What Does a Public Administrator Do?

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A public administrator standing at a podium and speaking to attendants at a meeting.

Public administration jobs are challenging, rewarding, and secure, and often come with great government benefits. They also tend to be highly coveted. For those interested in a public administration career, enrolling in a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program can be an excellent way to prepare to pursue these roles on a local, state, or federal level.

An MPA degree can provide in-depth knowledge of what a public administrator does and build on the essential skills required for success. Those who pursue an MPA degree can grow their leadership qualities and core competencies like communication, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. Equipped with this expertise, public administrators can thrive in an environment driven by coordinating complex strategies that impact the public at large. Ultimately, earning an MPA can help an individual achieve a public administrator’s highest goal of directing policies that can improve the quality of life of a community and its residents.

What Is a Public Administrator?

Understanding what a public administrator is can be a productive first step when choosing whether to pursue an MPA. Public administrators are the front-line employees and public servants who ensure government rules and policies have the desired effect on the community. Because of the scope of the government, and the various levels available, public administrators may choose to work in almost any aspect of government or society that they choose. The diversity of opportunities includes the following:

  • Working outdoors with the National Park Service
  • Analyzing data concerning climate change and what impact, if any, human activity has on the phenomenon
  • Securing healthy food and clean drinking water, both in the United States and abroad
  • Fighting terrorism through safety protocols, training, and screening procedures
  • Serving low-income communities in public clinics or public assistance programs
  • Revitalizing economically challenged communities

The range of choices is important for public administrators because the passion for the mission of the agency or organization is a key component of both job satisfaction and employee morale in the public service sector.

What Do Public Administrators Do?

Much of what public administrators do helps the government run on a daily basis, and they are responsible for providing needed services to the community. The scope of the services can depend on the level of government associated with the role, as public administrator positions can be found on the federal, state, and local levels.

Regardless of level, however, the framework of what a public administrator does is similar. Those in these roles coordinate select government operations and their associated policies in various stages of the policy cycle. These stages include planning, implementing, executing, and monitoring the policies to ensure that they can achieve the intended goals with maximum effectiveness.

This coordination process typically requires public administrators to take a hands-on approach to the elements that make up a plan. They must be able to work with other agency officials to ensure effective policy development, implementation, and execution. They also need the financial savvy to track budgets and coordinate project spending appropriately.

Additionally, public administrators may take on advocacy roles, developing strategies that encourage communities and their residents to utilize the services these plans provide. In some public administration roles, such as those associated with nonprofit organizations, they may be called upon to develop and execute effective fundraising strategies to help support the organization’s cause.

Ultimately, the role of the public administrator is to keep the various components of a government agency operating in an effective, economically efficient manner. By developing new policies and overseeing the execution of existing ones, those in public administration roles are key to making the government work for its people as intended. This can make a public administration role immensely satisfying, and with employment growing in federal, state, and local agencies, there is certain to be demand for public administrators for decades to come.

Public Administration Career Paths

Not all careers obtainable through an MPA program and diploma are government jobs. Many private businesses and nonprofit organizations also need people on staff trained and experienced in public administration. The skillset obtained through an MPA education can come in handy in schools, policy implementation, marketing analysis, and training.

What a public administrator does can involve working in government administrative or fiscal roles or within nonprofit organizations. Career options for professionals with an MPA include:

1. City Manager

City managers prepare and manage budgets, oversee government operations and personnel, and coordinate with elected officials and council members, among other tasks. As of December 2021, PayScale lists the median annual salary for city managers at around $92,100.

2. Urban Planner

Urban planners are responsible for developing and administering programs that help communities accommodate growth and revitalization. As of May 2020, planners have a median annual salary of $75,950, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

3. City Council Member

City council members are elected officials whose duties include attending local board meetings, representing constituents, implementing laws, and promoting safety. PayScale reports that the median annual wage for city council members is around $50,000 as of January 2022, although it should be noted that salaries can vary widely, depending on location and the size of the municipality.

4. Lobbyist

Some lobbyists in the public sector work on behalf of local, state, or federal agencies or governments to advance that organization’s interests with certain legislative bodies. Their responsibilities may include lining up backers for a particular bill. However, exact duties vary by employer, state, and level of government. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for lobbyists as of December 2021 is approximately $75,400. PayScale also notes the base salary for lobbyists ranges from $42,000 to $143,000 per year, depending on location and experience level.

5. Nonprofit Director

Like a corporate CEO, the executive director of a nonprofit holds the top administrative position in the organization. Directors provide strategic guidance, work with the board of directors and external stakeholders, and oversee public relations and fundraising efforts. Given their public spotlight, nonprofit directors must also maintain a spotless reputation that reflects the values of the organization. As of December 2021, the median yearly salary for executive directors of nonprofit organizations is about $68,200, according to PayScale.

Start Your Career with an MPA

What a public administrator does can make a huge difference to a community. Public administration jobs can offer professionals the unique opportunity to have an impact, whether at a national or local level. Making good on this opportunity can turn a public administration career into one that is incredibly satisfying.

Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration program can help prepare you to pursue the career opportunities available in the public sector with the utmost confidence. With four concentrations — Public Leadership and Management, State and Local Government Management, Crisis and Emergency Management, and Non-Profit Management — the program can help you build your public administration skills in an area that aligns with your interests. Discover how you can pursue a career that changes lives with Ohio University.

Recommended Readings

Public Administration and the Internet of Things

12 Qualities of a Successful Public Administrator

Understanding the Budgeting Process in the Public Sector


American Society for Public Administration, “Public Administration Education”

The Balance Careers, “What a City Council Is and What It Does”

GovtJobs, How to Become a City Manager

Houston Chronicle, “The Role of an Executive Director of a Nonprofit Organization”

Houston Chronicle, “What Are the Duties of a County Public Administrator?”

Indeed, “Guide to Public Administration Jobs: Finding Your Role”

Indeed, “What Is a Chief Administration Officer?”

National Conference of State Legislatures, How States Define Lobbying and Lobbyist

PayScale, Average City Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Executive Director, Non-Profit Organization Salary

PayScale, Average Lobbyist Salary

PayScale, Salary for Industry: City Council

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Urban and Regional Planners