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Four essential qualities of a 21st century public servant

Today’s public servants face a climate of uncertain resources and shifting legislation. 

Senior Teaching Fellow, Helen Hurford-Dawson, believes that demonstrating the following attributes will make for successful 21st century public servants and, as a result, make a positive impact on people’s lives:

  • An openness to learn
  • A desire to help others through public administration
  • An ability to engage others
  • An understanding of commercialization

1) An openness to learn

It may sound obvious, but Helen asserts that one of the most important qualities is an enthusiasm and thirst for new information. 

“For me, the most important quality is an openness to learn” she explains. 

“We know that knowledge and the half-life of knowledge (the length of time that knowledge stays active and accurate) is diminishing. To be successful, students need to be adept at learning and understand that what they learn now may not be the same in two or three years time - so they need to keep ahead of the curve.”

Recommended read: Meet our faculty for Public Administration

Therefore, to make a positive difference, public sector professionals should seek to constantly refresh their understanding and learn to adapt to change. 

2) A desire to help others through public administration

The public sector exists to bring services to people and it should go without saying that those working in the field should have a strong desire to work on behalf of others: 

“I have yet to meet students and professionals working in the public sector who don’t possess this quality,” adds Helen.

The feedback we receive from current students echos this point. Read one student’s account which explains why she decided to study an Online Masters of Public Administration with us.

3) An ability to engage others

Whether you choose to be a public servant within the public service as a nurse, a judge, or a teacher; managers, peers, citizens or service consumers, public sector professionals must want to include and engage others.

“We need people who are not just thinking of their own narrow organisational perspective, but are willing to look at things from the viewpoint of others, such as service users, voluntary organisations providing services and other contractors,” explains Helen.

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In the United Kingdom, Cornwall Council’s programme of devolution to parish and town councils is a good example of demonstrating community engagement¹. 

4) An understanding of commercialisation

Given the recent rise in the commercialisation of public services, Helen has observed a growing demand for public sector operations to be more aligned with the private sector.

The ‘Delivering Services and Outcomes’ module - part of the 100% Online Masters of Public Administration - helps students to scrutinise the potential for commercialisation and create additional revenue streams.

“A number of public sector organisations are moving beyond the notion of outsourcing and partnering; they are looking to generate income in order to relieve the burden on tax payers or increase investment,” Helen explains.

“As such, we’re developing a new module on commercialisation which covers exactly how you might want to take your service into a trading income situation.”

Will this undermine some of the attributes listed above? 

“There are some big ethical and governance questions which the new module will cover - issues of accountability for tax payers of public services etcetera. It’ll be a really informative addition to the programme,” concludes Helen.

Do you fit some of the qualities listed above, have an interest in working as a public servant, or are you simply keen to learn more about the civil service? To find out if our Online Masters of Public Administration could add value to your skillset, please fill out our ‘request for information’ form and a member of our Admissions Team will be in touch.

1. UNKNOWN (2016) Leveraging partnerships and learning from devolution to engage communities. Local Government Association [online] Available at: <https://local.gov.uk/leveraging-partnerships-and-learning-devolution-engage-communities> [Accessed 22.11.2017]

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