization. This position is not just one level of government. It is found in each level down to the city, town or village. 
  7. Non-profit Director – Average Salary of $63,000 which varies on job description and seniority 
    This moves away from internal government work and out into the field of non-profit programs. The goal is to help them increase efficiency, improve their image as well as create good relations with the public as well. This job can include many different areas of required skills depending on the non-profit program. It can include fundraising, public relations and press, running outreach programs or the organization as a whole. Some career paths that fall under this title include: 
    • Director of Development who focuses on handlings funds and their use. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will look for this person to raise money and invest in successful programs. This goes hand in hand with making sure the public knows about important work an organization is doing as well as finding and training volunteers. 
    • Public Relations Manager who is focused on building positive relationships with the public and potential investors. This can be in both the private and public sectors. A significant skill needed will be communication skills, both oral and written since this job will entail press releases, writing speeches and coaching for interviews. Knowledge of marketing and building relationships is critical as well. 
    • The Program Director can head up all or some of an organization’s programs. The goal would be to constantly work at improving these. Using skills around analysis, planning and evaluating program effectiveness are all important and are good training for moving up in the public administration roles. 
    • CEO is the top position that will oversee all programs and activities. This person is usually chosen by the Board and will be responsible for all parts of an organization along with fundraising plans and advocacy. 
  8. Research Associate – Average Salary of $50,000
    This position is a great opportunity to get experience in the world of public administration. Conducting interviews, doing research and writing up reports will be part of this academic position. Your task will be to aid in research tasks, write research grants and can be done in various educational capacities. 
  9. Human Resource Director – Average Salary of $84,000
    This position will be present in government, non-profit organizations and the private sector. Work will include interviews, screening job candidates, training, creating a healthy company culture, resolving conflict within the workplace and administering benefits and pay.
  10. Mayor – Average Salary of $70,000 but the range will vary on city, town or village size 
    While this is not usually where getting a public administration degree gets a student, it is in the realm of possibilities. This person is the legislative head of an area and can use their public administration skills to benefit a community as a whole. 

How to Prepare for a Job in Public Administration

Preparing to find a job in public administration means doing some academic planning. While the swath of jobs is large, you may want to figure out a path by choosing a specific degree program that targets factors you think may help in your job search such as a public policy master’s. There are multiple agencies in government, public sector and non-profits that you can use your degree and experience to apply to so assess what education is best suited to meet your target job. 

Public administration students heading into the workforce should also be mindful of the skills they are bringing to their job path. Public administration is just that. Public. If you don’t enjoy working with the public then you may want to rethink your career goals. Being able to work with others and interact with the public is critical to any public administration duties and role. Here are some other required skills: 

  • Critical thinking is important as it helps with problem-solving so the administration can understand and solve complex issues. 
  • Communication is imperative on different levels. Being able to communicate both orally and in a written capacity is needed as is the ability to listen well. These skills are needed with both co-workers and the groups that you are serving. 
  • Be able to use reasoned arguments to make sure your programs and ideas are clear. This ties in with good communication so you can communicate your opinions effectively making your arguments clear and concise. 
  • Be tactful. There are usually layers of bureaucracy present in government and secular public administrative positions. You do not have to be deferential to others but you do need to have the skill of diplomacy so you can be clear in your communication without being pushy and rude. Tact and respectfulness will go a long way with work colleagues and the public. 
  • Resilience is a key skill in this field of work. It changes rapidly and frequently so being able to move and adapt is important. If things don’t go well then be able to step back, reassess and come back positively. Persevere and cope well with pressure. 
  • You need to be a team player. Be able to understand the perspective of others and build relationships to enhance the work being done. Good relationships mean that negotiating and discussing work is easier when everyone is working towards the same goal. 
  • Leadership skills are essential even if you aren’t in a top position. Putting your work in motion and advocating for it will put you on the track for success and advancement. You work as a team but shouldn’t shrink from taking the lead when you can. 

Benefits of a Job in Public Administration

The benefits of having a job in the area of public administration are many. Government jobs, public sector employment or in the nonprofit sector are all great areas to use your public administration skills and education. There are economic, social and moral benefits no matter where you decide to work. Here are some of the benefits: 

  • You get to work with a variety of people in different capacities. You can choose to work in the government, public sector or private sector which means you are going to meet and work with people from all walks of life. If you have the skills to actively work and manage people, then you are going to love this type of work. You will be working on, assessing and implementing programs that affect and support people. If you are a people person then this is a significant benefit. 
  • You can develop your leadership skills and qualities. When you have a job in public administration, you can’t hide away. You are working with and leading people in the sector you are working in. This is especially beneficial if you are just starting out as it will enhance your educational learning with people skills. Learning on the job will open the doors to advancement in your field. 
  • There are opportunities to learn beyond your public administration degree and gain skills in a variety of areas. Economics, communications, budgeting, legislation, health, education, public affairs and urban planning are just a few. The benefit of learning on the job means you don’t have to have masters that are narrowed down. That doesn’t mean you can not get an urban planning master’s or one in business but it does mean that learning from others is a huge bonus.
  • Government jobs come with some great benefits. No matter where you land in a government job, it will be a great way to get your foot in the door. They offer career paths to various jobs including ones with political clout. Cabinet members, working for the UN, being a police commissioner are just a few of the great opportunities that may come along. Government jobs also tend to come with good job benefits as well. Federal employee benefits are fairly expansive, and many other levels of government follow suit with their employees as well. There are opportunities to move up and have good benefits to protect both you and your families well being. 
  • A further benefit public administration offers is the chance to expand your professional horizons. While many don’t think of the news and entertainment industry, being in the field means you have a good working knowledge that allows you to have insight as a political analyst and other news-related items. Understanding government, policies and politicians means you have a unique insight into how things work and the ability to provide helpful analysis when needed. 
  • You are going to get a good starting salary when you enter the field of public administration. Everyone who comes into a public administrative position with a bachelor’s degree is going to start out somewhere in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 per year. As a person’s positions change and seniority is increased, the salary goes up as well. There are experienced people in the field who make over 6 figures by doing their job well and with a depth of experience. 
  • You can make a difference. Being able to study, assess, create and implement programs means you can impact your people within your sphere of work and the community that it serves. This can have a significant impact on the people who live in the area or constituent that is being targeted. 

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