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Large organizations employ many individuals. Charismatic leaders, caring supervisors, innovative program directors, and numerous street-level employees lend individuality to the collective and character to the whole organization. One should also remember that higher moral and ethical standards are expected of public employees than of private employees, and that public managers work within very strict limits of legislation, executive orders, and regulations surrounding government. But unique contributions of individuals do not obscure their general patterns of behavior, or roles.

A role is a predictable set of expectations and behaviors associated with an office or position. Like an actor assigned a part, cabinet secretaries, police officers, and policy analysts step into roles that are already largely defined.

A person usually performs several roles and it may become a source of stress and overload. Role overload is more than just too much work, or overwork. Role overload exists when the demands of various roles overwhelm an individual’s ability to balance expectations, when the demands of one role make it difficult to fulfill the demands of others. The lawyer who must cancel an appointment to care for a sick child or the professor who neglects his students to fulfill administrative obligations is experiencing a role conflict.

Viewing organization as a system of roles helps to identify rights and obligations of each employee. Roles provide the consistency that holds an organization together. An organization that falls apart when individuals leave has not built an adequate structure of roles.

Although public organizations contain many specific roles, five role-types – the political executive, desktop administrator, professional, street-level bureaucrat, and policy entrepreneur – are the most common.

Political executives

Political executives (the secretary of a State Department, the city manager, or the county administrator) occupy the top of public organizations. Although their jobs and responsibilities are different, they all perform the functions of a political aide, policy maker, and top administrator.

In most cases, political executives are political appointees – elected officials give them their jobs. That is why, their position, their tenure, and their influence while in office derive from the authority of elected officials. The official who wins the election most commonly appoints loyal supporters. They are advisors for selected officials.

Elected officials cannot do everything. They can do little more than point the general direction and scrutinize the final result. That is why political executives appointed by them are also policy makers. The political executive initiates, shapes, promotes, and oversees policy changes. They may also have responsibility for major decisions. The ultimate authority, however, rests with the elected official.

Political executives are also top-level administrators. It is a difficult role. Public executives are legally responsible for implementing policy They must cut through the red tape, resistance of change, intra-organizational conflict to assure that the public is served well.. Those political executives who fail to reach down and get the support and enthusiasm of their agency personnel will effect little change in policy. But if they completely disregard the preferences, knowledge, and experience of their agencies, stalemate ensues. If they uncritically adopt the views of their elected officials or their agencies, they may lose influence with elected officials.

Desktop administrators

Desktop administrators are career civil servants down the hierarchy a few steps from political executives. They are middle managers and closely fit the general description of a bureaucrat. Whether a social worker supervisor or the director of a major government program, the desktop administrator spends days filled with memoranda and meetings.

The desktop administrators are torn between the promises and practicality of governing. Desk administrators guide policy intentions into policy actions that actually change, for better or worse, people’s life.

If there is, for example, a public and political consensus that the government should assist poor blind people, the definition worked out by a desktop administrator to answer the question who is poor and who is blind, has a dramatic influence to the nature of the program.

Desktop administrators differ fundamentally from political executives in that most of them are career civil servants. After a short probation period, most earn job tenure, and usually are not fired. Tenure insulates the civil service from direct political interference in the day-to-day working of government. Job tenure protects civil servants from losing their jobs, but they may be reassigned to less important jobs of equal rank if they lose favor with political executives.


Professionals make up the third major role-type in public organizations. The original meaning of the term profession was a ceremonial vow made when joining a religious community. This vow followed years of training and some certification that the acquired knowledge and appropriate norms of behavior justified an individual’s initiation.

Modern professionals receive standard specific training that ends with certification. They also learn values and norms of behavior.

Increasingly the work of public organizations depends on professionals and more and more professionals are involved in public administration. The work of professionals involves applying their general knowledge to the specific case and requires considerable autonomy and flexibility.

An important difference between professional and non-professional work is who evaluates performance. Nonprofessionals are evaluated by their immediate supervisors. Professionals assert their independence from supervisors. Their work is evaluated by peer review of their colleagues and that has flaws: fellow professionals are sometimes more willing to overlook the mistakes of colleagues for different reasons.

Street-level bureaucrats

Street-level bureaucrats (social workers, police officers, public school teachers, public health nurses, job and drug-counselors, etc.) are at the bottom or near the bottom of public organizations.

Their authority does not come from rank, since they are at the bottom of hierarchy, but from the discretionary nature of their work. They deal with people and people are complex and unpredictable, they are not the same and require individual attention. A common complaint about public bureaucrats is that they treat everyone like a number; they ignore unique problems and circumstances. But there are only general guidelines how to deal with people (an abusive parent, an arrested, poor, old or sick person), and it is impossible to write better guidelines to make everyone happy. Street-level administrator must use judgment to apply rules and laws to unique situations, and judgment requires discretion.

Given limited resources, public organizations want fewer, not more clients, and this is an important difference between public and private organizations, which attract more clients to earn more profit. And dependence of clients on street-level bureaucrats often create conflicts.

Street-level bureaucrats work in situations that defy direct supervision. Even when supervisors are nearby, much work with clients is done privately. Most paperwork and computerized information systems attempt to control street-level bureaucrats, who in turn become skilled in filling out forms to satisfy supervisors while maintaining their own autonomy.

Street-level bureaucrats are also policy-makers. They often decide what policies to implement, their beliefs can affect their work with clients, they may interpret the policy to benefit clients and vice versa, and thus they may change the policy while implementing it.

Policy entrepreneurs

The policy entrepreneur is generally considered to be the charismatic person at the top, though they can exist at all levels of an organization. They are strongly committed to specific programs and are strong managers. They are skilled in gathering support and guiding an idea into reality. The role requires conceptual leadership, strategic planning, and political activism. This role is both necessary and dangerous. They take risks and push limits, which is necessary for a dynamic government, but they also bend rules and sometimes lead policy astray.


Английский язык для студентов, изучающих государственное управление. Л.М.Лещёва и др. Учебное пособие / На англ. яз.; Под ред. д.филол.н., профессора Л.М. Лещёвой. Часть I. – Мн.: Академия управления при Президенте Республики Беларусь, 2006. – , 203 с.

Категория: Public administration | Добавил: yir (22.07.2007)
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