Public Administration and Its Role


Public administration plays a critical role in determining how many developmental goals a country can achieve. National goals can only be achieved to a level in which public administration is willing to promote them. Governance capacity and quality of collective responsibility count in developing or achieving different objectives for a nation. Political democracy, human rights assurance, legitimacy in governance and many other factors play an important role in deciding the type of administration present in a region.

There has to be willingness to take action and act on issues as they arise. Public administrators have to be ready to make decisions when called upon to by situations which arise. Thomas Watson once said:

I never varied from the managerial rule that the worst possible thing we can do would be to lie dead in the water with any problems. Solve it, solve it quickly, solve it right or wrong. If you solve it wrong, it would come back and slap you in the face and then you could solve it right. Doing nothing is a comfortable alternative because it is without an immediate risk. But an absolutely fatal way to manage. (Belden 13).

Emphasis for a decision and action oriented public administration could not be put in a better way than in Watson’s words.

Principles of public administration

Positive public administration is very fundamental for a country’s educational, health care, transportation, environmental development, law enforcement and community development among many other areas of concern (Denhardt and Janet 11). In the absence of a proper public administration, good ideas and good will cannot be converted to practical and tangible results. Development in a country or company is solely dependent on the administration’s willingness to initiate and foresee systems that allow it. Public administration plays an important role in ensuring that the general population’s needs and rights are taken care of.

Public administration principles make the process, which is otherwise very complex, easy to and more practical. Reliability is the first principle of public administration. In order for a government to give satisfactory results to citizens, they must first prove to the population that they can be trusted to make decisions and take appropriate measures when they are required to do so. Like Watson points out, doing nothing is a less risky option but a very fatal method of administration. Having an indecisive administration is as bad as having none. Reliability must be supported by predictability, which includes putting in place well defined procedures for handling different matters. This way, when a situation arises, there will be a foundation in which to start from and a population knows what to expect.

Openness is an important principle of public administration. It is backed up by transparency and involves governing resources in a way which citizens understand how it is done. Transparency and openness call for involvement of the public in different decision making processes and procedures. The public administration must also be able to justify any actions they pursue and ensure that the outcome favors the public. Wrong decisions like Watson puts it will come back to haunt a nation and the administration must put this into consideration.

Effectiveness is a fundamental principle in public administration. Together with efficiency, this principle ensures that right decisions are made. It is the public administration’s responsibility to ensure that resources at their disposal are used effectively. Wrong decisions yield wastage and disorganized schedules for other activities, since they have to be revisited later. Right decisions also save the public a lot of funds which would have been used if a process has to be repeated.

Accountability is a key consideration when deciding on whether the public administration is functional or not. It is geared towards minimum misconduct and public satisfaction. Accountability enhances better performance and ensures caution when at work since one has to be accountable for every decision they make. Accountability also calls for excellence at work and making right decisions. As opposed to Watson’s sentiments of making decisions whether wrong or right, accountability calls for delivering results which will be satisfactory during auditing of processes and progress.

Situational leadership theory

“The situational theory argues that there is no single best style of leadership and effective leadership is one which adapts maturity (Hersey, Ken and Dewey 21). Maturity in leadership entails the willingness and capacity to have realistic goals, being responsible for one’s assignments and having the relevant experience to perform them. The theory argues that leadership skills vary with the group being led, challenges, task and assignments. In situational leadership theory, Paul Hersey and Ken Blachard, the developers of the theory, categorize leadership into four behavior types (Hersey, Ken and Dewey 21). Type one is telling, where a leader defines roles and responsibilities of their team without considering their opinion. This type of leadership is characterized by one way communication. Type two is selling where a leader provides the support required for his team to buy into his idea and the process. It is characterized by a two-way communication and support. Type three of leadership is participating, characterized by high relationship behavior and shared decision making processes (Hersey, Ken and Dewey 24). The last type is delegating where a leader is fully involved in decision making but the responsibilities are passed on to the rest of the team. The leader’s major responsibility in this type of leadership is assigning duties and monitoring progress.

If Watson’s quote is to come true in public administration or any type of organization, there needs to be well defined styles of leadership at a state level. Today, in a bid to support democracy and transparency, the telling style of leadership has been abandoned to pave way for selling, participating and delegating types of leadership. Decisions are made in consideration of every person’s needs and opinion. Leaders are supposed to provide the necessary socio-emotional support to enable every member of a team perform their duties effectively. The theory defines maturity and points out that it could be a deciding factor on how efficient a leader is going to be. According to the theory, there are four levels of maturity in leadership which are ranked as M1 through M4. Leaders can be ranked according to their level of experience, confidence and responsibility. “The most effective leader, ranked at level M4 is one who is experienced at the task, comfortable with his/her ability and is able and willing to take responsibility for tasks assigned” (Hersey, Ken and Dewey 22).

The situational leadership theory also addresses the issue of developing people and self motivation. Good public administration is one which “develops the competence and commitment of their people so they’re self-motivated rather than dependent on others for direction and guidance” (Hersey, Ken and Dewey 22). A properly motivated team will be highly competent and committed to perform their duties with excellence without having to be under constant supervision. The level of competence and commitment in workers therefore, can be used to judge their level of motivation. Public administration’s commitment to motivating its team can then be easily judged by their performance.

Public policy plays a significant role in ensuring that these principles are put in place. Principles related to structure include defined processes and specific activities on how state power should be used or controlled. It is necessary that auxiliary activities be distinguished from other activities to help identify those activities which can be outsourced and those which can be contracted (Denhardt and Janet 14). Other principles are related to civil service and ensure professionalism is in place. Public officials are obligated to work according to different standards and procedures to ensure consistency in decision making.

Morals, values and ethics are fundamental in making proper decisions. Making wrong and selfish decisions not only costs a nation resources, but could also ruin its reputation. Wrong decisions don’t last for long and will always come back to haunt a nation as Watson mentions. It is therefore important that morals, values and ethics guide decision making to ensure that negative outcomes of decision procedures are avoided.

Power and democracy also dictate how different countries and organizations handle decision making processes. Any nation or organization will definitely have to deal with bringing people with different and complex interests whose search for satisfaction is structured in different mechanisms together. “It is more than the normal push, pull, command and control that goes around offices or a country and is more of action, structures and capacities for the action” (Denhardt and Janet 51). When people are willing and ready to do what is expected of them, then power does not need to do anything to secure its will. When power in a country has to constantly secure its will, then it becomes very hard to establish trust even among citizens in a public.


Decision making is an important part in public administration. Establishing problems, analyzing them and objectively classifying and working on them is a critical role of management at any level, whether at a state or organizational level. Winston argues that decisions need to be made even if they are wrong. Since every decision produces a choice, making the right one is imperative. It is therefore not enough to just make decisions but ensure that enough analysis and consideration is made to ensure the right and fruitful ones are made.

Indecisive is the most fatal way to manage a country or an organization as Witson points out. It means being selective on problems to address and those to neglect, many times neglecting those which are challenging or costly. Management and leadership are however not complete if this happens since they are in put in place to address challenges and make proper decisions on how they should be handled. Watson’s quote brings out the importance of a partnership between leadership, which is more concerned with formulating a vision, and management who are responsible for implementing it, to keep a nation or a company running effectively. Governance capacity and quality of collective responsibility, both which play an important role in achieving different objectives for a nation, will not be of any benefit if leaders cannot make relevant decisions at the right time.

Works cited

Belden, Thomas. The Lengthening Shadow: The Life of Thomas Watson. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970. Print.

Denhardt, Robert and Janet Vinzant. Public Administration: An Action Orientation. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2009. Print.

Hersey, Paul, Ken Blanchard and Dewey Johnson. Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.

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