Public Administration Jobs: What Options Are Available?

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Category: Careers

By Matt Rowley
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Public administration is the understanding and implementation of public or governmental policy. In other words, public administration exists to turn policies into service.

Pursuing a public administration degree can provide many benefits, but students may have a hard time deciding exactly which direction to go in their careers. To help you get a better grasp on your options,  we provide six public administration jobs examples in this article, including their typical responsibilities, salaries and more.

1. City Manager

City managers are the administrative force behind a city. They oversee everything involved with the running a city, including supervising departments, managing the city’s budget, and representing the city as needed. They also manage internal affairs and are a key part of city hall’s relations with residents, other municipalities and state leaders.

A city manager is typically hired by – and reports to – the city council and mayor. One of their chief responsibilities is managing city finances, including monitoring the budget and making recommendations for improved planning, revenue development and responsible spending.

As part of that responsibility, the city manager typically supervises city departments – including police, fire, sanitation, water, transportation and more – and hires leaders for those departments. They also often oversee the development of standards and policies for departments to ensure consistency and compliance with city standards and regulations.

Ultimately, the primary responsibility of a city manager is to serve the needs of the community. They have their finger on the pulse of the city, and they may perform research and outreach to residents to better understand their needs and problems and work collaboratively with the city council and other leaders to solve those issues.

Successfully performing these tasks requires a background in public administration, business administration or a related field, as well as exceptional communication, diplomacy, organization and time management skills. According to PayScale, the average salary for city managers in March 2022 is $91,922.

2. Housing Specialist

Everyone deserves to live in safe, affordable housing. A housing specialist aims to make that happen by making it possible for families or individuals – particularly those experiencing homelessness – to move into temporary or permanent homes.

Housing specialists work with community agencies, local governments, nonprofit organizations and property owners to coordinate all aspects of living arrangements. Depending on the organization, this can include locating and securing properties for clients, negotiating rents, mediating disputes between landlords and tenants, and overseeing policy development and implementation.

Although some housing specialists work in leadership roles focused on strategy, budgeting, and policy management, many begin their careers working directly with clients. For instance, they may work with nonprofit organizations like homeless shelters to provide counseling and information to individuals regarding their housing rights and responsibilities. They may also coordinate with property owners to secure appropriate, affordable housing within the scope of the law and program regulations.

Understanding the rules imposed by the government and agency is one of the most important aspects of the job, along with compassion, creativity, problem-solving and negotiation. It’s a challenging role, but it’s one that can be extremely gratifying as you help people work toward greater stability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual wage for counselors, social workers and other community and social service specialists was $47,500 in May 2020.

3. Nonprofit Organization Executive Director

Executive directors of nonprofits – typically hired by boards of directors – are expected to provide both leadership and management for their organizations. They develop their organization’s mission and vision, and they keep their staff, volunteers and supporters engaged by articulating and reinforcing that mission and vision.

Executive directors of nonprofits also oversee the day-to-day activities of their organizations, including, but not limited to:

  • Hiring and supervising staff.
  • Managing facilities.
  • Overseeing budgets.
  • Providing stewardship of organizational assets.
  • Serving as a point of contact for public relations and the media.
  • Supervising fundraising and grant activities.

Because the reputation of their organizations are at stake, boards take great care in selecting executive directors, focusing on candidates who not only have a demonstrated passion for their organizational mission, but who also have knowledge and experience in business, management and public administration. Leadership skills, staff management, budgeting, goal setting, communication, and the ability to collaborate with diverse stakeholder groups are all important attributes for a nonprofit executive. Ultimately, interpersonal skills and the ability to connect with people will determine success in this area as much as technical abilities in management and leadership.

Salaries vary based on the size and location of the organization, but the average salary for nonprofit executive directors was $68,697 according to PayScale in March 2022.

4. Criminal Justice Administrator

The criminal justice system is comprised of multiple agencies and departments, from local law enforcement and courts all the way through the FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security.

Criminal justice professionals with a background in public administration are uniquely positioned for positions with state and local law enforcement agencies, as they have both the managerial skills and law enforcement knowledge necessary to effectively manage departments and agencies. Some of the tasks that a criminal justice administrator might be involved in include:

  • Analysis of crime statistics in conjunction with crime theory to develop more effective crime control and prevention programs.
  • Management of specific agencies or facilities.
  • Oversight of agencies to ensure they are following due process, case law, etc.

Because the range of criminal justice careers is so wide, it’s nearly impossible to accurately gauge earnings potential. That being said, police and detectives at the federal level earned a median salary of $92,080 in May 2020 according to the BLS.

5. Emergency Manager

Tornados. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Floods. Acts of terrorism. Communities face any number of potential disasters, both natural and manmade, and it’s important that they have plans in place to prepare for, respond to, and recover from these events.

Emergency managers are employed by municipalities, health care facilities and government agencies, and they work closely with first responders and other stakeholders to develop and implement strategies to protect the public before, during and after emergencies. They also help lead the response, providing training and education, managing supplies and facilities, and serving as a point of contact for responders, staff and volunteers.

Although work experience in emergency services can help prepare you for a career in emergency management, pursuing a degree in public administration can also provide the required communication, organizational, critical thinking, interpersonal and leadership skills. In fact, many employers seek individuals with public administration degrees for these positions because of their unique understanding of the intricacies of public agencies and the principles of policy development and implementation. These roles pay well, with a median annual wage of $76,250 in May 2020 according to the BLS.

6. Public Administration Consultant

Not all public administration career paths involve working for a specific agency or department. Instead of staying with one organization or governmental body full time, some public administration professionals provide consulting services to various entities. They might spend weeks, months or even years helping to improve an organization’s administration, budgeting, planning processes and more.

Becoming a consultant generally requires several years of proven experience and success in public administration, but with that expertise you can help municipalities and government agencies run more efficiently. This can include making budget recommendations, finding ways to increase revenues, or providing insight into how to improve struggling public programs.

Many public administration consultants work for established consulting firms, but some work on their own after gaining experience working in administration roles. Management analysts working with government entities earned a median annual salary of $83,500 in May 2020 according to the BLS.

Getting Started

Here at Columbia Southern University, we offer an online Master of Public Administration degree, including concentrations in criminal justice administration and emergency services management.

For more information about our online degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels, visit our website.

Columbia Southern University does not guarantee that students or those who pursue these careers will earn the specific salaries listed.

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