Public and Private administration

Public and Private Administration: Differences and Similarities

Political Science, Public administration, Society

In the realm of governance and management, administration plays a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth functioning of organizations, whether they are public or private entities. Let’s delve into the concept of administration and explore how it is classified into two distinct categories: Public and Private.

What is Administration? 

Administration refers to the process of planning, organizing, coordinating, and controlling resources and activities to achieve specific goals and objectives effectively and efficiently. It is a multifaceted field that encompasses various functions such as personnel management, budgeting, decision-making, and policy implementation.

Public Administration

Public administration involves managing government institutions and agencies at the local, state, or national level. Its primary focus is on serving the public interest and delivering public services. Public administrators are responsible for implementing government policies, ensuring transparency, and being accountable to the citizens they serve. Public administration aims to promote fairness, equity, and the common good.

Private Administration

Private administration, on the other hand, pertains to the management of organizations in the private sector, which includes businesses, corporations, and profit making organizations. The primary objective of private administration is to maximize profits and achieve the goals set by the organization’s stakeholders, such as shareholders, owners, or board members. Efficiency, competition, and innovation are key drivers in private administration.

Key Differences between Public and Private Administration

In the world of organizational management, two prominent forms of administration stand out: public and private administration. While they both involve managing the affairs of their respective entities, there are distinct dissimilarities that set them apart. 

Scholars like Paul H. Appleby, Herbert A. Simon, and Peter Drucker have made the distinction between the two. Let’s discuss the key differences below:

Goals and Objectives

Public administration primarily exists to serve the people, emphasizing the welfare and fulfillment of citizens’ interests without any profit motive. On the flip side, private administration’s primary goal is to generate profits for the company and achieve the organization’s objectives or fulfill the owners’ aims.

Profit as a Measure of Performance

In private administration, profit serves as the key criterion for measuring performance. This focus drives private organizations to constantly scrutinize costs, seek operational improvements, remove incompetent employees, and hold subordinates responsible for results. In contrast, public administration, the prime purpose/goal is to serve the people i.e. the focus is on ensuring the welfare and fulfillment of interests of the citizen without having any profit motive whatsoever

Legal Framework

The primary aim of increasing profits becomes the key benchmark for evaluating a company’s performance, motivating private management to regularly assess expenses, strive for operational enhancements, dismiss underperforming staff, and hold subordinates accountable for outcomes.

In contrast, in public administration, where profit isn’t the driving force and the focus is on serving the public and society, certain costly services such as healthcare and education may be offered at subsidized rates.

Furthermore, public administration operates within the framework of legal regulations, unlike private administration.

Transparency and Accountability

Public administration operates transparently, subject to scrutiny at every level by various members of civil society, including citizens, media, and pressure groups. Their actions are exposed to public review and criticism, with significant implications. Consequently, public administration is held accountable through legislative oversight and judicial review. Private administration, on the other hand, is less affected by public accountability and lacks similar levels of transparency.

Treatment of Stakeholders

Public administration is obligated to treat all citizens alike, regardless of their economic status. It aims to provide services and uphold the rule of law impartially. In contrast, private administration may employ different strategies when dealing with small and large customers, as it is primarily profit-driven.

Political Influence

Public administration operates in a political context, subject to political direction and control. It implements policies established by elected legislators and political executives. In contrast, private administration functions largely under the influence of market forces.

Scope and Impact

Ultimately, public administration encompasses a much broader range of activities compared to private administration. According to Paul H. Appleby, government organization interacts with and is influenced by virtually every aspect of society. Public administration is responsible for providing a wide array of services to the public, including food, healthcare, education, housing, transportation, and more.

In contrast, private administration operates exclusively in sectors where profit can be generated. Therefore, it cannot lay claim to the same extent of scope, influence, and societal consideration that public administration enjoys.

Similarities between Public and Private Administration

While it’s easy to point out the differences between public and private administration, it’s equally important to recognize the striking similarities that exist between the two. Thinkers like Henry Fayol, M.P. Follet, Luther Gulick, and Lyndall Urwick have emphasized the common ground between them, highlighting the shared managerial techniques, principles, and responsibilities. Let’s delve into these similarities and discover how public and private administration coexist and complement each other.

Managerial Techniques

One of the most compelling commonalities between public and private administration lies in their managerial techniques. Both employ essential skills like planning, organizing, coordinating, budgeting, and more. These techniques are universal and apply seamlessly to both sectors.

Hierarchy and Organization

Both public and private organizations are structured on the principles of hierarchy or scalar chain. This means that there is a clear chain of command and reporting lines in both sectors, facilitating efficient communication and decision-making.

Governmental Regulations

In modern times, private businesses are not immune to governmental rules and regulations. They must adhere to a wide array of legal requirements, from tax compliance to environmental regulations. This blurs the lines between public and private as both are subject to regulatory oversight.

Social Responsibility

Private administration is increasingly expected to contribute to social welfare through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. This aligns with the public administration’s focus on societal well-being and humanitarian ethics while working towards organizational goals.

Common Organizational Challenges

Public and private administration face similar challenges concerning organization, personnel management, and financial matters. These shared issues necessitate the use of comparable problem-solving strategies and techniques.

Convergence in Management Models

With the emergence of the New Public Management model, the public sector now emphasizes efficiency, economy, and profitability – principles borrowed from the private sector. Practices like outsourcing, contracting out, and voluntary retirement schemes are no longer exclusive to the private sector and have become common in public sector units.

Blurring Distinctions

The distinctions between public and private enterprise are gradually diminishing. Personnel increasingly move between the two sectors, particularly at higher management levels. Governmental intervention in areas such as subsidies, taxes, regulations, and contracting further blurs the lines that once separated the two.

Public-Private Partnerships (PPP)

Governments are increasingly turning to public-private partnerships (PPP) to implement policies and projects. A prime example is the successful functioning of the Delhi Metro, which operates under the PPP model. This demonstrates how public and private administration can cooperate to achieve shared goals.


Administration is a fundamental concept in both public and private sectors, with each having its distinct focus and objectives. Public administration prioritizes the public interest and government functions, while private administration revolves around profit-making and organizational goals. Understanding these differences is essential for anyone interested in the fields of governance, management, and public policy.

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