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Four essential qualities of a 21st century public servant

 |  3 Min Read

The public sector is an increasingly challenging place to work – facing a climate of uncertain resources and shifting legislation. Today’s public servants must have an openness to learn, a desire to help others, an ability to engage people and an understanding of commercialism in the context of the public sector. If you’re looking to make a positive impact in public services, these are the attributes you need to succeed:

1. An openness to learn

It may sound obvious, but one of the most important qualities for a public servant is to have an enthusiasm and thirst for new information.

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.

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, so those working as public servants should have a strong desire to work on behalf of others.Take, for example, the feedback from a recent graduate who works full-time as an MP:

All the courses were very useful. I found, for example, the Managing Information course was able to reinforce the importance of technology, how to use it to make a difference, and use it in a political environment. It was good for me and what I’m doing in public service as a politician,” explains Colin Fagan, who graduated in 2018 after studying the programme 100% online from Jamaica.

3. An ability to engage others

Whether you want to make a difference in the public sector as a nurse, judge, teacher or anything else, you must be ready to include and engage others as part of your work.

Think beyond your own organisational perspective and look at things from the viewpoint of others, such as service users, voluntary organisations providing services and other contractors. In the UK, Cornwall Council’s programme of devolution to parish and town councils is a good example of demonstrating community engagement1.

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

4. An understanding of commercialisation

Given the recent rise in the commercialisation of public services, there is 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 taxpayers or increase investment.

Will this undermine some of the attributes listed above?

As someone with ambitions to make a difference in the public sector, and to positively impact people’s lives as a public servant, you may wonder whether a module focused on commercialism undermines the other attributes we’ve listed. However, the content only adds to the existing information students receive while studying.

If you fit some of the qualities listed above and have an interest in working as a public servant, find out how the Online Masters of Public Administration could add value to your skillset. 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: <> [Accessed 22.11.2017]

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