The loyalties of top public administrators

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Images of the modern public administrator clash with yesteryear's neutral public servants obediently carrying out the orders of elected politicians. Partly influenced by the literature on New Public Management, people often argue that public administrators today should ensure quality services, give value for public funds, be responsive, operate strategically, uphold organizations' reputations, and the like. They thus seem to serve many masters, not just politicians, but do the various masters' interests harmonize or contradict? The research question of this article is: Where do the loyalties of public administrators lie? The answer involves all the potential objects of their loyalties: colleagues, the public good, moral imperatives, the law, their organizations, the organizations' clients, and elected officials. What is the composition of loyalty for top public administrators? What are their conceptions of loyalty? With the use of Q-methodology, we identify and describe four distinct types of public administrators within the context of loyalty: (a) by-the-book professionals, (b) society's neutral servants, (c) the personally grounded, and (d) open and principled independents. These conceptions matter because they indicate how administrators behave and make decisions. © The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Inc. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-306
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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