How to Be a Leslie Knope: 5 Real-Life Public Administration Skills to Learn From “Parks and Recreation”

The hit television series “Parks and Recreation” follows the antics of Leslie Knope, the parks and recreation director for the city of Pawnee, Indiana. If you are looking to stand out in the world of public administration, you can gain real tips from this character that will help you to land a great job in state or local government. Public administration jobs are highly competitive, and it is important to sharpen the skills you will need to obtain one of these coveted positions. Aspiring public administrators can learn the following five real-life public administration skills from the boisterous and hard-working lead character of “Parks and Recreation.”


Dedication to Ethical Integrity

When the parks and recreation department receives a generous gift basket from a local construction company, Leslie informs her employees that it is against the rules to accept gifts over $25 and that no one is allowed to partake in the gift. In a moment of weakness, she indulges in the basket’s treats, which inspires her to launch a public apology for what she believes to be a serious ethical violation. While this scenario may border on the extreme, a career in the public sector requires this kind of commitment to ethical integrity. Public administration jobs involve daily decision-making responsibilities that will impact the lives of others. Recognizing that such a position will inevitably lead to ethical dilemmas, the American Society for Public Administration has published a code of ethics to help guide public administrators. While partaking in a $25 gift basket may not seem like a violation worthy of concern, Leslie’s strong moral compass is part of what makes her a great public administrator.

Problem Solving Skills

Leslie Knope seems to have a knack for tackling the many problems that are continuously brought to her attention. In a recent episode, Pawnee’s neighboring town, Eagleton, finds itself in a financial crisis. Due to a history of poor economic decision-making, the town must declare bankruptcy. Leslie uses her sharp analytical skills to institute a policy in which Pawnee and Eagleton become one city in an effort to get the struggling community back on its feet. Because a public administrator’s primary function is to improve government policies, the ability to solve unexpected problems such as this one is imperative.

Strong Commitment to the Community

Perhaps one of Leslie Knope’s most endearing qualities is her compassion for and commitment to the citizens of Pawnee. According to Psychology Today, it is this Knope’s sense of destiny for her work in the public sector that gives her the drive to put up with the barrage of difficult employees and ungrateful citizens with whom she must frequently interact. This kind of commitment to community improvement is an essential trait, as public administrators continue to play a crucial role in community development.

Ability to Lead Under Pressure

Leslie Knope’s boss, Ron Swanson, is known for his aversion to dealing with the high-strung and demanding public. When he is faced with a day of meetings with Pawnee citizens, Leslie is happy to step in, as she thrives in high-pressure environments. Public administrators are often thrown into situations where they must host public forums and listen to grievances from disgruntled citizens. A good public administrator is one who can take control of these situations and lead both citizens and employees to the best solutions. Beyond the ability to simply make decisions, a quality leader must make choices that will lead the community in positive directions. This is where public administrators can learn from Leslie’s impeccable track record of being a leader with intelligence, excellent communication skills and a tremendous amount of human compassion.

Organization and Attention to Detail

Leslie Knope takes organization to a whole new level, frequently creating extensive informational binders in a single night for upcoming department projects. She also takes it upon herself to learn any facts that may be relevant to her job. Leslie is so knowledgeable about the Pawnee that she publishes a book about the town’s history. Public administrators would do well to undertake this kind of organization and attention to detail (albeit, maybe not necessarily write a book). As people who implement policies affecting others, it is essential for public administrators to stay organized and to know as much as possible about the details of impending projects and policy changes.

While a career in public administration can be highly demanding, the benefit of helping others makes this a vocation worth pursuing. As you work to establish your credibility in the public sector, learn from Leslie Knope and work toward sharpening the skills that will help you stand out in this competitive field.

Image by paul41512 from Flickr’s Creative Commons 


About the Author: Nancy Green is a contributing writer and “Parks and Recreation” fan who has worked in public administration for the past seven years.


You must be logged in to post a comment