Public Manager, The

the federal manager in the 21st century

New ideas, old challenges: the federal manager in the 21st century

A.C. Hyde

Report of the National Academy of Public Administration: “The 21st Century Federal Manager: A Study of Changing Roles and Competencies,” July 2002.

Technology is running rampant. Organizational hierarchies are crumbling. Budgets are leaner and meaner. Communications are now moving laterally. Workforces are revolting at the old norms and rules for work. What does all that mean for the future public manager?

Obviously a lot–in fact so much that the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) is undertaking a major study entitled, “The 21st Century Federal Manager.” It is designed to be a five-part report finishing up in Fall 2003. The first volume, “Preliminary Research Findings,” offers an intriguing view of what is ahead.

It is more than just an appetizer. It includes a succinct demographic chapter on who federal managers are, showing the impacts and interrelationships of grade, age, diversity, and educational levels. There is also a comprehensive review of current “governmentwide initiatives” highlighting the President’s Management Agenda, the Office of Management and Budget, the General Accounting Office, and the Office of Personnel Management–a veritable program of what’s what and who’s who in federal management circles. In terms of new research, NAPA also field tested its research questions by convening four roundtables or colloquia of approximately 10-12 notables-one for professional associations, one for corporate executives, one for federal government executives, and one for academicians. (It is unfortunate that the colloquia could not also have included some future managers by inviting young professionals or presidential management interns to obtain another viewpoint.)

The Defining Question: Who Rules in 21C?

But what really makes this preliminary report is its initial foray into the hot question of who rules in the 21st century–managers or leaders? NAPA tactfully leans into this debate by asking “Are the traditional definitions of supervisor, manager, and leader still applicable?” Two of the roundtables discussed this issue with rather interesting results.

The federal executives group answered, quoting NAPA: “Most felt that the two (management and leadership) are not interchangeable, although aspects of each can be present in either role, with the leadership skill requirement being predominant at the higher levels…. All agreed that leaders create success while managers maintain the status quo.” That ought to spark a little debate. Meanwhile over in the academic roundtable, the response was predictably more obtuse. It reported, “…While the definitions may largely apply, there’s considerable overlap between them and a number of factors contributing to blur the lines even further…the [leadership skills] need tends to rise with the position held in the hierarchy.”

This promises to be an interesting debate and one that is not going to be easily resolved. NAPA’s study approach promises to shed a fair amount of light on the differences and whether they are important, beginning with its next report on “First Line Supervisors” followed by the third study on “Managers and Executives.”

Finally, readers should be warned that almost half of this report is a literature review and annotated bibliography, which unfortunately disappoints. While NAPA does state up front that its references were created by an Internet search done on Amazon. corn, taking relevant book titles and abstracts directly, I am not sure what grade an academic would give an enterprising graduate student who appended such a 40-page bibliography at the end of a term paper. (My own academic spouse’s one word response was “shocking.”) But NAPA can deal with this issue in the remaining studies, and perhaps while it’s at it, look over the management journals like the Harvard Business Review and Public Administration Review, which have published a rather large amount of relevant material on the topic of management and leadership in the 20th and 21st century. does not have a monopoly on all the good stuff quite yet.

To be continued…

A.C. Hyde is a consultant and an associate editor of The Public Manager.

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