Theories of Public Administration – Free Essay Examples

Theories of Public Administration


Administration theory is an individual endeavor to master and experience the current administration challenges and to develop a mechanism in order to shape the present unjust society resulting to a more just order. This involves the enquiry of the evaluation, nature, composition, need and purpose of the governmental non-political units, and an understanding of public perception and nature, and its relationship with the larger community. Administration theory is one of the core areas in public administration; it is only recently that public administration has emerged as an independent academic field. Prior to this, those engaged in the enterprise styled themselves as political scientists, philosophers or political theorists (McSwite, 1995).

Theories therefore offer coherence to the contemporary world, without theories we cannot be in a position to understand the social phenomena arising from public administration. Scholars would not have a sufficient foundation to establish an enquiry without theories; they exist to offer a comparison among existing problems. We interpret theories to suit present problems as we apply them to come up with solutions. This paper attempts to explain how theories are applied in real practice based on their tenets and how the theories combine to come up with a more strong argument in real administration. The theories selected are human relations theory and classical theory.

Classical Theory

The major proponents of the theory are Taylor, Fayol Henry and Max Weber. The administration is viewed as to be relying on the established structures, this makes it be a continuous process. The organization sets principles that must be followed by the employees; each employee is subjected to intensive training to gain organizational values. The theory is closely related to Weber’s bureaucracy (ideal type) theory but it differs slightly mainly because classical allows some democracy. The theorists coined the acronym POSDCORB to represent the major tenets of the theory. It stands for planning, organizing, directing coordinating and budgeting. Planning in any organization is essential because it provides employees with the way forward, it usually involves the thought process by senior managers (Osborne & Ted, 1993).

Organizing is another critical aspect of management according to classical theorists because it facilitates bringing together the required sections or departments of an organization to the main agenda. One individual never implements a policy or single department of the government, for it to succeed, relevant authorities must be involved. Staffing is the aspect of recruiting the right staff for specific jobs. This means that the spirit of specialization should always be employed if the administration wants to succeed in offering quality service to the clients. It is suggested that the most qualified who happen to be experienced should be considered in hiring because they are believed to be having a standard operating procedure that brings success to the organization. Coordination is all about linking the centre to other departments or sections. The centre is usually the finance section, which provides financial advice to all other parts of the organization. The coordinating team ensures that all relevant procedures are followed in the formulation and implementation of public policies. Shortcuts in administration are usually discouraged because they result to displeasure from the public, which might further lead to backfiring of the project or policy. The theory finally closes by analyzing the budgetary roles. The organization needs to be run by the principles of budgeting that is, finances should be allocated annually and whatever remains unused should be submitted to the treasury. This principle guarantees accountability and efficient management.

Apart from the above principles, the structure of governance should be based on the principle of supervision and subordination. The junior officers receive orders from their seniors and the bases of authority are well known. Offices are hierarchically arranged and the occupants specialize on the areas to bring about innovativeness. The organization is self-regulating implying that policies made should be consistent with the organizational constitution (Frederickson, 1997).

Human Relations Theory

Human cooperation in work dates back to the ancient Greek communities, they organized themselves and worked together towards specific planned goals. The cooperation witnessed was not scientific, scientific management e merged during the industrial revolution. The theory focuses on people because they are the direct producers (Lane, 1988, p. 35). The theory focuses most on how human factors and psychology affects on organizations, an organization works as a team and social sanctions are the major forms of control in an organization (Gary & Wolf, 1996, p. 354).

The theory postulates that work is a group activity and therefore people can react to it, the organization or the management when they are not involved in decision-making processes. The administration should identify the informal leaders in a certain group of employees and consult them before changes are made to the work manuals. Employees are not motivated by financial benefits such as fringe benefits as allowances instead they are encouraged by social appreciation such as awarding them respect and offering a promotion on merit (Bowman & Brent, 1997, p. 252).


The two theories are similar in that they strive to achieve organizational goals by choosing different approaches. The major difference is that while classical emphasizes on structures and set principles, human relations are people oriented. The two theories are usually combined in real practice because insisting on classical means that there are no people in an organization instead employees will be treated as machines which end up yielding low returns (Cooper & Wright, 1992). Human relations on the other hand assume that there are no established structures in an organization hence the prevalence of democracy. This condition is not good also because people’s democracy might lead to the tyranny of the multitude meaning that the less qualified will find their way to the management positions, which tempers with quality service.


The two theories as earlier stated coexist in modern management; scholars have forced unity of the two theories to come up with a neo-classical theory, which combines the tenets of both classical and human relations. The kind of administration exercised in the scientific world is professional because it takes the aspects of science such as evidence in decision-making, verification of policies before application, takes particular methodology and finally applies theories in explaining problems. The employees are not left behind either; they are consulted all through the whole process of decision-making. Their views are scrutinized to come up with all encompassing policies (Sheldon, 1995). Decision makers have a variety of theories to choose from when designing policies. Suitability is the only leading factor in choosing the theories (Lynch, 1997).


Bowman, J.S. & Brent, W. (1997). Koop as an Exemplar of Moral and Democratic Decision-making: An Axial Approach to Ethical Theory, Administration and Society, Vol. 29. p. 252.

Cooper, T.L. & Wright, N.D. (1992). Exemplary Public Administrators, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Frederickson, H.G. (1997). The Spirit of Public Administration. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gary, L.W. & Wolf, J.F. (1996). Refounding Democratic Public Administration: Modern Paradoxes, Postmodern Challenges, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, p. 354.

Lane, L. (1988). Individualism, Civic Virtue and Public Administration: The Implications of American Habits of the Heart. Administration and Society, Vol. 20, p. 30-45.

Lynch, E.C. (1997). God and Public Administration: Are They Compatible? unpublished paper, National Conference of the American Society of Public Administration.

McSwite, O.C. (1995). Legitimacy in Public Administration, a Discourse Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Osborne, D. & Ted, G. (1993). Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector, New York: Penguin.

Sheldon, C.M. (1995). In His Steps. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman.

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