M2D2: Subjective & Objective Responsibility


Public administrators cannot separate themselves from the political role they play, and they have been given more discretion and more policymaking power than ever before. They face accountability in terms of their objective and subjective responsibilities. In this discussion, you will reflect on these responsibilities and decide how to make ethical decisions when these responsibilities are in conflict.

Respond to the following:

· Describe what objective and subjective responsibilities exist for your current or desired administrator role.

· Describe an incident where you faced, or could face, a conflict in meeting these responsibilities.

· Analyze how you did or could make ethical decisions in the face of these conflicting responsibilities, weighing your personal beliefs, attitudes, and values against your objective responsibilities.



Read and respond to the conclusions drawn by at least two of your classmates (approximately 250 words each) 



While ultimately, I aspire to find myself into the role of Governor of the State of Maine, that is not the current target.  To begin my transition in public service, I would very much like to hold a role as a town manager, or mayor for municipality that elects a member of the council to hold that administrative role.  If I were to hold the position of town manager, I would be faced with responsibilities that are both objective and subjective.  Objectively I would be responsible for accountability y and obligation.  “Accountability and obligation, responsibility to someone else for something – these are the dual dimensions of objective administrative responsibility” (Cooper, 2012, p.72).  I would have accountability to the town council as they are the entity that would have hired me and are employing me to apply programs and processes based on the ordinances that they create in council meetings.  I would have obligation to the citizens of the town to ensure that I would be creating those processes and programs fairly and equitably for them as a whole.  This would require transparent decisions and the ability to articulate to the members of the town the “why” that is associated.  Subjectively I would be faced with how I feel about situations and these feelings influencing my decisions.  This is easiest seen in a passage from our text “subjective responsibility is rooted in our own beliefs about loyalty, conscience, and identification” (Cooper, 2012, p.82).  This is something that many people struggle with I their work lives, but if you are going to transition into public service, then you need to find a way to separate yourself and personal opinion from your decision-making matrix.


While this is a hypothetical situation, but one that I hope to see myself in in short order, I could see a situation where I seemed to favor one side over the other.  Meaning that by serving the two distinct groups, the councilors and the public in general, if I didn’t remain as a neutral party then an incident may occur.  I see this being an issue if I was seen as nothing more than a “puppet” of the council and someone responsible for advancing their agenda or doing their bidding.  By creating a program that removed the transparency and seemed more like a “I don’t care if you like it or not” approach would quickly alienate me from the public and most likely lead them to call for a recall vote.  On the other hand, if I were to create processes that didn’t adhere to the voted on standard and was just made for convenience of the public, I could have termination from the council members.  That is why being a person of high moral and ethical character will serve me well.  I will be able to give both side the same amount of attention and work hard every day to not find myself stuck in the middle.  There is nothing wrong with having an opinion and also expressing when you would ideally like to move in a different direction but being able to how both sides that you are acting in the interest of the greater good will be paramount.


If I were to find myself in a situation where I was stuck between the two entities, I would make sure that I made the decision that that the greatest impact on the greatest number of people.  Even if this meant that making that decision were to go against how I felt about the subject, it would be the only way to show both sides that I was accountable and fulfilled my obligation.  While I understand that this is a position that I may find myself in frequently, it is not something that I will shy away from.  Being in the position of town manager would mean that I would be responsible to make these types of decisions facing both of these groups.  Quite honestly, it is a time that I am very much looking forward too.




Cooper, T. L. (2012). The responsible administrator: An approach to ethics for the administrative role (6th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.





Objective responsibilities come from external requirements separate from an individual’s interpretation or feelings of a situation (Cooper, 2012). This can be seen in the form of job requirements and other responsibilities as dictated by any number of roles held. Meanwhile, subjective responsibility is an obligation not defined by an external force as much as one’s interpretation of right and wrong and what should be (Cooper, 2012). These sensations drive personal action, and where there is room for interpretation of obligation, subjective responsibilities can drive a person’s response to an issue.

As a Navy NCO, I have objective responsibilities such as accountability of personnel, upholding the UCMJ, equal and fair treatment of servicemembers in my charge, and others. Another objective responsibility that I hold is ensuring mission success. However, within this responsibility, exists a great deal of subjectivity. Some individuals interpret this responsibility as delegating all technical requirements and functioning in a pure oversight role. Their job is not so much to work the mission so much as tracking successes and failures. Others, like myself, interpret this as responsibility in a much more direct manner. While monitoring successes and failures are a component, I must also know the inner workings of the mission and ultimately drive the success versus merely documenting.

Another role I have is a Navy Career Counselor, whose primary and objective responsibilities are to ensure career progression and maximize retention of sailors through hosting career development boards. However, within this context, there are again grey areas where subjectivity may clash with objective responsibilities. If an individual tells me that they have no interest in remaining in the service, to a certain extent, my objective responsibility is then to try and persuade them to stay in, ignoring their wishes. If I am unsuccessful, my objective responsibility then is to inform them of the Navy’s set pathway to civilian transition.

The subjective responsibility in this role exists in how much helpful information I give these sailors and how much actual involvement I have past providing basic Navy information. I am a firm believer in setting sailors up for success regardless of their decision to stay in. This can be realized through understanding what programs the Navy has and external pathways to success. I will mention tuition assistance and other items that the Navy will pay for, despite knowing that the Navy will not get their return on investment as the sailor is leaving service. The ethical conflict here is that I am no longer helping the Navy due to my subject responsibilities to do what is right for the individual sailor.

One would stay within an ethical framework when attempting to balance objective and subjective responsibilities to establish core tenets that may be derived from both. Following a prescriptive model in this form would allow me to weigh the possible courses of action. Upper Navy leadership can tell me to act in the organization’s best interest rather than the individuals. This would include withholding information about benefits that could help a transitioning sailor as they are a lost cause. While objective, as it is derived from an outside force, this would be unethical and go against my subjective responsibility to do right by the sailor. Under the prescriptive model, I would establish the “should be” case and do my best to approximate that within my power. If I have to take this information outside of the board and anything that can be construed as part of my role as a career counselor, I will do so. However, I would also try to raise concerns up the established chain to remove this new objective responsibility that I feel is wrong. References

Cooper, T. (2012). The responsible administrator: An approach to ethics for the administrative role (6th ed.). Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from