Leadership of Public Bureaucracies – The Administrator as Conservator
November 3, 2010
In Leadership of Public Bureaucracies – The Administrator as Conservator, Larry D. Terry explores public administration from a relatively new perspective, that of Bureaucratic Leadership, which he describes as historically neglected by scholars. Bureaucratic leadership, according to Terry, is “…institutional leadership in the administration of public bureaucracies within the executive branch of all levels of government” (p. 4). Terry goes on to discuss the important role bureaucratic leaders play in public administration.
Terry’s first chapter looks at the reasons why the subject of bureaucratic leadership has not received the attention he believes it deserves. He blames this on: the fear of bureaucratic power that has developed over the years; the progressive legacy that has attempted to reform government by making it less bureaucratic and more businesslike; the influence of the scientific management movement which focused on methods versus leaders; and the ongoing efforts by scholars to use the hierarchy approach to address the politics/administration dichotomy. Chapter 1 also establishes a normative role for leaders of public bureaucracies. The key concept of the leadership role of the administrator is his function as ‘‘conservator.’’ Terry advanced the idea that “…administrative conservatorship is the willingness of administrative elites, out of traditional loyalty and moral principles, to preserve authority and distribution of power with regard to the propriety of an institution’s existence, its functional niche, and its collective institutional goals…the preservation of institutional integrity” (p. 25). He dissects and defines this statement within his concept of administrative conservatorship. For Terry’s concept, institution must be differentiated from and not confused with organization. He draws from the works of Selznick and Scott to derive his definition of an institution as “…a creation of social needs and aspirations; it is an adaptive, responsive, cooperative system that embodies cultural values. The cultural values and moral commitments of a society are implanted in its institutions.” Broadly, administrative elites are seen as “…those individuals or groups who are responsible for the promotion and conservation of social values…” In the context of administrative conservatorship, Terry defines them as “…public officials who are neither elected nor politically appointed but who hold administrative positions by virtue of a merit system.” He views institutional integrity, in the context of administrative conservatorship, as “…the completeness, wholeness, soundness, and persistence of cognitive, normative, and regulative structures that provide meaning and stability to social behavior…” as well as “…the strength of administrative process, value commitments, and unifying principles that determine an institution’s distinctive competence” (p. 27).
This concept is further advanced in Chapter 2. Terry argues that preservation of institutional integrity requires both autonomy and responsiveness. Autonomy is crucial for leaders to respond to threats that could undermine organizational integrity. Terry uses the example of The Federal Reserve to demonstrate. The Fed’s non-reliance on Congress for funding insulates it from political pressure and allows it to carry out its functions relatively autonomously (pp. 50-51). However, leaders must also simultaneously adapt and respond to ensure that their organizations maintain their integrity. In the case of the Fed, its leaders reaching out to the president, the Congress, etc. demonstrates its ability to adapt and respond to outside pressures. As this discussion demonstrates, the administrative conservator must fulfill many roles to preserve institutional integrity. Terry groups these roles into three primary functions: conserving values, conserving mission and conserving...
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