12 Qualities of a Successful Public Administrator

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A public leader gives a speech.Author Victor Lipman made famous the concept that good employees quit managers and leaders, not organizations. The idea is that a single poor manager can have a catastrophic impact on employee morale, turnover, and the overall effectiveness of an organization. Fortunately, a good manager can have the opposite effect.

In the public sector, administrators can play an even more significant role than in private corporations. The allure of high salaries and better benefits constantly draws great employees away from the public service sector, and it is often the strength of an organization’s leadership that prevents a full-fledged hemorrhaging of employee departures.

Individuals who want to influence action, implement policies, and serve their communities can consider working as public administrators. While managing financial resources and building relationships with personnel, public administrators must exhibit certain competencies.

What Are the Top Qualities of an Administrator?

Public administrators choose their profession because of their love of service and their desire to make their communities better places. These 12 qualities can help rising public administrators find success in their careers.

1. Commitment to Vision

Excitement trickles down from leadership to the employees on the ground. When the administrator is enthused about the organization or agency’s mission, the employees will mirror those feelings. In times of crisis, great administrators remind their staff of the purpose of their mission and the role their organization plays in the larger society.

2. Strategic Vision

A public administrator must always remain focused on the strategic vision and the long-term mission of the agency or organization. Staff members can become narrowly obsessed with the day-to-day operations of the agency, but they count on their leaders to understand the five, 10-year, and 20-year plans. It is important to remember that the agency or organization was often around long before the public administrator arrived, and will remain in operation long after the administrator leaves.

3. Conceptual Skill

Business magnate Chester I. Barnard argued the importance of conceptual skill when he wrote: “…the essential aspect of the [executive] process is the sensing of the organization as a whole and of the total situation relevant to it.” What he means is that leaders must always be able to see how any one action or decision affects every part of the company or organization. Staff members may only see as far as their department or shift; leaders must always see beyond those limits.

4. Attention to Detail

One quality of an administrator is to see the big picture and think strategically. However, it is equally important for effective administrators to pay attention to details. This does not mean leaders must be involved in every minor decision, or undermine the decisions of subordinates; rather, leaders must remain aware of the activities of their staff and the status of projects, allowing autonomy whenever possible.

5. Delegation

There is a fine line between delegating tasks to staff and shirking from responsibilities, knowing subordinates will take up the slack. Great public administrators navigate this distinction by assigning not just tasks, but clearly defined spheres of influence where staff members have the authority to make decisions. Delegating tasks and responsibilities in this manner empowers staff members to grow in their positions, preparing them for future leadership positions.

6. Growth Mindset

Internal promotions save companies and organizations thousands of dollars over adding outside hires. A public administrator must be able to take existing talent within the organization, nurture it, and place staff members in positions where they can be successful. Public administrators must be careful not to stifle staff growth by becoming overbearing or forcing staff members into positions for which they are ill-suited.

7. Hiring Savvy

Many people enter public service because they have a deep desire to make their community a better place; however, desire and skill do not necessarily go hand in hand. Public administrators can set their agency or organization up for success from the very beginning by hiring the right people, for the right jobs, at the right time. Great administrators take measured risks, knowing that one bad hire can have negative ripple effects through the rest of the organization.

8. Emotional Balance

Almost every person experiences deep emotions at one time or another, and those emotions can be harnessed for good or ill by leaders. Great leaders funnel emotions, such as rage, anger, and happiness, into positive action that drives change. Poor leaders use emotions as an excuse to lash out at staff members, creating uncomfortable working conditions.

9. Creativity

In most circumstances, public administrators work on shoestring budgets with short deadlines and difficult, seemingly impossible objectives. Another quality of an administrator is to thrive on those unique challenges and use the restrictions as a way to showcase their creativity. Public administrators are able to come up with creative solutions to complex problems, usually by seeing an issue from a new perspective or by innovating a new approach to the solution.

10. Digital Communication and Social Media Expertise

Social media and digital communication platforms, such as email and video, are cornerstones of modern communications. While leaders in for-profit organizations are responsible to shareholders, they have much more freedom to determine when and where they will communicate. Public administrators largely work for the people of a community and may be held accountable for their actions at any time. Successful administrators exhibit excellent digital communication skills, especially communication via social media.

11. Communication Skills

Good communication skills help public leaders in several overarching ways. An agency that communicates information and expectations clearly, both internally and externally, runs efficiently and accomplishes more. Proper communication also aids in transparency, which is an important quality for organizations that operate in the public eye.

On the flip side, poor communication can reduce efficiency, which can hamper an organization’s effectiveness. Lack of transparency can promote public suspicion and cause problems where none actually exist. By learning good communication skills and practicing them every day, public leaders can avoid these pitfalls and guide their agencies to success.

12. Public Engagement

An essential quality of an administrator is to cultivate public engagement. To support policy development activities, government and nonprofit leaders must engage the public and keep them well informed about what is happening in the organization. Proper communication in these categories reap many benefits.

  • Citizens who are well informed about a policy that is being implemented are more likely to react according to public administration expectations.
  • Citizens’ opinions about policy issues are based on reliable knowledge instead of negative emotions.
  • Citizens know their rights and responsibilities in the legislative process.
  • Citizens understand how they can benefit from and access proposed social programs.
  • An organization can avoid having a negative public policy opinion turn into a crisis situation, which in turn will save time and money.

Informed citizens are clearly better partners. By fostering this relationship, public administrators who are good communicators both serve the public, and make their own jobs easier and more effective.

Develop Qualities of a Successful Public Administrator

Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration can help individuals build the skills to address public needs in effective, efficient, and imaginative ways. The program, which is 100% online, offers four concentrations: Crisis and Emergency Management, Public Leadership and Management, Non-Profit Management, and State and Local Government Management. Students can finish their degree programs in as few as two years.

Learn more about how earning an online Master of Public Administration can help develop the qualities of a successful administrator, and the professional tools necessary to lead a career of consequence.

Recommended Readings

Innovative Tips for Coordinating Nonprofit Organizations
Public Policy vs. Public Administration: How Do Public Organizations Get Things Done?
The Grand Challenges in Public Administration


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Forbes, “People Leave Managers, Not Companies”

Institute for Public Relations, “Crisis Management and Communications”

Psychology Today, “Victor Lipman”

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