Public Administration vs. Public Management: What’s the Difference?

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Public administrators around a table

Public management is often mistakenly believed to be the same as public administration. While there is some overlap, the two disciplines actually make use of different sets of professional duties. Public administration focuses on producing public policies and coordinating public programs. Public management is a sub-discipline of public administration that involves conducting managerial activities in public organizations. Master of Public Administration degree programs largely covers both topics, resulting in a mix of skills that are competitively positioned for the job market.

What Is Public Administration?

Public administration is a field of political science that plans organizes, directs, coordinates, and controls operations at government, public sector, and non-profit organizations. The government grants public administrators the authority to advise policymakers based on observations of constituent populations and society. Every nation employs some form of public administration within its government systems. In the U.S., public administration is practiced at the local, state, national, and international levels, with different policy goals at each level.

Public administrators coordinate civil servants to write public policy and achieve policy objectives. Professionals in the field also work to develop strong relationships between public and private groups by advocating for consensus and interests through policy. Different groups have competing desires, so it is important that public administrators have the skills to mitigate conflict in policymaking.

What Is Public Management?

Public managers carry out the managerial operations of public organizations. In practice, public management is meant to improve the quality and efficiency of services delivered by public organizations. Managers interpret the public policy to implement public services in ways that are expected to achieve the most desirable outcomes for the interests they serve.

Public managers can operate in two different areas: the internal and external management of public organizations.

  • Internally, public managers must understand how to manage risk and change within their respective organizations. This demands that they stay informed of societal conditions that may impact their organizations’ ability to function optimally. By acknowledging those risks, managers can act accordingly, taking preemptive measures to diminish identified risks and prepare their staff to adapt to the instability those adverse conditions may have on the organization.
  • Externally, public management entails leading efforts to collaborate with private groups to support the adoption of public policy. In this capacity, public managers work with private citizens and other public organizations to keep public programs running smoothly. To do this, managers perform tasks such as coordinating public human resources to assist with specific projects or helping certain communities secure the necessary financing to implement public programs.

Public Administration vs. Public Management: Similarities

The fields of public administration and public management are both concerned with public policy and how it can be used to improve societal conditions. Both specialties are active in supporting the adoption and implementation of public policy. They also largely use the same essential professional skills, including knowledge of public finance, leadership abilities, interpersonal communication skills, and strategic thinking.

Public Administration vs. Public Management: Differences

The underlying difference between both fields lies in the core definitions of administration and management. Management is concerned with planning and taking action, while administration relates to the application of policies that dictate how management personnel should act.

The rules of public administration are instrumental in the process of developing policy, providing a measure of guidance as to how those policies should be introduced to societies. In contrast, the rules of public management dictate how civil servants should implement those policies. Public management is a hands-on approach that focuses on the daily tasks involved with rolling out policies, whereas public administration prioritizes controlling the hierarchies, rules, and regulations that contribute to instituting the public policy.

Career Outlook for Public Administration and Public Management

Because the fields of public management and public administration are closely linked, many universities roll public management coursework into their Master of Public Administration programs. Public management concepts taught in such programs (e.g. public human resource management or financial management in government) are often built into the curriculum for public administration. This gives graduates the opportunity to develop the practical knowledge they need to excel at management or administrative positions in government or nonprofit organizations.

Upon graduation, educated public administrators may join the ranks of political scientists, public administrators, city managers, and similar professionals who impact public policy in modern societies.

In practice, there is no conflict pitting public administration vs. public management; rather, it’s about the partnership of public administration and public management. The success of the public policy depends on the effective application of both disciplines by public organizations and dedicated professionals. A Master of Public Administration program usually offers coursework in both public administration and public management, empowering students to develop the multifaceted public leadership expertise valued by forward-thinking employers in the public sector.

Learn More:

The online Master of Public Administration at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs can help you build the skills to address public needs in effective, efficient, and imaginative ways. We want you to take the big ideas in your head and put them into action by helping you develop as a project manager, communicator, policy analyst, and financial mind. When you have an expert understanding of public administration and the professional tools to back it up, you can lead a career of consequence for your constituents.

 

Recommended Readings:

Ohio University Blog, “The Role of a Public Administrator in the Health Industry”
Ohio University Blog, “5 Benefits of an MPA”
Ohio University Blog, “Why Learning Data Analysis Is Essential for Public Administrators”

Sources:

Harvard Business Review, Effective Public Management
Public Management Research Association, “The Creation of Perspectives on Public Management and Governance”
Public Management Research Association, Should Public Management be an Experimental Discipline?
Encyclopedia Britannica, Public Administration