Project management in the Public Administration

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Like in the commercial sector, where organizations adapt to the changing needs of the market, even public administrations are forced to adapt public services not only to legislative changes, but also to the perception that citizens have.

The “customers of public institutions”, citizens and legal persons, as well as those of commercial activities, in fact require fast, cheap and quality services.

The situation in the private sector is easier to manage, as there is at least one basic measure of success: profit analysis.

Public authorities, regions, cities and municipalities are instead obliged to work diligently in order to achieve a certain level of efficiency and to compare themselves with other public agencies.

The goal is that this level of services is equal for all organizations.

The purpose of the functioning of public sector organizations is in particular to satisfy the needs of others rather than their own. For public administrations, social goals should balance the economic ones.

These are mainly services that provide people with basic social assistance services such as health, safety, housing, education, cultural and social activities, etc.

The public sector is represented by the public administration, which includes a set of institutions with central or territorial jurisdiction.

The public administration is the backbone of a modern state, just as banks are the backbone of the economy.

It is therefore necessary to effectively coordinate this central government and here the project management in the Public Administration comes into play.
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Project Management and its meaning

 According to the most recognized global professional association in project management, the Project Management Institute (PMI), project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and technologies to the activities in order to satisfy the requirements of a specific project.

To satisfy the specific goals of the project, three fundamental factors must be defined for the management of the project:

  • Time: the limit for planning the sequence of activities,
  • Resources: both people, as members of the project team, as well as materials, such as tools or machines.
  • Cost: the use of financial resources over time.

Depending on the complexity, the projects are divided into:

  • Investment projects,
  • Non-investment projects
  • Mixed projects.

In the case of the Public Administration, we mainly talk about large projects that are the object of investments.

The investment project is rather demanding and involves a set of technical and economic studies necessary for its preparation, implementation, financing and efficient operation.

Non-investment projects are also called “soft projects”. These are projects focused on innovation, know-how, consultancy, etc. Processing is generally simpler than in the case of investment projects.

There is also a third type of projects, the mixed one. Mixed projects are those that include both the investment and non-investment part of the project.

Differences and similarities between the public sector and the private sector

The similarities between the two sectors mainly refer to management functions, while the differences focus on the conditions or constraints in which the management operates.

The main distinction between public and private organizations is their ownership. Unlike private companies, owned by entrepreneurs or shareholders, public organizations are the collective property of members of political communities.

Here are some additional differences between public and private organizations:

  • Complexity: public organizations are confronted with a wider variety of stakeholders, each of which places demands and constraints on managers;
  • Permeability: public organizations are “open systems” easily influenced by external events;
  • Instability: political constraints determine frequent changes in politics and the imposition of short time horizons;
  • Absence of competitive pressures: public organizations generally have few competitors. Even when competition is present, public managers often enjoy a dominant position in the market, such as in education and healthcare.

It is also emphasized that the goals of public organizations are more vague than those of their private counterparts, because organizational goals are imposed through the political process, rather than selected by the managers themselves.

Another feature of public organizations is that they usually have more formal procedures for decision making and are less flexible and more risk averse.

Moreover, economic efficiency cannot be used by public managers as a primary decision criterion, due to the mission that public organizations have. This means that public managers should follow public service ethics in their activities.

The role and skills of the Project Manager in the Public Administration

 Project managers play a crucial role in all types of projects and have a key role that determines the success or failure of such projects.

However, progress in public sector projection is creating a growing need to develop skills for public sector project managers.

Their role, in fact, is unique and very particular. This is also because in public projects we are always dealing with multiple and different stakeholders whose opinions can strongly influence the project.

Public sector project managers work in a different environment compared to the private one. Very often the public environment is not familiar with results-oriented project management. Project Managers are indeed often constantly involved in the management of political interference when they carry out projects.

Project management in the public sector therefore plays a key role in how society as a whole behaves. Here, project managers not only deal with the ability to successfully conclude a project in the right time, but they go further.

The importance of ethics for the public sector project manager

The public sector project manager must therefore possess the so-called “Skills Triangle“, which includes similar types of skills – but not identical – to those of the private sector: technic, leadership and ethics.

Without having an ethical competence, which refers to conforming to moral values and norms, project managers cannot use their professional skills in the right way within the public sector.

There are proper training programs and academic curricula tailored to the needs of public sector employers. These are paths that can help the project manager to do his job even more efficiently, in favor of the public good.

We have the tools, we have the culture.

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