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This report presents the findings of the first large scale comparative study about the reform of the Serbian public administration. The report is based on results of a survey of 1349 senior civil servants, which was conducted as part of the Coordinating for Cohesion in the Public Sector of the Future (COCOPS) project.

The aim of the report is to describe the population of senior civil servants and assess their job satisfaction and organizational commitment, investigate the work context these managers operate in and report their evaluation of PAR and the impact of international organizations on reforms. We argue that these are crucial factors in the success–or failure–of future efforts to reform the Serbian public administration.

Our study has shown that large scale civil service reform has yet to take place in Serbia. Reforms are characterised as partial and unsuccessful. The current administrative culture is based on rule compliance rather than performance and characterized by a high degree of risk-aversion. A very low degree of goal clarity is reported throughout the senior civil service, with lower management levels reporting a higher goal ambiguity. This goal ambiguity is accompanied by a high concentration of power within the appointed level of civil servants, with executorial civil servants reporting extremely low levels of policy and budgeting autonomy and low levels of career mobility–the experience of ‘plateauing’ is common. Very high levels of political interference in the functioning of the civil service is identified across the senior civil service as undermining effective policy making and implementation. The vast majority of surveyed civil servants recognize the beneficial impact of international organizations on the content of reforms and on the pace and extent to which they are implemented.

We argue that top decision makers should operationalize strategic plans by setting clear goals and targets and formalize these into management practices through utilizing objectives and results frameworks. This will not only allow political leaders to hold the senior public executive accountable for their performance, but also protect senior executives from the fickleness of national politics. In turn, senior public managers should use the clarity and stability of such frameworks to delegate more management autonomy to lower management levels, thereby stimulating internalization of collective goals throughout the civil service. Reforms should then be undertaken to increase the career mobility of executorial civil servants. Our findings suggest that such management reforms will lead to higher job satisfaction and engagement at all layers of public management.

We conclude that the engagement of all layers of the administrative executive is a necessary condition to successfully implement public administration reform and execution of public policy in general. Changing the work context within the civil service should be a priority for both civil service executive and political leaders.

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