How to Become a Public Administrator

Public administrators are involved in the public sector, overseeing federal, state and local agencies to produce public policies and coordinate public programs. They direct the efforts of public employees to manage operations for governmental agencies, public sector organizations and nonprofits. Often, administrators advise policymakers such as elected officials on how to formulate and achieve public policy objectives. They can work in government agencies and academic, healthcare and private sector settings.

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Why Study Public Administration?

A career in public administration often reflects a deep commitment to one's community and a desire to contribute to its improvement. Public administrators can have a meaningful impact in their area of involvement, shaping policies that influence the community. Administrators are often the public face of the government or an agency, interfacing with constituent groups.

A career in public administration is built on producing public policies and coordinating public programs at the local, state and national levels. An administrator coordinates the efforts of government employees to create and implement public policy objectives. This is why it's often referred to as a career in "public service." They plan, implement and communicate policies in civic organizations and their communities. Additionally, they may manage competing party priorities to advance decision-making.

If you want to become a certified public administrator, studying public administration can prepare you for various opportunities. As a public administrator, you could be involved in management, human resources, communications, budgeting and finance, law, data analysis, or operations. Depending on the circumstances, public administration jobs could include all those areas and more. 

A public administration degree can also prepare you for a private-sector career. Lobbyists, educational groups, public relations agencies and others value a background in knowing how public policies are created and implemented. As you gain work experience, you may even have advancement opportunities in the public or private sector.

It’s worth noting that, while the fields are similar, there is a difference between public administration and public management. Administrators develop public policies and programs, while managers execute those policies. In other words, administration is the "why," while management is the "how" of public service. A Master of Public Administration degree covers both areas, so students are prepared for roles in either realm.

What Is a Certified Public Administrator?

A certified public administrator has earned the Certified Public Manager (CPM) designation from the National Certified Public Manager Consortium (NCPMC). This nationally accredited program is open to both managers and administrators in federal, state and local governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations. The accreditation is designed to improve the performance of public sector managers/administrators and the organizational performance of state, local and federal governments, according to the NCPMC.

There is one accredited CPM program per state or country. The curriculum must consist of 300 hours of structured learning. Some programs incorporate a project for students to demonstrate their knowledge.

 According to the NCPMC, the CPM curriculum highlights seven competencies:

  • Personal and organizational integrity
  • Managing work
  • Leading people
  • Developing self
  • Systemic integration
  • Public service focus
  • Change leadership

Those who earn the CPM designation are also eligible to become members of the American Academy of Certified Public Managers. The program is open to administrators and managers who meet the enrollment requirements.

Public Administration Education Requirements

To become a certified public administrator, you typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. However, your degree doesn’t necessarily need to be in public administration. If you eventually seek an advanced position, a master’s degree may be required.

4 Steps to Becoming a Certified Public Administrator

While each person’s career path varies, below are four common steps you can follow to become a certified public administrator. Note that certification requirements vary by state.

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum credential for a public administration career. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes this as a typical requirement for administrative services managers. However, your degree doesn't necessarily have to be in public administration, political science or a related area of specialization. Years of civil service experience could substitute for educational preparation. 

2. Gain Work and Community Experience

Real-world experience, from undergraduate internships to early professional experience, is valuable. Internships can lead to full-time jobs after graduation. Becoming involved in the community through volunteer work and other avenues also creates relationships that can be valuable in advancing your career as a government administrator. 

3. Consider a Master’s Degree

A government degree or a master's degree may be required for advanced positions. Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree programs make it convenient for working professionals to continue their education. In deciding whether a master's in public administration is worth it, understand that this degree can help cultivate leadership and management skills, as well as data and policy analysis skills to plan and manage complex public issues. During an MPA program, you can develop an understanding of the intersection of law, public policy and government and how it relates to developing and implementing systems and regulations.

4. Complete Public Administration Certification

To become a certified public administrator or certified public manager, you’ll need to extend your education to certifications by getting your Certified Professional Manager credential through the NCPMC. There are different CPM programs in each state that meet the NCPMC’s requirements. Visit the NCPMC’s website to find a CPM program in your state.

Each CPM program will have at least 300 hours of learning activities and a capstone project. Topics may include financial management, budget planning, labor laws, planning dynamics, human resources and risk management. Depending on the program, you also may need to complete job-related projects, attend executive seminars, develop an individual professional development plan or pass an exam.

Other possible government administrator certifications include the Certified Public Works Professional certification from the American Public Works Association and the Certified Public Finance Officer credential from the Government Finance Officers Association. 

7 Skills Public and Government Administrators Use Every Day

Public administration is a fast-paced career that requires a variety of skills for success. Below are seven skills government administrators can expect to use.

1. Communication

Perhaps the most critical role of an administrator is communication. They deal with multiple constituencies, internally and externally, and must be good listeners, in addition to strong communicators. Communicating with individuals and communities to understand their priorities and how they impact public and government activities is an important part of being a government administrator.

2. Financial Management

Administrators must follow their organization's policies on managing finances, including procurement, disbursement and budgeting. They may help formulate policies to ensure that funds are managed according to ethical accounting principles and applicable laws and regulations.

3. Leadership

Government administrators work with many groups and individuals to accomplish policy objectives. They must create a unity of purpose and guide resources to deal with issues that affect a specific city, town or district even when they face political interference.

4. Management

Government and nonprofit jobs span various departments and issues, and administrators balance competing demands and priorities to accomplish their objectives. They often work across multiple groups to keep projects moving forward. Public administrators must also manage the growing demand for many services against shrinking budgets.

5. Problem-Solving

Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned. A city works administrator may have to deal with a water main break. A county budget analyst may spot a funding shortfall for a popular community program. Perhaps there's a conflict about a planning zoning variance. Administrators must be able to tackle problems and identify solutions.

6. Public Policy Knowledge

It’s helpful for a public administrator to be knowledgeable in their particular field and understand how it interacts with other departments and groups. Laws and regulations are part of that knowledge, as are financial and human resources procedures. A county or city clerk should also know the requirements and procedures outlined in the codes and regulations.

7. Strategic Planning

In addition to day-to-day problem-solving, a successful administrator typically has to plan ahead. Having a long-term vision is important. They should also be able to deal with budget changes, community priorities and programming shifts that could require reallocating funding and resources. 

Why Become a Public or Government Administrator?

Public and government administrators are commonly motivated by a desire to serve their communities. They can be driven by intrinsic rewards instead of material ones. They may be committed to an organization's culture and values and may stay in a job despite being underpaid.

The NCPMC also lists these benefits of becoming a certified public manager:

  • Strengthen your leadership skills 
  • Heighten your personal awareness
  • Expand your professional network within governmental organizations
  • Gain actionable insights you can apply in your daily life

The complexity of public sector work can be intriguing as well. Administrators deal with multiple stakeholders whose opinions can influence the project. For instance, community residents may have differing views on a city's plan to site low-income housing in specific neighborhoods. The administrator must listen to the concerns of the stakeholders, incorporate feedback and keep the project moving toward completion. 

Public Administration Salary and Career Outlook

While the BLS doesn’t specifically report on public administration careers, it does provide job data for administrative services managers. According to the BLS, employment of administrative services managers is expected to increase 7% from 2018 to 2028. Their 2019 median salary was $96,940, ranging from $55,210 (for the lowest 10%) to $166,330 (for the highest 10%).

Salaries will vary by location, education and experience. For example, the BLS reports that the median weekly earnings of those with a master’s degree exceeded that of those with a bachelor’s degree in 2019. If you want to pursue a master’s in public administration, possible MPA careers to consider include nonprofit management, government work, private sector work, education administration and healthcare administration. 

Sponsored

Jumpstart Your Career in the Public Sector, Explore Online MPA Programs:

Earn an EMPA online from Syracuse's top-ranked Maxwell School

  • GRE scores not required
  • Complete in as few as 15 months
  • #1 Ranked Best Public Affairs School by U.S. News & World Report for 20221

1U.S. News & World Report, 2022 Best Public Affairs Schools (Accessed April 2021)

Discover Syracuse's EMPA Program

Enroll in UNC-Chapel Hill's highly ranked MPA online program

  • GRE waivers are available
  • Complete in as few as 18 months
  • Choose from five focus areas
Learn more about MPA@UNC

 

Last Updated August 2020