Lateral Moves Within General Public Administration

By Karla Drenner, PhD, MS, MBA, Faculty, Public Administration Programs

As public managers today, we live in an international and interconnected world in which our career mindsets need to shift to one of a more flexible, nimble, and mobile workforce. Organizations and employees must learn how to be more agile in response to changing political environments and more flexible in problem solving and devising cross-functional learning capabilities within the organization.

This shift applies to employees in both public and private sectors. According to Joanne Cleaver, author of The Career Lattice: Combat Brain Drain, Improve Company Culture, and Attract Top Talent (2012), you must proactively plot your own career plan to make sense of diagonal and lateral moves. Instead of following a path of a traditional career ladder, think of your career in a different way and focus on acquiring new skills. In other words, consider your career as a lattice rather than a ladder—this will provide you the development opportunity to think through a lateral move.

In a 2014 U.S. News-On Careers article titled “5 Reasons to Make a Lateral Career Move,” author Vicki Salemi suggests that moving onward doesn’t necessarily mean you have to literally move up. If you have been in your current position for a number of years, you may have become so good at it that you know all there is to know—perhaps you have even become a bit bored? By taking a lateral move and learning new skills, you may become reinvigorated with new challenges and opportunities.

A lateral move also means working with new people, which can be especially important if you are seeking a change from individuals you currently work with, or simply like meeting new people. Let's face it, not all bosses are created equal. Perhaps you feel your current boss does not see you for your full potential. Or perhaps you’d like the opportunity to learn from a new boss with different knowledge and skills. Meeting new people, gaining new skills, and broadening your capabilities and accomplishments are all reasons for considering a lateral move.

According to a Gallop poll (2014), 70% of Americans are disengaged on their job (Adkins, 2014).  Why not decide that you want to be among the engaged 30%? If a lateral position sounds interesting, take a look! Public management reforms have promoted a new type of public career; while it is up to you to pursue opportunities that advance your career agenda, don’t discount the potential value of a lateral move.

Karla Drenner is a faculty member at Purdue Global. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Purdue Global. The University cannot guarantee career advancement. 


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Adkins, A. (2014) Gallup News: Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014. Retrieved from