Classical Theory of Public Administration

There have been several discussions and arguments regarding whether public administration can be categorized as a Science or as an Art. During our discussion of the topic earlier, we had come across authors and social scientists who vehemently supported the cause that public administration was a science indeed and amongst the most notable supporters of this theory where Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urvick.

Gulick and Urvick were born in faraway lands from each other, Gulick in Japan while Urvick in Britain. Gulick completed his studies from the Columbia University, served on the National Defense Council during the First World War. He served as the administrator of the New York City for 2 years during 1954-56 and was also the president of the Institute of Public Administration, New York from 1962-82. He was also the author of several books like Administrative Reflections of World War II, Metropolitan Problems and American Ideas, Modern Management of the City of New York and Papers on the Science of Administration.

Urwick completed his education from Oxford University and like Gulick served in the First World War as the Lt. Col of the British army. Urwick was also associated with several international management institutes and published several books like The Management of Tomorrow: The Making of Scientific Management, Leadership in XX Century Organizations, The Patterns of Management and also worked as an editor of several papers on science of administration. He was also a well reputed and renowned industrial consultant who worked extensively for introducing the management education in UK.

Urwick edited the most important work, Papers on the Science of Administration presented by Gulick in 1937. Both of these thinkers were greatly influenced by Fayol and Taylor and the idea of machine model of the man. All this combined with their respective military and industrial background led them to propose the Classical Theory of Management or the Administrative Management Theory. The classical theory projects public administration as a science. Both these authors argued that like the stream of engineering became science through methods of empirical observation, systematic finding and recordings over a period of time similarly, public administrators can create the science of administration.

Both the authors also stressed on the importance of the structure of the organization. Urwick wrote that lack of structure can lead to a lot of inefficiencies and confusion within an organization and Gulick went ahead to identify 10 principles on which the organizational structure can be designed. Below are the 10 principles as listed by Gulick:

  • Division of labor or what we call specialization
  • Departmental Organization
  • Hierarchical coordination
  • Deliberate coordination
  • Creating coordination committees
  • Decentralization
  • Unity of command
  • Staff and Line
  • Delegation and Span of Control

The last principle regarding the span of control of a senior executive or a leader, acted as a stimulant for other authors on writing about leadership. According to this last principle, the executive should have less number of people directly reporting to him to increase his efficiency.

Urwick believed that there are 8 principles on which an organization can function, the important points being:

  • The objective of the organization
  • Authority and responsibility
  • The principle of span of control
  • Coordination
  • The principle of definition amongst other principles

And lastly, we can end the discussion without writing about Gulick’s POSDCORB, each word signifying the various executive functions:

  • P - Planning
  • P - Organizing
  • S - Staffing
  • D - Directing
  • CO - Coordination
  • R - Reporting
  • B - Budgeting

Management students shall find the above terms quite familiar, relevant and of everyday use. In the next section, we shall be talking about the Human Relations Theory. The reader is now getting a chance to understand in individuality and detail that how the progresses made in other streams had an influence on the thinkers of public administration.

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