People or Machines: Choosing Your Brand of Public Administration Career

Public administration is a field that enables people to do a lot of good, but not everyone is wired with the same inclinations or talents. Some people love to work with others and some would prefer to avoid other people at any cost. The good news is that world of government and NGO’s is as wide open as the private sector, and there are needs for all types. These differing roles serve very different purposes but are all vital; no one walks away without changing the world. Here are a few examples:

Systems Analyst

The primary role that a tech-oriented administrator would be asked to fill is that of the systems analyst. There’s a lot of overlap between how analysts work in government and how they work in the private sector. They spend their time monitoring the existing computer networks within an organization, and they talk with programmers to ensure that each new project stays on track. They interview employees in other parts of the organization to determine their needs and then design programs that can meet them.

Working with technology eliminates much of the need for dealing with others, but strong social skills are still incredibly important. The bulk of a system administrator’s job involves coding and spread sheets, but if he can’t get other people on board with a project then bigger undertakings inevitably fail. Furthermore, he has to be able to set the standard and provide motivation for the people under him. He needs to excel at team leadership or he will lose his post. This is, however, a relatively small part of the job compared to what other public administrators do, and it’s also not a position that puts someone in the limelight to the same extent as fulfilling more people oriented roles. It’s the perfect choice for someone who wants to be the power behind the throne instead of the one sitting on it.

Administrative Coordinator

There are very few jobs that are as people centric as administrative coordinators. They are the people who talk to everyone in order to convey a vision that everyone will follow. They study key employees and tailor their plans according to the strengths of those within the organization, and they choose managers who they can delegate key tasks to. It’s akin to being the conductor at a symphony; each musical note represents a person or an idea, and coordinators arrange everything in perfect harmony so that when the pressure is on and an organization needs to deliver the result is superb. They also bear most of the responsibility when something goes wrong, and that makes it a poor position for anyone who doesn’t perform well under social pressures.

Policy Analyst

Policy analysts consider existing and proposed policies and how they effect people. While a lot of this work can be done in solitude, a policy analyst needs to have a deep understanding of people and communities in order to be able to determine the impact of new policy changes. Policy analysts also need to be able to read the political climate, and may be recommending not just pure policy but also how to go about getting political support for a given policy – after all, public administration agencies work under the auspices of the executive and legislative branches of their jurisdiction.

It’s important to consider not only your experience and technical skills, but your personal strengths and weaknesses as well. Public administration is a very large field that has a need for all types of personalities. By really thinking about what you are good at (and what you’re not so good at), you can find the right place for you.

About the Author:

Beth Fillnow writes about government and non-profit careers. Interested in management in the non-profit or public sector? An MPA might help. Several schools offer MPA programs, including University of San Francisco and Northwestern University.

Photo by: yourdon

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