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Preparation for Public Administration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Dennis Martino
January 19, 2024

Many ASPA members are academics; many have experience as practitioners, while some went to graduate school and earned an MPA or a doctorate in public administration and were hired into academic positions. This begs the question: Who gets hired or promoted to jobs in the public sector?

We (employers) hire and promote subject matter experts to administrative positions. Perhaps the clearest examples are at the state level. Health and human service agencies that are promoting professional employees to be administrators select talented social workers or business managers to become public administrators in their agencies. Departments of transportation promote civil engineers. Agencies that collect taxes promote accountants. As brilliant and intuitive as these promoted people are, they may have no real background in public administration as skilled practitioners. Some thrive while others survive.

How can public entities prepare incredibly talented subject matter experts to perform tasks like overseeing policy issues, navigating the intricacies of the political backdrop and making decisions in times of change?

In 1976, the State of Georgia created the first Certified Public Manager (CPM) Program by establishing the American Academy of Certified Public Manager. From that effort sprang the National Consortium of Certified Public Managers, the accrediting body for CPM programs across the country. The accreditation process is modeled after the regional college and university accrediting process: Each program must address seven competencies and provide a minimum of 300 hours of training which must include a final capstone project.

The curriculum aims to address the below competencies as listed by the Consortium. The thrust of these programs is to address the need to educate and train many talented subject matter experts in the basics of public management and administration. As a former CPM program director, I had students who were lawyers, school administrators and even several medical doctors. The competencies were helpful and applicable to all of them.

Personal and Organizational Integrity 

Increasing awareness, building skills and modeling behaviors related to identifying potential ethical problems and conflicts of interest, appropriate workplace behavior and legal and policy compliance. 

Managing Work 

Meeting organizational goals through effective planning, prioritizing, organizing and aligning human, financial, material and information resources. Empowering others by delegating clear job expectations, providing meaningful feedback and coaching, creating a motivational environment and measuring performance. Monitoring workloads and documenting performance. Dealing effectively with performance problems. 

Leading People 

Inspiring others to positive action through a clear vision promotes a diverse workforce. Encouraging and facilitating cooperation, pride, trust and group identity; fostering commitment and team spirit. Articulating a vision, ideas and facts in a clear and organized way; effectively managing emotions and impulses. 

Developing Self 

Demonstrating commitment to continuous learning, self-awareness and individual performance planning through feedback, study and analysis. 

Systemic Integration 

Approaching planning, decisionmaking and implementation from an enterprise perspective; understanding internal and external relationships that impact the organization. 

Public Service Focus 

Delivering superior services to the public and internal and external recipients; including customer/client identification, expectations and needs and developing and implementing paradigms, processes and procedures that exude a positive spirit and climate; demonstrating agency and personal commitment to quality service. 

Change Leadership 

Acting as a change agent; initiating and supporting change within the organization by implementing strategies to help others adapt to changes in the work environment, including personal reactions to change; emphasizing and fostering creativity and innovation; being proactive.

There are approximately 40 accredited programs across the county. Of these, about 65 percent are sponsored and operated by universities. The remainder are sponsored by state and municipal government agencies. Each of these programs serves a variety of public employees engaged in virtually every agency of state and local government. Programs like these get us to a place where we can promote talented subject matter experts and enhance their skills in public administration.

Author: Dennis Martino is the former director of the New Hampshire Bureau of Education and Training. He has taught organizational leadership and public administration courses at the graduate level at several colleges. Prior to his academic work, he worked in labor relations as a union advocate and contract negotiator. Martino is an NOHS educator and fellow of the National CPM Consortium. He can be reached at [email protected]

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