The Public Administrator Challenge: The Agency and Power

It is the time of year for winter graduation at many higher education institutions; a transition from student to alumni. It is also a time for graduates to begin employment, continue with a current position, and become agency leaders. Agency leaders have challenges when looking at the public sector; challenges to personal and professional values as public administration is practiced in society. The talents of graduates academically prepared for public service will face dilemmas integrating into existing public agency structures, and ensuring accountability.

785graduation_capEinstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The public administrator is an independent thinker having researched to complete academic requirements and looked at the past to gain experience. The experience gained in academia provides a strong foundation of knowledge and ability to see through the posturing, flavor of the month, new and improved, and changes portrayed by various entities in the public or private sector. The current public administrators are prepared to practice the art of leading, being competent, and upholding policy and process to ensure public trust. Through professional competencies, critical thinking, and plain common sense the damage of group-think will yield to increased confidence in our public agencies.

Garth Morgan wrote Images of an Organization, a 520 page text recommended as essential reading for all in the profession of public administration. The highlights are Morgan’s description of eight metaphors for organizations. Although the text was written some time ago, the metaphors stand the test of time. The metaphors provided by Morgan include the organization a machine; an organism; a brain; a culture; a political system; an instrument of oppression; change and flux; and psychic prison. It is easy to look at any public or private entity and observe the application of Morgan’s writing each day in practice throughout the world. The challenge to the public administrator is to move the organization to serve the public and realize:

• Almost all organizations are in one of the 8 metaphors describe by Morgan

• A leadership style is dominate in everyone; an organization has dominate framework – both the leader and organization does not significantly change with time

• The organization cannot change because it has a history and culture. Culture does not change in an organization, only policy, processes, and rules change — creating an illusion of change.

• Organizations have a lifecycle and eventually it expands or consolidates. All agencies seem to continue after creation in some form.

Accepting a position as a leader in a public agency (or a private agency) you will have leadercertain power. Always remember the powers are all given to you by others. The five basic levels of power are legitimate, coercive, and reward, given to you based upon your position, and expert and reverent power is given to you by others or how others view you. Think about these levels and how you view power. Power is and can be taken away if misused. There is substantial abuse of power evidenced daily in news articles of corruption, unethical conduct, coercion, and cronyism. If power is viewed as a responsibility, research supports more inclusion of others, better service to others, and a long term successful leader.

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline related “Today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions.”

Consider your future where your talents are used, where you can contribute, where you can learn and grow. Each person devoted to public administration has a foundation through academic preparation of professional competencies, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and research. Public administration is no different than many other professions; it is a practice. A good leader is defined by each individual differently and the leader needs to decide how he or she will lead and how to be led. Every person has to be accountable to someone. Your decision on the organization you associate can be a worthy endeavor or waste of time. To progress a public agency each leader needs to decide to stand up, do the right thing, be ethical, and by all means accept responsibility.


Dr. Wayne Brock is a consultant, researcher, author, speaker, and presenter of collaboration and collaborative leadership He is the founder of The Interdisciplinary Collaborative Leadership Institute and can be reached at

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