The Differences Between Public Administrators and Social Workers in Times of Crisis



Public administration isn't a job that most people would immediately connect to social work, but there is a bit of overlap at points. The most obvious scenario where this is true is when someone is serving as an administrator within an organization that specializes in social work. In fact, many public administrators get their start in social work. Both professions require deep compassion, the ability to implement policies that help those in need and the ambition to make the world a better place. With that said, they end up filling different roles, and that's doubly true in times of crisis.

Rebuilding and Resources

Public administrators have one role during bad times: They have to distribute the available funds according to what gets a city back on its feet the fastest. This can include deciding what structures to rebuild first or looking for ways to attract new businesses depending on the crisis. Regardless of the nature of the dilemmas a city faces, public administrators dictate from the top down rather than the bottom up. They work for the whole instead of consoling individuals. They have to view cities as living organisms that contain human cells instead of trying to meet the needs of everyone who was harmed.

Social Workers in the Aftermath

Social workers feel the toll of crises on a much more personal level. They're often sent to counsel grieving people, and although they don't directly decide who receives certain benefits when emergency regulations are put in place, they are responsible for giving those benefits to the people they've been granted to and denying them to everyone else. They are the ones who personally travel to affected communities in order to determine where the need for government intervention is the greatest, and they are the ones who have to help people cope.

A Symbiotic Relationship

Public administrators have too much on their plates to delve into the trenches the way that social workers do. Social workers end up becoming their eyes and ears, and they can use the data gathered by various agencies to make cases for or against certain courses of action. Social workers also serve as a link between the people at the top and everyone else, and they play a critical role in maintaining morale within the community at large.

Social workers and administrators serve as two different links in a much longer chain, and if either breaks, the whole enterprise comes tumbling down. Crises get worse and people have to go without necessities. That's why communication between people in both professions is absolutely vital to a robust and resilient society, and it's why it's impossible to declare one field more important than the other. It ultimately comes down to the human touch versus the organizational structure, and meeting the needs that each part is best equipped to handle.

Connie Lyons is an avid blogger. If you're good with people and management and want to serve your community, you may want to consider a degree in public administration, such as the one offered by publicadmin.usc.edu.

Photo by: espejos-proyecto

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