Six Challenges for a Modern Public Servant

World Bank defines the governance as the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is executed, including the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced. As the issues pertaining to government are becoming more complex in nature, the need for effective, informed and neutral policy makers and public servants is ever increasing .In fact the entire modus operandi and standard operating procedures of governance are likely to undergo a radical change in the face of fundamental social, economic and political changes posed by a rapidly changing world. Some of the drivers of this changing landscape are as follows;
Globalization: A multifaceted concept that represents the increasing integration of economics, communications, and culture across national boundaries is affecting, directly as well as indirectly, the governance structures, processes and culture in every country. There are at least four distinct ways in which it is affecting our policy formulation and governance;

  • Internationalisation of local issues

Thanks to social and electronic media, small issues which a decade or so ago could only find place in the back page of a national newspaper become breaking news in major global channels creating advocacy and sympathy movements in different parts of the world. Arab spring started from a small incident but swept the country after country.

  • Localisation of global issues

With the rapidly globalizing world, global issues like environmental degradation, climate change, GMO, etc which were only discussed in the corridors of power are being debated in the drawing rooms of countries and creating strong advocacy movements among the population

  • Outreach of domestic interest groups

Centers of actual power and decision making are shifting from local to global level with the outreach of domestic interest groups to their sympathisers in international organisations, multinational corporations and those in the governments of global powers. This outreach enables them to force their own government to accede to their demands because of economic and political clout of the global players

  • Penetration of global actors

Whether approached by the domestic interests or not, global state and non-state actors are increasingly penetrating those domains which were henceforth exclusively reserved for the domestic state machinery. They not only interfere in the policy formulation but are now acting direct through their proxies in the form of nongovernmental organisations in domestic policy formulation and implementation
All these developments need careful assessment and action to keep your country relevant in the comity of nations and should not be considered as an outcast because of lack of proper and timely response to these developments.
Changing State Role: Views on the role of the state keep on changing over time with the change in the relative strengths of classes dominating the policy formulation in a country. From the highly interventionist role advocated by the  Mercantilists in 17th/18th century, it was relegated to merely  an invisible hand with minimal government intervention by the Classical economists of 19th century This, in turn gave birth to a Keynesian economics of greater state role which was very forcefully rejected by Supply side economists in the 1980s and so on.
It is again undergoing a paradigm shift in response to realignment in the comparative power structure in the societies. Confident private sector and assertive civil society are forcing it to give them more space in policy making and implementation, shed its extra load and shift from all-encompassing role of service provider, enabler and regulator to merely regulation. Thus the state is gradually transferring its functions to the nongovernmental sector to reap the efficiency and effectiveness gains. At the same time it is in the process of decentralization and devolution, giving more and more of its functions to the provincial and local levels.
These two simultaneous trends demand redefinition of the roles and functions of the state functionaries necessitating requisite amendments in legal and regulatory frameworks, working norms and procedures.
Demographic Transition: Almost all the developing countries are passing through the most crucial phase of its demographic transition in which rate of child births is gradually falling but due to rapidly falling death rates, its population is growing at unsustainable rate, creating a youth bulge on the one hand and the aging bulge on the other. Add the rapid urbanization being witnessed and you have a perfect set of challenges for the policy formulators as well those responsible for their implementation to find apt solutions for myriad problems these three trends are creating for a developing country.
Democratic Development: Most of the present day developing countries came into existence as a result of democratic struggles but their citizens were denied the right of exercising their right to choose their representatives for half of their existence. However modernisation process which accompanied the industrialization efforts of post colonial states, has brought fundamental changes in the attitudes and behaviour of the citizens all over the world. Modernization, once set in motion, becomes a self-reinforcing process, penetrating all aspects of life and brings multidimensional changes in any society. These changes in turn transform social life and political institutions, bringing rising mass participation in politics in the long run. Consequently people are  now demanding greater say in public affairs, an open government, transparency in public dealing, and an accountable and responsible executive.
Economic Growth: Age old concept of development as the process whereby the national income of a country increases over a period of time has been replaced by the concept of all inclusive, socially just and environmentally sustainable development with the ultimate aim of  improving the quality of life of the people. This needs attitudinal and behavioural changes in our public servants to cope with the new paradigm shift.
Technology: Technology has been with us for centuries but its rapid speed, widening coverage and deepening impact poses threats as well as offer tremendous opportunities for the modern public servants .On the demand side public is forcing them to not only demolish their walls of secrecy but also to quicken the pace of decision making and adopt it as a tool of service delivery and grievance redress. People now demand immediate acknowledgment of the complaints lodged by them, their quick disposal and periodic updates about the progress made in their case; they also rightly expect the use of technology by the state to keep them informed of what is happening inside the four walls of the government. Promulgation of Access to Information Act is in response to this persistent demand of the citizenry for an ‘Open Government’.
If the above mentioned developments are the demand side pressures, the technology also provides supply side support to the public servants and offers limitless opportunities to improve their service delivery. It enables them to reach to the millions in far less time than traditional methods for launching public awareness campaigns, keeping them informed of the good work being done and seek their support as well as demanding compliance for state regulations
Activism: Four types of activism are putting pressures,directly as well as indirectly,on a civil servant in every country

  • an aggressive media is demanding transparency and openness in the government dealings,
  • a vibrant civil society is clamoring for effective service delivery
  • an increasingly assertive judiciary is mainly interested in accountability,
  • a highly charged political elite which is under pressure from their respective constituencies to perform, is demanding more role in policy implementation and is not content with just their traditional role of policy formulation.

All the above mentioned activist roles of respective actors have put the public servants under tremendous pressures to improve their performance. As the public sector has to now work under increased scrutiny of media, civil society organizations, judiciary and the political elite, this new landscape poses the following six challenges to a civil servant in any country;

  1. Challenge of effective service delivery: The citizens and the civil society organizations demand constant improvement in their quality of life and are not much bothered about costs or sources of funds for meeting their demands for convenient availability of quality goods and services at affordable prices. They demand a responsive bureaucracy which is politically neutral, professional, well-trained, performance-oriented, and relatively open.
  2. Challenge of efficiency: In every country, rich or poor, state is always hard-pressed for resource to meet the rising demand for funds from different stakeholders. It expects from its bureaucracy to cut every possible corner to reduce costs and improve operational efficiency which adversely affects his effectiveness or worse still, total failure
  3. Challenge of transparency: Social and electronic media are eager for scoops relating to any aspect of governance-service delivery, transparency, cost effectiveness, procedural lapses etc to feed to their reader who are also eager to find out what is happening behind the four walls of the government. It makes the position of a civil servant very precarious as he cannot divulge the details demanded by the media which press him to do so under the freedom of information legislation.
  4. Challenge of accountability: Primarily emanating from the courts which are less worried about service delivery and more about  strict compliance of legal framework under which a civil servant is obligated to perform, this challenge is gaining importance for a civil servant in an environment of greater openness and intrusiveness.
  5. Challenge of sharing power: Textbooks on public management have a neat distribution of statecraft i.e. rulemaking or policy formulation is the prerogative of the elected representatives, its implementation rests with the bureaucracy while adjudication is the responsibility of the judiciary. However the modern political elite is not content with this arrangement. They are now demanding more than their share in policy implementation and are not much bothered about the fact that ultimately it is the bureaucracy which has to answer to the courts for any infringement of procedure.
  6. Challenge of attracting the best and retaining the skilled: Government service offers power and prestige while private sector offer better financial terms and condition. In this tug of war between power and perks private sector is winning posing a challenge to the state how to attract and retain the best of the minds through proper incentives and rewards system which does not adversely affect its exchequer.

All the above six challenges are not mutually exclusive; rather they are mutually reinforcing ones, taking new shapes and gathering momentum in the days to come. Secondly they are not new challenge; it is only their new vigour and their synergetic effect which has given them urgency and potency demanding appropriate response from the civil servants at the personal as well as at institutional and organizational level. Some of the ways a civil servant can respond to these challenges are;
Lifelong learning: New civil service now demands more than passing of entrance examination and attending training courses mandatory for promotions to successive higher grades. It now expects lifelong learning from its members who are at least well informed about the following three areas namely

  1. Global Affairs: In this age of rapidly globalizing world ,a civil servant can ill afford to remain ignorant about the global affairs as the global trends and events could have repercussions on a country’s domestic economy, polity or society.
  2. Political Economy: A civil servant is now expected to have greater insight about the way policies can be hijacked by the dominant elite and how to reconcile their interests with the rising expectations of the population. Similarly they should be well versed with the art of resisting  the demands of the global actors to have greater say in the decision making process to safeguard the national interest without losing the support of the global sources of power and resources
  3. Public Administration: Every branch of knowledge undergoes change incorporating new insights and borrowing from the experiences of others branches. Chances are that the text books which you read in your university have gone substantial revisions over a period of time. Keep yourself informed about these developments and try to apply the new paradigms in your work place

Attitudinal and Behavioural Changes In an age of greater openness and external intrusions in their traditional areas, civil servant are expected to bring fundamental changes in their attitudes and behaviour bringing more responsiveness to complaints, speed in redressing grievances, acceptance of public participation in decision making, better communication with all the stakeholders, rapid feedback and midterm correction mechanism, allowing access to information, framing of consumers rights etc
New Governance Style: These developments now demand new style of governance which is open, participatory and responsive, executed through a highly decentralized governance structures with maximum autonomy. Quick response to complaints and their timely redress, people friendly processes, ethical behaviour, analytical prowess, change management, use of  technology, emotional stability etc are now the name of the game .
Most importantly it is the participation of citizens in service delivery which is the hallmark of new governance style. It not only brings in more accountability and transparency in governmental affairs but also helps in creating greater awareness of the citizens and reduces repression and exploitation. Citizens involved will increase the knowledge, and be empowered, and the participating organizations will become more vibrant..
Greater Use of Technology: Related to above is the greater use of technology in work places. As stated earlier, technology is helping the state and society in two distinct ways. On the demand side it is empowering our citizens to press for redress of their grievances, express their concerns about the way policy are formulated. On the supply side it can enable our civil servants to improve the service delivery without losing the human touch, bring greater transparency in their dealings and respond to demands of the people in far less time than it used to be .It has also enabled them to supervise their subordinates through modern techniques
Skill Formation: Finally a modern public servant must improve or learn new skills which are essential to cope with the demands of the new challenges listed above. A skill can be defined as an ability to translate knowledge into action that results in desirable performance. During the course of my research I came across more than 30 skills considered by different experts in this field to be essential for a public servant .It was a really daunting job to reduce the repertory to less than a dozen; every skill seemed to be essential from one angle or other. However after a lot of reflection and discussions with other colleagues, I settled for the following ten skills which to my mind an officer serving in any scale or grade must acquire to do justice with his/her post.

  1. Leadership and Management
  2. Ethical Behaviour and Morality
  3. Emotional Intelligence
  4. Change Management
  5. Computer Literacy/Information Technology
  6. Policy Formulation and Analysis
  7. Interpersonal Relations/Negotiations
  8. Report/Note Writing and Analysis
  9. Resource Management and Development
  10. Logical Analysis and Strategic Planning

Leadership and Management.
Leadership is motivating your followers( or subordinates ) to put in their best efforts for the achievement of national(or corporate goals ) by giving them a vision to look up to and a road map to follow and serving as a role model to emulate. Religious leaders give a vision (Salvation in hereafter) to their followers which can be achieved if they follow a roadmap (good deeds).For this to work, he himself does the right things and becomes a role model. Similarly, a political leader gives a vision to his followers (political independence/victory in war) and a road map (sacrifices) but he himself starts the journey to serve as role model. In a bureaucratic organization it is the boss who provides the vision of excellence to his subordinates and sets the rules and procedures to achieve it but shows them the way by excelling himself.
Unfortunately some scholars have created an unnecessary controversy about these two concepts which, in real life, are two sides of the same coin. As a public servant, there is no distinction between a leader and a manager as both are needed at all the three broad levels of any organization- strategic, operational and tactical. It is the nature of assignment and the situation which would determine which aspect should be given more emphasis-leadership or management. Similarly it has nothing to do with grades, scales or position; anyone who performs leadership role and functions is a leader. It is not a trait to be inherited; rather it is a skill which can be learnt, improved and refined.
(How a civil servant can perform the leadership role, please see my presentation at
Ethical Behaviour and Morality
Ethics and morality are two interdependent but distinct concepts at conceptual as well as practical levels. Morality is the name of one’s personal norms and values about good and bad, his beliefs about fundamentals which determines his own behaviour and the one he expects from others. Product of one’s life experience, knowledge and training, moral values of an individual   can differ from another person even in one social setup
Ethics, on the other hand, are the norms and values of an organization, normally formalized in the shape of codes. It is the conduct and behaviour expected from the members of a group or organization. It can differ from personal moral values but not substantially from universal morality in case of ethical organizations
Ethics and morality are the basic foundations of any individual, an organization or a civilization for survival and growth. Highest value which distinguishes humans from animals, ethical behaviour is a basic denominator, not the highest pedestal. It is also a legal requirement -you signed an affidavit to remain honest throughout your career. It is also a social obligation. You took an oath under a constitution which is a social contract between the state and its citizens who expect highest moral standards from its paid servants. It is constitutional duty-all the service framework is based on constitutional provisions, underpinning ethical behaviour. They not only provide basic foundations for the survival and growth of an organization but are also essential for any public servant if he is true to his salt. Naturally if he cannot stand for something, he will fall for anything.
(What are the ingredients of an ethical behaviour, please see my presentation at
Emotional Intelligence
Emotions have been the stuff of all great literature all over the world throughout the history. Its formal induction as a leadership skill and management tool was done in 1980s.Perfected by Dr Goleman ,now no course on management, public or private, is without a chapter on emotional intelligence .He defines emotional stability as “The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others ,for motivating ourselves ,and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships”. Essentially it entails the following four interrelated skills;

  • Identifying Emotions-becoming aware of emotions, your own as well as of others
  • Understanding Emotions-finding out the reasons for the emotions
  • Managing Emotions-Keep calm and work hard Improving working environment to ensure that everyone is at peace with himself and at peace with others
  • Using Emotions-match them to the task and motivate others for achieving organizational goals as well as their own

Essential skill for better service delivery as well as self-actualization, it is as important as the intelligence; do not be branded as highly efficient but emotionally unstable person.
(How to perform as an emotionally intelligent civil servant, please see my presentation at
Change Management
Change management is basically a private sector debate, popularized in 1980s in the wake of global crises which brought fundamental structural changes in the global production and trading patterns. However it is now considered as an essential skill for a public servant because timely recognition of a change, its likely impact and how effectively you manage it will affect your service delivery, employees’ morale and work environment
Changes could be of any dimension, emanate from different sources and affect people differently. Some of the sources of change could be;

  • Technological-from typewriters and stenographers to computerization ,e-commerce ,e-government ,mobile technology
  • Political-changed philosophy of governance; from socialism to military to democratic
  • Social-slow but sure; media, public expectations about good governance, accountability, parliamentary oversight, corporate social responsibility, openness
  • Economic-globalization ,outsourcing ,privatization, liberalization
  • Administrative– legal framework, management, service conditions, work distribution

(How to scientifically manage the change in an organization,kindly see my presentation at
Policy Formulation and Analysis
As stated at the beginning of this article the quality of governance in a country is judged by its capacity to effectively formulate and implement sound socioeconomic policies, one of the primary jobs of a public servant. Faithful implementation of a policy duly approved by a competent authority is the foremost duty of a civil servant. His or her performance will be invariably judged by the way he implements the policy for effective service delivery and consumer satisfaction. This, in turn demands a public servant to be knowledgeable about the way policies are formulated, implemented and monitored. What are the steps involved in the process of policy formulation and implementation? What are the activities to be performed in the various steps? Who are the major stakeholders involved in the process? how to assess the efficacy and effectiveness of a policy
(How to formulate policy, assess the efficacy of a policy submitted by a consultant etc, please see my presentation at
Computer Literacy/Information Technology
Technology has been with us for centuries but its rapid speed, widening coverage and deepening impact poses threats as well as offers tremendous opportunities for the modern public servants. Our forefathers used hand written notes, we used typewriters but you must be computer literate. In fact computer literacy is no more considered a skill to be written separately in your CV. It is now as essential as any other branch of knowledge. However computer literacy is more than checking emails, tweeting and updating your status on Facebook.
Interpersonal Relations, Communications and Negotiations
Discussions with colleagues/sub-ordinates, conducting meetings, communications with the public, interaction with different stakeholders, negotiations with clients etc. are the daily routine of a public servant. For effective performance, harmonious interpersonal relations among the colleagues and with the stakeholders and mastery of effective communication and negotiations skills are very essential
Report/Note Writing and Analysis
Writing or analysing reports, preparing summaries/concept papers and writing notes on the files is every day job of a public servant. Not scholarly tomes, your reports/notes must be brief but concise, factually correct, written logically with cogent reasons given in support of proposed plan of action. Concept papers are normally a group effort, generally prepared by outside consultants, on which you have to give your inputs and vet it for submission to competent authority.
Resource Management and Development
You will be dealing with three types of resources- human, financial and material .For effective performance of your duties their efficient utilization, proper maintenance and development is one of the prime responsibilities of a civil servant. Laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels regulate how any resource at your disposal can be utilized.
Logical Analysis and Strategic Planning
Analysing the reports or a situation and carrying out policy decisions and planning the future course of action is daily routine of a public servant. However very few of us bother to learn formally the skills for logical analysis, pragmatic decision making and strategic planning, believing that we are logical thinkers and strategic planner by birth
This is not an exhaustive list. There may be some skills which someone else may consider to be included in the list. Similarly the order of priority is a subjective arrangement by me. You may rearrange them in accordance with your preference. A civil servant with your experience and study will be familiar with all of them-some in detail, others in fewer details. However the basic idea, as stated earlier, is to sensitise you about the importance of these skills in efficient and effective service delivery. Secondly, while each skill is a must for a good civil servant, it is the synergetic effect of all these skills which will make you excel.
Needless to reiterate these are neither habits nor traits; however the objective is to train you in these skills so that they become your second habit, a trait of your personality and an art you have. Fortunately all these skills can be learnt and are not inherited. It only demands whole hearted commitment and dedicated efforts to learn them.
Being a public servant is an honour and a privilege on the one hand but a great responsibility on the other. To my mind a new civil servant must depict the following six traits to deserve membership of the elite service of the society;

  • knowledgeable ,not necessarily a scholar
  • efficient without being ruthless
  • effective but with a human touch
  • empathetic but firm
  • ethical but deliverer
  • skillful without being manipulative

Every country has produced many civil servants who possessed all the above traits in greater or lesser degree and even now we can find them among our colleagues. The real challenge for those responsible for recruitment of civil servants, their training, appointments, promotions etc. is to increase the number of such civil servants to at least what they call “critical mass” .Yes we have to produce that critical mass of civil servants which fulfill the above criteria so that we can achieve our societal projects and safeguard our national interest. No turning back, moving ahead.

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