Why study public management

You may not realise it, but chances are good that public managers and public management affect your day-to-day life. So, what is public management?

Public management is used by both the government and the nonprofit sector. It uses private-sector business and management approaches to manage the provision of services to the public. The goal of good public management is to optimise efficiency and effectiveness and improve customer service. Public management and administration are important for a government to roll out services to the public. It also involves the planning and setting up of policies underlying these public services.

To put it more simply, public management is behind the service that collects your refuse each week, ensures there is water in your taps and that the streets are maintained and kept safe, along with a host of other example of public sector services.

Of course, we mostly only notice when public management fails. Unfortunately, that happens often, and here in South Africa, there are so many service delivery protests by communities that they seldom make news. This is often where nonprofit organisations step in to try to fill the gaps that the government is not able to. South Africa has many NGOs doing important work and many of the country’s public managers and administrators work in this sector.

Public management – governance and policy

In South Africa, the Department of Public Service and Administration is responsible for public management and governance. It is responsible for setting up policies on service delivery as well as ensuring those policies are properly carried out and services are delivered efficiently to the public.

The department is currently focusing on the following areas of public service, which it says will serve as the “main strategic indicators that will point to whether the public service is effective, efficient and development-oriented”.

  • services rendered with speed
  • services easily accessible to citizens
  • services provided at lower cost
  • appropriately skilled public servants to render services.
  • competitive conditions of service for public servants and the achievement of labour peace
  • no corruption
  • a positive impact on the lives of people and the economy.


Why is public service important

It may sound like a bold statement, but much of what we see as civilisation relies upon public service. Public services, also called civil services, are all the services provided to the public by the government. These are all the services that make a city-run, from building and maintaining infrastructure like roads, power, water and sewerage systems through to police and fire departments as well as libraries and clinics.

Every few years municipal workers go on strike for higher wages. When this happens we get a brief glimpse of what our society would look like without public service: a very messy and chaotic place. Fortunately, these public service strikes are usually quite short-lived, but they do give a dramatic reminder of the importance of public service.

Without public service, our road networks would fall apart, taps would run dry and power would run out. These are things often take for granted by those living in cities, but this is not the case for many rural areas. In its most recent survey on public services, Statistics South Africa found that household access to drinking water was at 89%, followed by access to mains electricity at 84.7%, improved sanitation at 83% and access to refuse removal services at home was only 66.4%.

South Africa’s public service still has much work to be done, but this shows the need for well-skilled public managers and administrators. If you feel that you would like to take on these challenges to improve public service to communities, then a career in public administration or management could be right for you.


Office for Public Management

Here in South Africa, public management is handled by the national Department of Public Service and Administration. The department sets up government policies for the public service and ensures service-delivery mechanisms, governance initiatives and other aspects of government are responsive to the needs of citizens. The department is behind all public management and policy, manages all public sector businesses and monitors progress through regular public management review.

In the section above we detailed the department’s areas of focus, but here is the full list of its responsibilities, as set out by the Public Service Act of 1994.

  • the functions of the public service
  • organisational structures and the establishment of departments and other organisational and governance arrangements in the public service
  • labour relations, conditions of service and other employment practices for employees
  • the health and wellness of employees
  • information management
  • electronic government in the public service
  • integrity, ethics, conduct and anti-corruption
  • transformation, reform, innovation and any other intervention to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the public service and its service delivery to the public


Here are some commonly asked questions and their answers about public management and administration:

Why should I study public management?

You should study public management if you are interested in public administration and want to help in providing the public with access to services. A public management degree or diploma will qualify you to work in this field. A postgraduate public management qualification is required for more senior positions within the government. These positions are sought after as they come with better job security than the private sector along with several other benefits such as retirement and housing schemes.


What are the requirements for public management?

This depends on whether you mean the requirements to work in public management or the requirements to study public management.

To study the Wits online Post Graduate Diploma in Public Management course, applicants require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and preferably two years of relevant work experience in the public, parastatal or nonprofit sectors. Students with relevant private sector experience will also be considered.

If you are looking at the requirements to work in public management, then a bachelors degree is recommended. There are lower clerical and support jobs available to those without a degree, but opportunities are limited without a degree. Senior and managerial government jobs mostly require a postgraduate qualification.

How many years does it take to study public management?

The Wits online Post Graduate Diploma in Public Management is an 18-month course that can be studied in your own time while continuing to work. Although the course is only 18 months, it does require applicants to already have a bachelor’s degree, which adds a minimum of three more years.

What can I become if I study public administration?

Qualified public administrators can work in many different roles in government, the nonprofit sector and private business. Studying public administration qualifies you for the following jobs: manager, administrator, human resource manager, public policy analyst, political analyst, municipal manager, public administration consultant, city manager, development worker and even a city mayor.


What is the difference between public management and public administration?

There are surprisingly few clear-cut answers as to what is the definition of public administration or what is the definition of public service. As a growing and developing academic field, each generation of academics has sought to apply its own definitions and nuances. Put simply, public management has a focus on efficiency and effectiveness through the application of private sector business and management techniques. Public administration instead focuses on social and cultural issues that are rarely of concern to private business.

Who should study public administration?

Public administration should be studied by anyone who would like to work in a more senior or managerial role within the public service. It is not however limited to the government and the nonprofit sector, as administrative and managerial skills are also of great value in business. The Wits online Post Graduate Diploma in Public Management is aimed at those who’re already working in the field and would like to increase their career advancement opportunities.

What is public management theory?

Public administration theory is the academic field relating to public administration and management. As an academic discipline, public administration theory is split into three different branches, with each reflecting a different approach. They are classical public administration theory, new public management theory and postmodern administration theory.

What does a public manager do?

Public managers are responsible for all of the public services provided to society. There are a very wide range of public services and any individual public manager would likely only work in one aspect. Water and sanitation, education, healthcare, security and management of public land are just some of the public services that are managed and coordinated by public managers.

How much do public managers earn in South Africa?

Government public managers earn good salaries. In a 2019 article, Business Insider reported that the starting salary level for a middle level manager in provincial government was R779,435, rising to R947,802. Senior-level manager salaries range from R1,076,222 to R1,984,885.

As well as paying well, there are many of these positions across the country. The article noted that the government spent almost R30 billion a year to pay a total of 27,650 managers in the provincial and national public service.

What is meant by new public management?

New public management is one of the three branches of public administration. It emerged in the United Kingdom and Australia in the 1980s and brought with it a shift towards a more businesslike approach to public administration, as well as a focus on the end-user. Although it has “new” in the name, the actual newest of the three branches of public administration is postmodern public administration theory.

Studying public administration online at Wits

If you would like to take on the challenge of helping to improve service delivery to the public, or would just like to enjoy the comforts of a secure government job, then public administration would be a good career choice for you.

If you are already involved in public administration and would like to improve your opportunities to advance your career, then the Wits Post Graduate Diploma in Public Management online course would be a suitable qualification.

The course runs for 18 months and can be studied in your own time, so you can carry on working while you study. Course fees of all of Wits’ online programmes are structured so you only need to pay for one module at a time. There are also six starting dates throughout the year so you can start soon after completing your application as long as you meet all the requirements.