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Managing in the Black: Understanding Structure, Culture, and Craft

By Caudle, Sharon L. | The Public Manager, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Managing in the Black: Understanding Structure, Culture, and Craft


Caudle, Sharon L., The Public Manager


Carolyn J. Hill and Laurence E. Lynn, Jr., Public Management: A Three-Dimensional Approach (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2009)

Public Management: A Three-Dimensional Approach provides a surprisingly fresh approach for introductory public management graduate-level courses. In the book's preface, the authors make clear why they wrote this book for graduate public affairs management education: effective public management and competent public managers are both needed to achieve public policy goals and to maintain the legitimacy of public administration.

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In their view, public sector management cannot be successful unless managers understand the three dimensions of public management: structure, culture, and craft. Structure includes specific responsibilities that are formally and lawfully delegated to designated officials and organizations. Culture embraces the norms, values, and standards of conduct that provide those working in organizational units with meaning, purpose, and sources of motivation. Craft includes public managers' personal tools of the trade, such as how to use personal efforts to influence government performance through goal setting, exemplary actions, and leadership.

The authors explain that students armed with an understanding of these three dimensions will be able to develop and present valid arguments in support of their positions as the foundations for responsible public management. The authors' educational approach in the development of public management skills unquestionably centers on critical thinking and its illustration and application through a variety of cases, examples, stories, and comprehensive references from a wide variety of sources.

For educators faced with a large list of possible texts they might adopt, the authors explain how their book differs from the already crowded field. Overall, their focus is on the practice of public management. This is not a new focus in textbooks. However, authors often will say they are primarily concerned with the practitioner and improving public management.

The reality is that other texts spend the bulk of their pages on the history of public management and the author's theoretical preferences arising from their research and grounded in their academic discipline. Short shrift is given to practice opportunities, constraints, and necessary skills in such books. Texts generally have chapters on leadership, budgeting, and organization, but assume a rational approach to public management decision making, with little recognition of the political, social, and economic factors coloring choices.

Focus on Improving Practice

In Public Management, the authors deliver on the promise of practice improvement. Specifically, they emphasize the practical challenges of public management--and not one specific academic field emphasis.

Numerous references and presentation of the work of other researchers constantly inform their own presentation. They further include many factors of human interaction--individual and interpersonal--that affect rational decision-making.

They also use the method of argument when developing critical analytical and rhetorical skills and when applying frameworks and heuristics to particular public management problems.

As anyone who has been a practitioner knows, virtually every day on the job employs this skill, so I found this an important distinction of the book.

The authors also stress the administrative state's architecture and functions as both a source and solutions of management problems. Important topics such as budgeting are melded into the overall presentation of material on the basics, making it easier for students to see their application in iterative public management practice and not as a separate, discrete process.

The text also includes numerous, well-constructed "conceptual boxes" that contain applications of concepts from a variety of sources, ranging from the media to formal reports, illustrations of how human nature is involved in public decision-making, and language from legal documents such as laws and regulations that are part and parcel of public management practice.

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