The Skills That Can Give You an Edge in Public Management


The Most Important Skill That Can Give You an Edge in Public Management

A career in public administration requires a certain skill set that expands on what managers in the private sector require. Public managers deal with a multitude of people from different industries and backgrounds on a daily basis. In order to get ahead in a public management career, strength in communication is necessary.

Leadership in the public and private sectors

Management in both the public and private sectors centers on effective leadership and organization of people and resources toward accomplishing set goals and objectives. In the private sector, these goals are synonymous with profits, that is, having a strong customer base. The success of a business is measured by its market value and the interest of consumers in purchasing its goods and services.

While leadership decisions in the private sector are made with the end profits in mind, management in the public sector focuses on a combination of interests from the public, government officials, and legislation. Public managers encounter certain obstacles that differ from those of private managers, such as working toward goals set by outside organizations, reaching these goals in less time than corporate managers receive, and dealing with people who are outside management’s control. All the people who live in a community are “customers” of public service, not just those who want to buy a product.

The differences between these sectors highlight the need for separate skill sets. Public managers rely heavily on their communication skills for being effective, and strong communication assists them in several ways.

Communication for advocating changes in public policy

Public managers act as liaisons between the public and policymakers in their own environment and in cooperation with state and Federal agencies. In order to make desired changes, public managers need strong listening and communication skills. Since changes in policy require the coordination of many parts, managers must be able to listen to the needs of the public and the community while working with public officials, commissioners, and others with policymaking powers. Public managers’ ability to communicate and synthesize information will help citizens voice their concerns about social conditions and alert lawmakers of necessary law or regulatory changes to address issues that are pressing and important to the communities they serve.

Communication for public engagement

In addition to listening to the concerns of the public and helping to enact policy changes, another duty of public managers is to keep the public engaged and aware of the policies that are in place. Citizens who are well-informed about the policies that affect them will better understand their rights and responsibilities, what is expected of them in terms of legislation, and how they can benefit from social programs designed to help them. Often government policy is written in complex language and is difficult for citizens without backgrounds in law and government to understand. Public managers keep citizens engaged by communicating these issues with a minimum of overly technical and bureaucratic language.

Communication for public safety

Another major responsibility for public administrators involves keeping the public informed on issues that affect their health and safety. During natural or man-made disasters, terrorist attacks, and epidemics, public administrators take on a multitude of duties. Because these crises can happen suddenly and on a large scale, administrators need to know in advance who to contact and be able to communicate clearly and concisely with the right people. Public managers gather information about the situation, mobilize and work with law enforcement and other first responders, and alert the public of safe and proper plans of action while assuring them that the situation is, or will soon be, under control as well as when conditions are anticipated to return to normal.

Communication and media

The public sector operates under media scrutiny in a way that differs from most private organizations. While most leaders of private corporations can make many decisions and plans for their organizations behind closed doors, public managers are legally mandated to engage in actions and decisions while in the public eye. To this end, it is important for managers to build healthy working relationships with journalists and reporters. Often a designated and trained spokesperson has the job of communicating and presenting policy issues and concerns to the media. Keeping the public informed can be achieved through social media as well as traditional media outlets. Utilizing social media has been shown useful for engaging the public and informing it during crisis situations.

Leadership in any industry involves a high level of communication. For public managers, knowing how to listen to the concerns of the public and relay this information to policymakers is essential. Successful communication leads to a successful career in public management.

Learn More

If you seek to change the world on a local, national, or global level, the University of San Francisco is a great place to start. By learning more about the University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration (MPA), you will be taking an important first step toward pursuing your professional goals and commitment to social justice. Our program is designed for professionals who want to become effective managers and civic leaders who effect change through policy management and advocacy.

Recommended Readings

5 Tips on How to Find a Job With a Degree in Public Administration
Millennials in the public sector: Why they’ll make all of us better
Millennials’ Participation in Public Affairs


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