To some, the difference between public administration and private management only lies in definition. From the onset, it would be prudent to point out that while there is some overlap between public administration and private management, the two are largely distinct on multiple fronts. In the first part of this text, I will demonstrate that the two discipline fundamentally differ on multiple aspects. In the second part of the text, I will assess the implications (for the public administrator) of the differences between the two disciplines in the realms of decision making, human resource management, as well as accountability.
To begin with, and perhaps most fundamentally, the two disciplines differ in terms of definition. According to Waldo (as cited in Khan, 2008), public administration could be conceptualized in terms of “the organization and management of men and materials to achieve the purpose of the government” (p. 3). On the other hand, as the author further points out, private management could simply be defined as the organization as well as management of private business enterprises.
2. Goals and Objectives
The motives and scope of public administration and private management differ significantly. According to Milakovich and Gordon (2013), the overall motive of public administration is the provision of essential services to the general public. Thus, the key mandate of public administration is the promotion of public good. Public administration could therefore be linked to the larger political process. Private management is apolitical. This effectively means that private management is largely concerned with the advancement of activities of an economic nature with the overall objective being the maximization of shareholder wealth (or maximization of stakeholder wellbeing). This essentially means that it does not involve itself with public governance issues.
Third, the two discipline differ when it comes to accountability. It is important to note that as Horn (1995) points out, accountability to the general public could be deemed the primary basis of public administration. This effectively means that those in power are ‘answerable’ to the general public. The public could, thus be seen as the ‘boss’ in this setting. Public accountability could, for instance, be explained in the manner in which funds are utilized in public administration. Indeed, as Horn (1995) observes, “the government is accountable to the citizens for the manner in which it manages and uses public funds” (p. 139). On the other hand, in private management, accountability happens to be to certain clearly identified stakeholders (Rabin, 2003). The said stakeholders could be inclusive of, but they are not…– in which case decisions are firmly rooted in management theory. A public administrator’s driving force should, therefore, be the promotion of the general public good. While the public administrator could still apply certain management theories and concepts in the execution of his roles, he is largely beholden to the overall agenda of the government of the day and, thus, has to ensure that the decisions he makes seek to advance the said agenda.
As it has been pointed out elsewhere in this text, the public administrator’s main role is the further advancement of the wellbeing of the public. It therefore follows that a public administrator is accountable to the general public and must not seek to derive an unfair benefit from his position or advance an agenda that would essentially hurt or be against the interests of the general public. He ought to be guided by the relevant principles of good governance and ensure that, amongst other things, public funds are properly deployed and utilized. The table below summarizes the implications highlighted above:
Public administrators should rely on techniques such as persuasion so as to advance certain agendas
A public administrator’s driving force should be the promotion of the general public good
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