Academic journal article The Public Manager

Managing in the Public Sector: How Do Public-Sector Challenges Differ from Those in the Private Sector, and What Professional Skill Sets Are Needed to Provide Effective Solutions?

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Managing in the Public Sector: How Do Public-Sector Challenges Differ from Those in the Private Sector, and What Professional Skill Sets Are Needed to Provide Effective Solutions?

Article excerpt

Thank you so much for the honor of delivering a lecture that has featured so many of my personal role models. And thank you Howard [Balano.] for the way you have moved this curriculum into the mainstream of best practices in public administration. When I reviewed the schedule of topics to be covered at this conference, I was very impressed, and struck by the particular focus on measurement of outcomes. It is a truism of management generally that you measure what you want to improve. One of the unique aspects of managing public programs is that success is often more difficult to measure as compared to the private sector, because it is often harder for public managers to identify exactly who their customer is, and then necessarily to generate constructive feedback from that customer. In these remarks, I want to explore today some of the other ways that I have found public sector administration challenges distinct from the management issues that for-profit businesses face.

But first let me say that the Certified Public Manager program and the Texas American Society for Public Administration stand for something I believe: that good government is a teachable, acquired skill set ... and that government is a permanent institution that deserves the best managers it can find, just as much--or perhaps--more than any for-profit business. Just yesterday I was in Austin at a day-long briefing session for Texas 911 network managers, in my appointed capacity at the City of Houston. I am proud to work with those women and men who live and breathe their essential role in the public safety response system. 911 is a cult, a good cult that I am proud to be part of. Are there any 911'ers here?

Government and Politics

During that briefing we spent some time--as you all must--discussing the public sector manager's relationship with politics present and politics future.

There are many who confuse government with politics. Let's fix that right here at the beginning. Simply stated, government is about what we have in common; politics is about what divides us. Government is factual, and politics is perception; government is the administration of public affairs; and politics is the manipulation of public opinion. I think that history will note that when the political director for the current administration's campaign operations moved into the White House as a senior policy director for government, an important, painful lesson was learned by all of us about the dangers of mistaking the art of governance for a subset or an extension of political expertise.

Now we all know that in a democracy you can't fully divorce government from politics, because we have this constant form of revolution at the ballot box called elections. Remember what Churchill said, "... democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." George Bernard Shaw too looked through that same prism and declared that, "Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve."

On a cheerier note, the CPM program and ASPA stand for the idea that while elections come and go, the orderly and professional administration of the public's business is a sacred continuum. Just as peer review in medicine and professional engineering societies promulgate standards in those professions, the ASPA is the vehicle that disseminates best practices in government. Those best practices are sometimes frustrated in public affairs for several reasons.

Influence of Amateurs

First is the influence of amateurs. In most professions you need credentials or specific experience in order to be relevant or impactful. Not so in government. You can make a bunch of money and decide that you are going to go get yourself elected, and .x everything overnight through force of your singular brilliance. It deserves to be said that useful innovation in many things does come from amateurs, because they are not restricted in their thinking by traditional paradigms, so I'm not saying that the influence of amateurs is always a bad thing. …

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