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The principles that power public administration

Every sector, public and private, can be seen to have a set of fundamental principles at its heart. Working with these in mind can provide a steer for best practice; a code that should permeate every professional action.

As a sector that prioritises the needs of others, the values at the core of public administration are especially important. To achieve the best outcomes for citizens in the public-sector, these are the standards you should strive to exemplify.

1) Professionalism

Public-sector professionalism means recognising the significance of what you are working towards. As well as the responsibility of achieving positive change for those who need it most, public servants are entrusted with precious funds, personal information and the duty to use these wisely and without bias.

Professionalism as a public servant also involves taking a calm, measured - yet human - approach at all times, even when challenges stack up. When citizens rely on those working in public-sector organisations to represent them, empathy delivered with focus and a level of composure is key.   

2) Ethics

Empathy has an important role to play too. A keen ethical foundation – one based on fairness and integrity - will help you keep the interests of others at the centre of professional efforts.

Ever-shrinking resources and pressure to do more with less can mean tough choices for those working in the public-sector, but a wider social responsibility at the forefront of their mind can help guide strategies forward.

Recommended read: Placing ethics at the heart of public sector leadership

3) Leadership

Although not every public servant can fulfil an official leadership position, all public servants can and should embody the principle of leadership. Within the public-sector, there has been a move away from the idea of individual leaders, in favour of collaborative management techniques that combine the strengths of many.

“Hero leaders aren’t the answer. Rather than emphasising the charisma and control of an individual, new approaches focus on leadership as dispersed throughout the organisation,” (Mangan & Needham¹, 2014).

Furthermore, it is up to public-sector professionals to lead on behalf of those who often lack the opportunity to make their voices heard in wider society. This means involving them in policy formation wherever possible.

Recommended read: Three tips for effective leadership in the public-sector

4) Accountability

Accountability requires taking ownership of your actions and being ready to justify them to stakeholders and citizens alike. Not every decision will yield the exact results you hope for, but in the interests of rectifying issues as they occur, it is essential that those directly affected can trace and validate the thinking behind them.

This is particularly important when the complex structures within and between public-sector organisations threaten to obscure ‘who’ is responsible for ‘what’. Perpetual blame-shifting damages public trust, so it is up to each and every public-sector professional to be accountable for their actions.

Recommended read: The key to good governance: INLOGOV explains ‘accountability’

5) Transparency

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has given citizens more rights to their personal data than ever before. As holders and processors of this kind of information, public-sector organisations must ensure that they are transparent about how data will be used, that citizens can access information deemed public by law and that data security is a top priority.

Transparency in the public-sector extends beyond data usage. Public servants should conduct themselves with a sense of openness in all they do, and have an awareness that transparent practices maintain credibility of the sector as a whole.

Developing your understanding and appreciation of these principles can help you affect positive change in your sphere. To find out more about how the Online Masters of Public Administration can empower you to work towards better public services, please download our brochure.


¹ NEEDHAM, C. & MANGAN, C. (2014) The 21st Century Public Servant. University of Birmingham [online] Available at: <https://21stcenturypublicservant.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/21-century-report-281014.pdf> [Accessed 09.11.2018]

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