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Top Skills for a Public Administration Career

Few careers make as much use of the broad skills of well-rounded thinkers as those in public administration. Whereas many fields call for strong aptitude in certain areas, this field requires across-the-board strength in hard skills such as research and policymaking and soft skills like communication and leadership. Careers in the public sector enable those who possess this rare combination to make the world a better place.

Consider these important abilities you will need to find long-term success in public administration.


Accounting and budgeting:  Most positions in this sector require being able to work within budgets and ensure they are balanced. Accounting takes proficiency with numbers and the ability to perform accounting functions using software and spreadsheets. (This aspect of public administration also requires the soft skills of problem-solving and critical thinking, to make the most of limited resources.)

Project and risk management: You will be managing teams toward specific objectives in projects that require contributions from people inside and outside the organization. These may include devising and implementing policies, developing awareness campaigns or managing a public health crisis. You will need to keep these projects moving toward successful completion while mitigating any risks. In some roles you will have executive authority and will need to make critical risk management decisions that affect your organization and constituents.

Staff management: In an MPA program you learn the specific management skills required in the public sector, which differ from those in the private sector. Whereas private companies’ main purpose is profit, organizations in the public sector exist to provide service. The mindset of your staff is vastly different, the performance indicators are different, and learning the nuances of working in this environment requires specialized training.


Leadership: Leadership in civil service requires passion, drive and the ability to inspire. A leader has strong character that becomes evident long before they reach a position of authority. A hallmark of this skill is that people feel confident relying on the leader to be fair, honest and accountable. Leaders do not simply enable others; they also continuously seek their own professional development, work toward goals and strive to overcome challenges. For these reasons, they hold a spot as role models in public service.

Problem-solving: The process of fixing things is complex and involves overcoming cognitive biases and integrating diverse areas of knowledge. Some of it is innate and some must be learned, but it is considered a soft skill. In the public sector, problem-solving is often a collaborative matter, and MPA students have the opportunity to develop this ability precisely for this sector.

Communication and interpersonal skills: Successful leaders in public service should enjoy forming collaborative teams, partnerships and working relationships with a variety of groups and individuals to do the job well. Communication and interpersonal skills encompass written and spoken communication, multicultural sensitivity and negotiation strengths. In public service, interpersonal dynamics are often about purpose-driven compromises, so each party can advance a cause.

The hard and soft skills required for long-term success in public service are developed throughout the Lamar University Master of Public Administration online curriculum. Note two courses in particular: Leadership in Public Administration and Nonprofits explores various management approaches as well as decision-making and organizational politics. Applied Research Methods teaches how to apply knowledge of public policy and social science methodology to the planning, execution and reporting of public policy research.

If you’ve received feedback that your intellectual passions and capabilities are broadly dispersed, an MPA will help you develop your skills to maximize your impact as a leader in public administration.

Learn more about Lamar University’s online MPA program.


Bright Network: Top Skills & Qualities You Need for the Public Sector

ICMA: Five Skills for Public Administrators


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