If you’re reading this, chances are you have one important characteristic of an effective public administrator: the will to do something to improve society. The passion and drive to know that one person has the power to make a difference. That’s an essential ingredient. But, of course, the job also requires some practical skills and abilities.
Characteristics of an Effective Public Administrator
To make a real difference as a public administrator, you’ll have to wear many hats with ease—or, at least make it look easy. Some of the most important characteristics of the city changer include:
Strong Leadership Skills:
Perhaps it goes without saying that a public administrator must have leadership skills. Getting the job done requires more than just hard work and good ideas; you’ll also have to rally people to your cause and inspire people to invest in solutions and work together. That means that your team and other involved officials such as the city council members must see you as trustworthy, and you must be able to build consensus. You must have the ability to know when you should step in to be hands on and when to facilitate or delegate with your team.
Big Picture Vision:
Virtually everything that happens in local government impacts some other area of government or the community: devoting funds to one project means cutting something else or raising new revenues; bringing in a new business can impact local traffic, safety of school zones, job opportunities and a host of other issues. It will be critical to understand all of the impacts and interrelations of a particular course of action, to make the right choices for your community. Weighing the opportunity costs of one project compared to another won’t always make you everyone’s favorite person, but the big picture is what is more important.
In addition to inspiring people to get behind your programs and solutions, you’ll need to be able to work effectively with people who hold strongly opposing views on some issues. You can’t afford to create tensions among people who need to operate as a team, so you’ll have to find ways to fight for your position while showing respect and maintaining good relationships.
Being diplomatic yourself is just one aspect of maintaining a professional atmosphere and good working relationships. You must also be able to establish control and restore order if other participants become too contentious during debate; despite some philosophical differences, your city council or county board must work together as a unit for the good of the city, county or community.
Ability to Balance Competing Interests:
Members of the public often have the luxury of seeing problems and initiatives from only one side, but city managers and other public administrators do not. Any community is made up of people and businesses with competing interests and differing beliefs. A public administrator’s job is to find the solution that is best for the community as a whole, and that means considering everyone’s concerns, weighing them and where it would be in the best interests of the community, reaching a compromise.
Local areas around the country are struggling with issues like budget deficits, attrition of local businesses, job loss, outdated or poorly maintained sewers and streets and a variety of other issues that impact the security of the area and the quality of life of local residents. There is definitely a need for city changers, from large metropolitan areas to small cities and towns. If you have the ability to inspire people, pull them together as a team and find solutions that take varied needs into account, public administration might be the right career path for you. Having a degree, such as, a master of public administration is a great way to get a head start on the competition.