Managing in Public Sector Organizations

Exploring the Challenges

Red tape is a public sector challenge.

© iStockphoto/hatman12

Imagine doing a job with a multi-million dollar budget, employing thousands of staff, and making a huge difference to your community and even the nation. These are some of the reasons many people seek out a career in the public sector.

However, there are also some huge challenges that public sector managers have to face. For instance, public sector staffing budgets are usually set so far in advance that there's no flexibility to reward outstanding performance with pay bonuses.

Urgently needed changes may have to wait for approval by multiple committees and levels of management. You may have to meet performance targets that are based on political promises – such as reduced waiting times for certain services – and these may conflict with the real needs of the people you serve.

If you work in the public sector – and, especially, if you've recently moved from the private sector – how do you overcome the unique challenges? In this article, we identify the major differences between managing in the public sector and managing in the private sector, and we show you what skills you'll need to succeed in the public arena.

Understanding the Public Sector Environment

What exactly is the public sector? In short, this term covers the services and facilities that the government delivers to the public, and for the public good. It involves things like national parks, public works, taxation, national health agencies, education, defense, and other government projects and agencies.

Unlike private companies, the purpose of the public sector is not to make money. Instead, it exists to serve the needs of citizens, who pay for the services through taxation. This important difference underlies many of the challenges the public sector faces.

Unique Public Sector Challenges

The very nature of the public sector creates unique challenges for public sector managers. Here are some of the key issues they face:

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