Q 12/13-2. How could a public administrator reconcile their traditional role of neutral administrative competence with a leadership role?

In the modern workplace, administrators are expected to be competent. We should know the details of how to perform tasks properly and in compliance with applicable regulations. If we are in a position that allows discretionary decision-making, those decisions should be made ethically and without discriminating factors involved. Further, we should have the knowledge required to perform our jobs at the highest possible level. This role of “neutral administrator” is at the core of public administration. Laws and regulations are expected to be carried out in a fair manner. Adding leadership responsibilities does not alter this core tenet.

Given this expectation of competence, those of us who are in leadership roles should be expected to be competent leaders. This means that we should have appropriate knowledge of the different theories and styles of leadership style. Holzer and Schwester (2016) discussed trait theory, skills theory, style theory, situational leadership, and contingency theory, among others. A good leader is adept at blending these styles and theories as dictated by given circumstances. For example, during an office power outage, organizational leaders would use an authoritative style to give directions to staff regarding tasks that need to be completed to implement a contingency plan. However, they would also set an example by remaining calm and reassuring to staff that the situation is under control. The staff will likely remain calm as well and be ready to do what the leader asks. Leadership is never about the leader; it is always about the characteristics of the followers and how the leader adapts to each one.

An interesting aspect of leadership theory for administrators is the concept of expert power (Holzer, 2016). The distinction between elected officials and the bureaucracy is the expertise of the bureaucrats. As experts, bureaucrats should be viewed as respected community leaders who act with citizens’ best interest at heart.


Holzer, M., & Schwester, R. W. (2016). Public Administration: An Introduction (2nd Ed.). New York: Routledge.

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