Defining Public Administration

When people think about government, they think of elected officials. The attentive public knows these officials who live in the spotlight but not the public administrators who make governing possible; it generally gives them little thought unless it is to criticize “government bureaucrats.” Yet we are in contact with public administration almost from the moment of birth, when registration requirements are met, and our earthly remains cannot be disposed of without final administrative certification. Our experiences with public administrators have become so extensive that our society may be labeled the “administered society”.

Various institutions are involved in public administration.

Much of the policy-making activities of public administration is done by large, specialized governmental agencies (micro-administration). Some of them are mostly involved with policy formulation, for example, the Parliament or Congress. But to implement their decisions public administration also requires numerous profit and nonprofit agencies, banks and hospitals, district and city governments (macro-administration). Thus, public administration may be defined as a complex political process involving the authoritative implementation of legitimated policy choices.

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Public administration is not as showy as other kinds of politics. Much of its work is quiet, small scale, and specialized.

Part of the administrative process is even kept secret. The anonymity of much public administration raises fears that government policies are made by people who are not accountable to citizens. Many fear that these so-called faceless bureaucrats subvert the intensions of elected officials. Others see administrators as mere cogs in the machinery of government. But whether in the negative or positive sense, public administration is policy making.

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And whether close to the centers of power or at the street level in local agencies, public administrators are policy makers. They are the translators and tailors of government. If the elected officials are visible to the public, public administrators are the anonymous specialists. But without their knowledge, diligence, and creativity, government would be ineffective and inefficient.

Historical Overview Of Public Administration

Large-scale administrative organization has existed from early times. The ancient empires of Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, China, and later the Holy Roman Empire as well as recent colonial empires of Britain, Spain, Russia, Portugal, and France – they all organized and maintained political rule over wide areas and large populations by the use of quite a sophisticated administrative apparatus and more or less skilled administrative functionaries. The personal nature of that rule was very great. Everything depended on the emperor. The emperor in turn had to rely on the personal loyalty of his subordinates, who maintained themselves by the personal support from their underlings, down to rank-and file personnel on the fringes of the empire. The emperor carried an enormous work load reading or listening to petitions, policy arguments, judicial claims, appeals for favors, and the like in an attempt to keep the vast imperial machine functioning.

It was a system of favoritism and patronage. In a system based on personal preferment, a change of emperor disrupted the entire arrangements of government. Those who had been in favor might now be out of favor. Weak rulers followed strong rulers, foolish monarchs succeeded wise monarchs – but all were dependent on the army, which supplied the continuity that enabled the empire to endure so long. In the absence of institutional, bureaucratic procedures, government moved from stability to near anarchy and back again. Modern administrative system is based on objective norms (such as laws, rules and regulations) rather than on favoritism It is a system of offices rather than officers.

Loyalty is owed first of all to the state and the administrative organization. Members of the bureaucracy, or large, formal, complex organizations that appeared in the recent times, are chosen for their qualification rather than for their personal connections with powerful persons. When vacancies occur by death, resignation, or for other reasons, new qualified persons are selected according to clearly defined rules. Bureaucracy does not die when its members die.

Business Management And Public Administration

In the studies of the 1880s and later scholars have collected an impressive body of data how best to carry out and manage routine operations to gain productivity in industry. Principles of scientific business management were worked out and people were trained to follow them. Later successful business was seen as the model for the proper management of government, and the field of public administration was seen as a field of business, because management of all organizations in both the fields involves planning the activities and establishing goals; organizing work activities; staffing and training; directing or decision-making; coordinating to assure that the various work activities come together; report- ing the status of work and problems to both supervisors and subordinates; and budgeting to assure that work activities correspond to fiscal planning, accounting, and control. Some scholars argued that administration is a more general term and a more generic process than management. Administration takes place at factories, schools, hospitals, prisons, insurance companies, or welfare agencies, whether these organizations were private or public. Accordingly they started speaking about business and public administration.

There is an obvious difference between administration of business, or private organization, and administration of public organizations. Thus, the word public in ‘public administration’ is meaningful, and the study of public affairs will have to take into account not only management subjects common to both public and private sectors, but also the special environment in which the public servant has to live, an environment constituted of the mix of administration, policy making, and politics. And then, public organizations are more dependent on government allocations, more constrained by law, more exposed to political influences, and more difficult to evaluate than business organizations. These differences suggest caution in applying business management techniques to government agencies.

Public Administration as an Academic Discipline

Originally the discipline of public administration was not strong on theory. Early public administration was marked by a concern for applying the principles of business management to a higher level of business – public affairs. The method of case study was borrowed from business schools and applied to public administration. It was a prescriptive method and it told the student what he “ought to do” and what he “should not do” in specific situations of managing of public agencies. But by and by public administration developed a theory and a method of investigation of its own. In the 1950s it began to borrow heavily from sociology, political science, psychology, and social psychology that led to the formation of organization theory that helps to understand the nature of human organizations.

Then, the 1950s and 1960s witnessed a dramatic upsurge of professional and academic participation in comparative administration studies. Comparative administration was focused on the developing nations and the analysis of “transitional societies”. Considerable attention was paid to studies of particular areas of the world. There were detailed case-by-case examinations of administrative situations in both the developing countries and the older, established bureaucracies of the industrialized world. They developed elaborate and highly generalized models of development administration and managed to explain many development situations. Another situation that has drawn from the management science traditions is the emergence of public policy analysis as a major branch of public administration studies. Writings on decision-making took into account economic, political, psychological, historical, and even nonrational, or irrational processes.

The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) advocates public policy analysis as one of the subject areas that should be included in any comprehensive program in administration. An interesting development in American public administration in the late 1960s is known as the New Public Administration which was a reaction against the value-free positivism that had characterized much of American public administration thought since World War II. It reasserted the importance of normative values, particularly social justice. The disclosures of the Watergate scandals have reinforced these positions and stressed anew the importance of integrity, openness, and accountability in the conduct of public affairs.

This concern for the needs of human beings in the modern world can be seen in the growth of consumer and environmental protection functions domestically, and pressure for human rights around the world. The politics of public administration becomes increasingly interesting. Citizens, students, and scholars all round the world have come to understand the enormous impact of public administration on all of us, which is an important reason for the renaissance of their interest in public administration.

Some Theoretical Aspects  of Public Administration

Though there are different approaches to the field of public administration, this interdisciplinary subject nowadays has a quite strong theory that tries to take into account not only management subjects, but also the mix of administration, policy making, and politics. Let us consider some issues of this theory and start with organization theory common to both public and private sectors.

The Basic Aspects of Organization Theory

The terms public and private convey very different connotations to the general public. Public organizations are commonly pictured as large mazes that employ bureaucrats to create red tape; private organizations, on the other hand, are viewed to be run by hard-nosed managers who worry about profit and consumers. Public organizations are pictured as wasteful; private organizations are often presented as efficient. Yet these perceptions of their differences do not withstand careful scrutiny. Both types of organizations have much in common.

Organization as Bureaucracy

Whether in business or government organizations, a dominant form of any administration is bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are generally defined as organizations that (1) are large, (2) hierarchical in structure with each employee accountable to the top executive through a chain of command, (3) provide each employee with a clearly defined role and area of responsibility, (4) base their decisions on impersonal rules, and (5) hire and promote employees taking into account their skills and training related to specific jobs. Bureaucracy has promise but it may also create problems and abuses of power, especially in the absence of effective coordination.

Organization as a Dynamic Change

Then, both public and private organizations have a dilemma – the need for both stability and change. All organizations resist change as organizational change is often painful and destructive. Despite the need for new ideas, new approaches, and new types of employees, stability need usually dominates in organizations. And the forces of stability are stronger in public organizations. These institutions are generally insulated from survival concerns by legal mandates. Few of them declare bankruptcy despite serious doubts about their efficiency.

Organization as Human Relations

Both organizations, especially public organizations, are crowded with individuals. Individuals bring to organizations a complex mix of needs (both fundamental needs, as food, shelter, health care, and future security which are bought with money earned through work, and our highest spiritual needs to belong to a social group and to contribute to it, the need of self-actualization, esteem and recognition). To attract and keep people and to encourage dependable and innovative performance, organizations must take into account individual needs and motivation and satisfy them. Organizations should also make a system of various rewards that are powerful incentives for above-average performance.

Pay, promotions, recognition, and others rewards are distributed by managerial staff. Social rewards like friendship, conversation, impact, satisfaction received from meaningful work appear in the process of work itself. The social rewards of some jobs are more obvious than others. Jobs with greater variety, responsibility, and challenge are inherently more rewarding while routine can generate lack of interest and boredom, and managers should take it into account.

Organization as a Structure of Subgroups

Most work in organizations depends on ensemble rather than solo effort, and is a mix of collaboration and interdependence. There are two basic groups in organizations: formal and informal. Formal groups (departments, committees) are identified and selected by organizational leaders, and their major characteristics are organizational legitimacy and task orientation. Informal groups (sport groups, common lunch hours, etc.) are not created by management but evolve out of the rich social environment. Though people in these groups get together to share common interests, not to work, their activities in them (supporting friends, trading rumors, and so on) have a profound effects on work and are as important as formal assignments.

Organization as a Cultural Product

Organizations have not only tangible dimensions such as an office building, an organizational chart, products and services, specific individuals and groups. Organizations are cultural and meaning systems as well as places for work. The concept of culture is difficult to define. But when comparing organizations in different countries, their cultural differences are extremely vivid and important. Despite similar work and procedures, police departments, for example, in India, Germany and Japan differ greatly. Offering a small gift to a policeman may be considered corruption in one nation and a sign of respect in another. Organizations are also meaning systems as they provide meaning to our lives.

Feelings and emotions as well as purpose are very important to work life of an organization. The despair of the unemployed goes deeper than financial worries; many feel lost, without significance. Both culture and emotions influence structure, effectiveness, and change in organizations. Organizations are not only places of production; they are also sites rich with symbols and bureaucrats and executives act as tribal leaders: they tell stories, repeat myths, and stage rites and ceremonials. The symbolic and cultural dimensions of organizations are increasingly viewed as essential to understanding individual organizations and their role in society.

The Environment of Public Administration

When many people think of public administration as an activity, they visualize large offices crammed with rows of faceless bureaucrats sitting at desks and producing an endless stream of paperwork. But this view captures only few of the important things that professional civil servants actually do. Public administration also has many more participants, such as the executive, the legislature, the courts, and organized groups, which are involved in the formulation and implementation of public policy.

And if a public administrator focuses the attention on only some of them then others may become neglected and that may lead to the jeopardy of the entire program. Summing up what has been said, it is important to underline that the theory of public administration is very diverse, is rapidly developing and depends much on what we know about why humans behave as they do when they interact with each other.

Public Administration Personnel: Role-types, Role Conflicts, Role Overloads

Large organizations employ many individuals. Charismatic leaders, caring supervisors, innovative program directors, and numerous street-level employees lend individuality to the collective and character to the whole organization. One should also remember that higher moral and ethical standards are expected of public employees than of private employees, and that public managers work within very strict limits of legislation, executive orders, and regulations surrounding government. But unique contributions of individuals do not obscure their general patterns of behavior, or roles. A role is a predictable set of expectations and behaviors associated with an office or position. Like an actor assigned a part, cabinet secretaries, police officers, and policy analysts step into roles that are already largely defined. A person usually performs several roles and it may become a source of stress and overload. Role overload is more than just too much work, or overwork.

Role overload exists when the demands of various roles overwhelm an individual’s ability to balance expectations, when the demands of one role make it difficult to fulfill the demands of others. The lawyer who must cancel an appointment to care for a sick child or the professor who neglects his students to fulfill administrative obligations is experiencing a role conflict. Viewing organization as a system of roles helps to identify rights and obligations of each employee. Roles provide the consistency that holds an organization together. An organization that falls apart when individuals leave has not built an adequate structure of roles. Although public organizations contain many specific roles, five role-types – the political executive, desktop administrator, professional, street-level bureaucrat, and policy entrepreneur – are the most common.

Political executives

Political executives (the secretary of a State Department, the city manager, or the county administrator) occupy the top of public organizations. Although their jobs and responsibilities are different, they all perform the functions of a political aide, policy maker, and top administrator. In most cases, political executives are political appointees – elected officials give them their jobs. That is why, their position, their tenure, and their influence while in office derive from the authority of elected officials. The official who wins the election most commonly appoints loyal supporters. They are advisors for selected officials. Elected officials cannot do everything. They can do little more than point the general direction and scrutinize the final result. That is why political executives appointed by them are also policy makers.

The political executive initiates, shapes, promotes, and oversees policy changes. They may also have responsibility for major decisions. The ultimate authority, however, rests with the elected official. Political executives are also top-level administrators. It is a difficult role. Public executives are legally responsible for implementing policy They must cut through the red tape, resistance of change, intra-organizational conflict to assure that the public is served well.. Those political executives who fail to reach down and get the support and enthusiasm of their agency personnel will effect little change in policy. But if they completely disregard the preferences, knowledge, and experience of their agencies, stalemate ensues. If they uncritically adopt the views of their elected officials or their agencies, they may lose influence with elected officials.

Desktop administrators

Desktop administrators are career civil servants down the hierarchy a few steps from political executives. They are middle managers and closely fit the general description of a bureaucrat. Whether a social worker supervisor or the director of a major government program, the desktop administrator spends days filled with memoranda and meetings. The desktop administrators are torn between the promises and practicality of governing. Desk administrators guide policy intentions into policy actions that actually change, for better or worse, people’s life. If there is, for example, a public and political consensus that the government should assist poor blind people, the definition worked out by a desktop administrator to answer the question who is poor and who is blind, has a dramatic influence to the nature of the program.

Desktop administrators differ fundamentally from political executives in that most of them are career civil servants. After a short probation period, most earn job tenure, and usually are not fired. Tenure insulates the civil service from direct political interference in the day-to-day working of government. Job tenure protects civil servants from losing their jobs, but they may be reassigned to less important jobs of equal rank if they lose favor with political executives.


Professionals make up the third major role-type in public organizations. The original meaning of the term profession was a ceremonial vow made when joining a religious community. This vow followed years of training and some certification that the acquired knowledge and appropriate norms of behavior justified an individual’s initiation. Modern professionals receive standard specific training that ends with certification. They also learn values and norms of behavior. Increasingly the work of public organizations depends on professionals and more and more professionals are involved in public administration.

The work of professionals involves applying their general knowledge to the specific case and requires considerable autonomy and flexibility. An important difference between professional and non-professional work is who evaluates performance. Nonprofessionals are evaluated by their immediate supervisors. Professionals assert their independence from supervisors. Their work is evaluated by peer review of their colleagues and that has flaws: fellow professionals are sometimes more willing to overlook the mistakes of colleagues for different reasons.

Street-level Bureaucrats

Street-level bureaucrats (social workers, police officers, public school teachers, public health nurses, job and drug-counselors, etc.) are at the bottom or near the bottom of public organizations. Their authority does not come from rank, since they are at the bottom of hierarchy, but from the discretionary nature of their work. They deal with people and people are complex and unpredictable, they are not the same and require individual attention. A common complaint about public bureaucrats is that they treat everyone like a number; they ignore unique problems and circumstances. But there are only general guidelines how to deal with people (an abusive parent, an arrested, poor, old or sick person), and it is impossible to write better guidelines to make everyone happy. Street-level administrator must use judgment to apply rules and laws to unique situations, and judgment requires discretion.

Given limited resources, public organizations want fewer, not more clients, and this is an important difference between public and private organizations, which attract more clients to earn more profit. And dependence of clients on street-level bureaucrats often create conflicts. Street-level bureaucrats work in situations that defy direct supervision. Even when supervisors are nearby, much work with clients is done privately. Most paperwork and computerized information systems attempt to control street-level bureaucrats, who in turn become skilled in filling out forms to satisfy supervisors while maintaining their own autonomy. Street-level bureaucrats are also policy-makers. They often decide what policies to implement, their beliefs can affect their work with clients, they may interpret the policy to benefit clients and vice versa, and thus they may change the policy while implementing it.

Policy Entrepreneurs

The policy entrepreneur is generally considered to be the charismatic person at the top, though they can exist at all levels of an organization. They are strongly committed to specific programs and are strong managers. They are skilled in gathering support and guiding an idea into reality. The role requires conceptual leadership, strategic planning, and political activism. This role is both necessary and dangerous. They take risks and push limits, which is necessary for a dynamic government, but they also bend rules and sometimes lead policy astray.

Personnel Administration: Staffing and Training The Agency

An important task in the management of any enterprise, private or public, is the recruiting, selecting, promoting, and terminating of personnel and employee training.


Once jobs have been created, the recruitment starts, i.e. finding people to fill those jobs. Public administration in the United States has come a long way from the time of Andrew Jackson, when, in the popular view, government jobs could be performed by any individuals (or at least any men) with normal intelligence. Under Jackson and his successors, frequent rotation on office was encouraged; no particular prior training or experience was necessary for most jobs. Merit systems were designed for the most part to keep out the grossly incompetent, not to attract the highly qualified.

Gradually, the pattern changed. The government began attracting especially competent applicants. Openings were more highly publicized, recruiting visits were made to college and university campuses, and wages were made more nearly competitive with those in the private sector. Active efforts were made to attract individuals who, in earlier times, would have been excluded from public employment because of their ethnic or racial backgrounds or because they were women.

Examining and selecting

Once applications have been received, the next step in the personnel process is examination. The term examination does not refer only to a pencil-and-paper test. Some judgments are made on the basis of an unassembled examination. That is, the application form itself may require sufficient information to permit the assignment of a score based on reported experience and education and on references. Another possibility, especially important for jobs requiring particular skills, is performance examination. Some jobs call for an oral examination, particularly those for which communication skills are especially important. One examination of special importance is the Professional and Administrative Career Examination (PACE).

PACE is intended to select candidates for federal government careers rather than for particular jobs. The personnel agency (e.g. Civil Service Commission) considers the list with the names of the individuals with the highest examination scores from which it chooses the new employee. Considerable discretion is allowed in making the final choice. Following selection, the new employee is likely to serve a probationary period, often six months, during which removal is relatively easy. Personnel managers encourage supervisors to see this as an extension of the testing procedure, but few employees are, in fact, dismissed during this period.


The evaluation of employee performance is a further personnel function. Recently, the trend has been to formalize rating schemes and to regularize feedback to employees. Where possible, objective measures of the work completed are employed. In jobs where this is not possible, supervisors are encouraged to judge performance as accurately as possible using impressionistic techniques. By supplying a continuing record of performance, such evaluation can protect employees from capricious actions of a subjective supervisor.

Continuing education in the public service

Government is deeply involved with the further education and training of the employees. This involvement may range from relatively simple, in-house training sessions – even on-the-job training – to the financing of undergraduate or graduate education. Many universities, in cooperation with government agencies, have developed special programs for public employees, and the courses typically lasting for a week, may be conducted either at a university campus or at an agency site. The Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, established in 1968, operated by the Civil Service Commission, provides managerial training for high-level federal executives. The commission also has regional training centers located throughout the country. Public personnel are also often given leaves for a semester or a year by their agency to pursue a degree at the doctoral level (the Doctor of Public Administration) or to fulfill a master’s program.

Elements And Models Of A Decision-making Process

We all make decisions all the time. Some are small; some will have ramifications throughout our lives. Sometimes we make snap judgments that in retrospect seem wise. Other times we carefully weigh the pros and cons but are betrayed by fate. Often the most important decisions are nondecisions: we put things off, choose to ignore problems, or to avoid situations or people and later discover that inaction has consequences just as important as those resulting from action.

Four processes of decision-making

Whether small or large, short- or long-term, studied or impulsive, decision-making involves four major elements: problem definition, information search, choice, and evaluation. They are not sequential, they occur simultaneously. And it is often difficult to identify when a decision process begins and ends as most important choices are ongoing.

Problem definition

The first step in defining a problem is recognizing that it exists. Then, problems are plentiful; attention is scare. Selecting a problem for attention and placing it on the policy agenda is the most important element in policy making. When a problem is given attention, it gains focus and takes shape. How a problem is defined affects how it is addressed. The problem of the homeless is a good example. The people without home have always been with us. Most often they have been seen as people who because of their own weaknesses could not find work and afford homes.

They were dismissed as drunks and drifters. So defined, the homeless remained a problem in the background – a problem for the Salvation Army, not the government. But as their number grew, we began to take a closer look. We saw individuals discharged from mental institutions, the unemployed whose benefits had expired, and families unable to afford decent home. And we started seeing “the homeless” as people in desperate situations. This change in our perception altered the decision process. Homelessness is now a focus of policy debate.

Information search

When we are only vaguely aware that a problem exists, our first step is often to learn more about it, and this learning is an important step in the decision-making. Acid rain is a good example. First in Europe and then in North America, people noticed that trees were dying, and a few scientists began to ask why. Pollution and changes in climate were explored. Out of this active search for information the problem gained definition: air pollution is killing trees. Then, the solutions were considered. Reducing acid rains requires costly reduction in pollution created in regions often at great distance from the dying trees. Thus, the information defined the nature of the policy-making.

Information has always been central to governing, and governments are primary sponsors of research both in the sciences and humanities. Such research is driven by the interests of scholars and may not have immediate relevance to policy debate. But it may have important policy implications. For example, advances in lasers and genetic engineering influence defense and social policy in ways unanticipated by scientists or their government sponsors.


As problems are defined and information about problems and outcomes is examined, choices emerge. Weighing options and selecting are the most visible decision-making processes. Sometimes choices are difficult and taking decisions is very hard, especially when choices are not clear and their results are unpredictable. Should we negotiate with terrorists? Do we want to save the lives of hostages, as family members prefer, or do we want to eliminate any incentive for future terrorism? The selection process does not necessarily require reasoned judgments; the compromises of group decision-making often produce results that only few individuals prefer; satisfying single interests often means ignoring the interests of others.


Decisions do not end with choices among alternatives. Decision-making involves evaluating the effects and actions. Evaluation may be formal (an official study of the results produced by a new government program) or informal (scanning the news, talking to colleagues). Whether formal or informal, evaluation is another form of information gathering after the choice. The distinction between information search and evaluation is arbitrary. Before decision makers reach conclusions, most try to anticipate outcomes. The most difficult aspect of evaluating choices is establishing the criteria.

The most common criterion is the result – if things turn out well we feel that we made the right choice. But in this case we may confuse good luck with good decision-making (consider the decision to have a surgery: all surgery involves risk, and if a person chooses to take the very slight risk to remove a small tumor and dies during surgery, was the decision wrong?). Results are not universal criteria for the quality of a decision. The evaluation of any decision-making must involve looking at results and processes as well as the situation faced by decision makers.

Models of decision-making

There is no right or wrong way to make decisions. Sometimes cautious deliberation is the best path; at other times risks are required. But scholars speak about two broad categories of models of decision-making: rational and nonrational models.

Rational decisions are choices based on judgment of preferences and outcomes. They are not always turn out best and they do not eliminate the possibility of failure. Sometimes the goal is so important that it is rational to choose an option with little promise of payoff. Opting for experimental surgery is a rational choice over a life of pain.

In nonrational models choices do not result from the deliberate balancing of pros and cons. These models share the assumption that the mix of rules and participants shape choices, and that decisions result from the varying (though not necessarily accidental) mix of ingredients. Most of governmental decisions are within these models. The decision process there is too complex to take into account multiple goals, alternatives and impacts of every alternative; the time required to take a decision is too short; the finances are too thin to provide long researches.

Taken to extremes, rational models reduce human judgment to computation, and nonrational models portray decision outcomes as the result of forces beyond individual control. Both rational and nonrational models of the decision process are products of value-neutral social science. Values enter rational decision models only in the form of preferences, but they are generally defined in terms of self-interest. An emerging view of decision-making places a stronger emphasis on decisions as value statements.


Leadership is the direction and guiding of other participants in the organization. Leadership differs in degree. Transactional leaders exchange rewards for services. They guide subordinates in recognizing and clarifying roles and tasks. They give their subordinates the direction, support, and confidence to fulfill their role expectations. They also help subordinates understand and satisfy their own needs and desires. They encourage better than average performance from their subordinates. They are good managers. Transformational leadership is more dramatic. Transformational leaders change the relationship of the subordinate and the organization. They encourage subordinates to go well beyond their original commitments and expectations. If transactional leaders expect diligence, transformational leaders foster devotion. These leaders have the ability to reach the souls of others to raise human consciousness. They raise the level of awareness and encourage people to look beyond their self-interest. Both forms of leadership are important.

When people in positions of authority encourage subordinates to believe that their work is important – not merely a fair exchange of pay for work – motivation, commitment, and performance surpass routine expectations. Leadership is required for major changes and new directions, and without leadership government easily stagnates. When things go well or poorly we credit or blame the leader. We look for leadership in candidates for high office. But can we determine which job candidates are “natural born” leaders? Can we train employees so that they develop the required personality characteristics to become effective leaders? Over many years, investigators have hoped to identify leadership traits. It is extremely difficult to know precisely what traits such diverse political leaders as Napoleon Bonaparte, Luther King, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Indira Ghandi, and Adolf Hitler shared in common.

Yet many researches have attempted to identify universal characteristics of leadership and the following classification of the leadership traits is suggested:

  1. capacity (intelligence, verbal facility, originality, judgment);
  2. achievement (scholarship, knowledge, athletic accomplishments);
  3. responsibility (dependability, initiative, persistence, aggressiveness, self-confidence, desire to excel);
  4. participation (activity, sociability, cooperation, adaptability, humor);
  5. status (socioeconomic position, popularity).

Yet this list is not very helpful. Particular traits are neither necessary nor sufficient to become a leader. There are brilliant thinkers and talkers who are not leaders, and there are people who are not very intelligent and not blessed with verbal facility who are obvious leaders. The holding of a degree does not say enough of the holder and whether he would fit into a particular situation. In some situations the manager’s superior education may be even resented by less well educated organization members. It is obvious that some managers are better leaders than others, and if psychological traits do not explain the variations, what is the explanation? Some investigators emphasize the situational character of leadership.

The ingredients of this parameter of leadership are the following:

  • status, or position power – the degree to which the leader is enabled to get the group members to comply with and accept his or her leadership (but leadership should not be confused with high position – holding high office does not guarantee impact; despite the leader’s formal power, he or she did not always get from subordinates the performance that was desired);
  • leader-member relations – acceptance of the leader by members and their loyalty to him or her;
  • task-structure – the degree to which the jobs of the followers are well defined;
  • ability to recognize the most critical needs for organization members at the moment (physiological needs for food, sleep, etc. or safety needs for freedom from fear, for security and stability; needs for love, friends and contact; esteem needs for self-respect and the respect of others or needs for self-actualization, for achieving one’s potential). Defining leadership is a very difficult task but rejecting the study of leadership would impoverish our understanding of governing.
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Defining Public Administration. (2016, May 05). Retrieved from

Defining Public Administration
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