Rethinking public administration leadership: an education

Professor Janine O'Flynn

Melbourne University’s new MPA program reflects the new challenges and demands of modern public administration. Its leader explains the challenges and how these are reflected in the course.

The 21st century world of public administration comprises a series of challenges that confront leaders and managers. Developing leaders to deal with this complexity and deliver outcomes demands that we think differently about how we work with them.

If there is one thing we have learned from decades of reform it must be that there is no “one best way” and that quick fixes and simple solutions often leave us worse off. What we need to focus on is developing leaders that have the ability to determine “what works”, “when” and “how”.

The challenges

As an academic who is deeply engaged in the world of public administration, both in theory and practice, it’s not hard to point to problems. New ones emerge that we may not have seen before, and entrenched ones persist regardless of the various ways in which we try to solve them, collaborating across boundaries being a classic of the latter. This mix is pushing us to draw on a more diverse range of perspectives, and also look more broadly to what is happening globally.

Whilst public administration as a field has always been multidisciplinary, the disciplines in the mix are changing as we reach into other fields looking for new ways of understanding: systems theory, psychology, complexity theory and neuroscience being just some of the fascinating new additions. The embrace of new perspectives offers enormous opportunities for seeing these problems in new ways, for developing novel means of addressing them, and in guiding our next generation of leaders.

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