Leadership in the Public Sector Essay

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Leadership is a challenging endeavor in any sector. In the public sector, however, leadership tends to be particularly more challenging. Public sector leaders often have to work with fewer resources to address increasingly complex challenges. In addition, effective leadership in the public sector is vital for not only driving employee motivation and performance, but also ensuring efficient performance of government agencies and the government in general (McCarthy, 2015). Indeed, leadership is important for effective public governance -- transparency, accountability, planning, efficiency, and so forth (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], 2001). Another challenge stems from the fact that public sector leaders operate within a conundrum of bureaucratic rules, processes, and processes, which affect processes such as communication, delegation, and teamwork (Teelken, Ferlie & Dent, 2012). In essence, leaders in the public sector face different challenges compared to their counterparts in the private sector, making public sector leadership an especially unique and taxing undertaking. This paper discusses leadership in the public sector. The paper specifically focuses on four themes: leadership characteristics in the public realm; problems and issues that confront contemporary public leaders; the power of communication and delegation to public sector leaders; and the power of collaborative effort and teamwork in the public sector.

Leadership Characteristics in the Public Realm

Owing to the unique nature of the public sector, leaders must have certain characteristics to ensure effective governance. One of the most important skills for a public sector leader is the ability to negotiate (Joyce, 2012). Public sector leaders are required to weigh between different projects with competing priorities against the background of constrained resources. These projects affect or are affected by a wide variety of stakeholders, including the private sector, the public, government agencies, foreign governments, and so on. In such an environment, a public sector leader must be an effective negotiator. The leader must have the ability to bargain, consult, and agree. The need for effective negotiation skills in public sector leadership means that an effective leader is one who can influence others (Teelken, Ferlie & Dent, 2012). Leadership in the public sector is about influencing policy, action, and initiatives that affect constituencies and the larger public. Achieving this requires resources, efforts, and commitment from various quarters, hence the need for influential individuals.

Another important trait public sector leaders must have is the ability to make decisions, especially when under pressure. The public sector is a constantly changing realm -- budgets get trimmed, political orientation changes, policies shift, issues affecting the public become more complex, and so forth (OECD, 2001). Such constant change requires leaders who are resilient -- leaders who can handle pressure, respond to situations appropriately, make tough decisions, and produce results in the midst of an increasingly evolving landscape. A constantly changing public environment also means that public sector leaders must continuously adapt to change.

Ethical behavior is also a crucial trait in public sector leadership. Public sector organizations work for the general public. Whether it is education, healthcare, agriculture, security, defense, or corrections, public sector organizations seek to address problems that face the public. Since addressing these problems requires taxpayer resources, transparency and accountability is crucial. As custodians of public resources, public sector leaders have a responsibility to ensure the resources are utilized in an ethical manner (Dukakis, 2010). Deficiencies in transparency and accountability would mean that resources allocated to address a particular problem are embezzled or misappropriated, which may create detrimental consequences for the public. Ethical behavior also means that public leaders' decisions must prioritize the interests of the public, not private interests.

There are other essential traits that public sector leaders must also have. Public sector leaders must be effective communicators, collaborators, and conflict managers. They must also be good organizers, effective time managers, excellent problem solvers, and have high confidence and drive. Without these traits, a public sector leader may not lead effectively.

Problems and Issues that Confront Contemporary Public Leaders

Effective leadership in the public sector is particularly important given the challenges that face the sector. One challenge that public sector leaders face is the inherent bureaucracy in the sector (Teelken, Ferlie & Dent, 2012). Due to the need for stringent checks and balances, public sector leaders have to grapple with bureaucratic rules, processes, and procedures. Such bureaucracy means that lines of authority, chain of command, and reporting procedures can be cumbersome and time consuming. For public sector leaders, bureaucracy can be challenging as it may often slow decision making.

In addition to bureaucracy, public sector leaders in the contemporary world face even more complex challenges. With growing public sector budgets, public sector leaders are increasingly required to work with leaner budgets or fewer resources (McCarthy, 2015). Compared to a few decades ago, public sector organizations today have more sophisticated challenges to deal with. There have been tremendous changes in the political, social, and economic environments, causing a seismic shift in public priorities. In the US, for instance, there has been reduced spending on defense. Also, workforce downsizings and organizational restructurings have been seen in government agencies in diverse sectors -- from security to health and education. For public sector leaders, working with reduced budgets against the backdrop of ever more complex public issues has become a daunting reality.

Budgetary adjustments in the public sector have in large part been influenced by change. According to Schofield (2008, p. 2), a "relentless pace of change" has been witnessed in the public sector. Political and socioeconomic factors have greatly contributed to this change. For instance, public sector organizations have increasingly adopted practices historically prevalent in the private sector. As an example, the adoption of performance-based management systems in the public has been on the rise, with public sector agencies seeking to achieve greater effectiveness in the achievement of goals and improved efficiency in the allocation of resources. In such an environment, public sector leaders must be initiators and adopters of change. They must have greater ability to deal with and manage change.

Technological changes have also increased the challenges public sector leaders in the contemporary world have to grapple with (Schofield, 2008). Unprecedented technological advancements, majorly in the information technology environment, have without a doubt been experienced in the last few decades. These technological advancements have significantly affected, among other aspects, service delivery, citizen engagement, public procurement, and public service organization. Indeed, phrases like e-government or e-governance are now commonplace, a clear indication of how technology has influenced the public sector.

More specifically, modern technologies have led to a more informed and empowered citizenry (Schofield, 2008). With smartphones and popular social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the public now has greater access to information about the government. Also, the public has more opportunities to air their needs and concerns as well as criticize public leaders. In fact, instances of the government taking action due to pressure from social media campaigns are not uncommon. A more informed and empowered public means that public sector leaders today face more pressure in terms of transparency and accountability. Greater access to information.....

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Dukakis, M. (2010). Leader-managers in the public sector: managing for results. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.

Joyce, P. (2012). Strategic leadership in the public services. New York: Routledge.

McCarthy, A. (2015). Public sector leaders: different challenges, different competencies. Association for Talent Development (ATD). Retrieved from https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/GovLearning-Blog/2015/06/Public-Sector- Leaders-Different-Challenges-Different-Competencies

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2001). Public sector leadership for the 21st century. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/governance/pem/2434104.pdf

Schofield, C. (2008). Key challenges facing public sector leaders: themes from the Ashridge Public Leadership Center essay competition 2007. Retrieved from https://www.ashridge.org.uk/Media- Library/Ashridge/PDFs/Publications/KeyChallengesFacingPublicSectorLeaders.pdf

Teelken, C., Ferlie, E., & Dent, M. (2012). Leadership in the public sector: promises and pitfalls. New York: Routledge.

Tizard, J. (2012). The challenges and opportunities in contemporary public-sector leadership. International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, 8(4), 182-190.

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