Traditionally, the administrative roles assumed by public procurement specialists have been delineated within a framework shaped by procurement ordinances. In the past decade, however, in part due to the changing nature of governance, matters have changed rather significantly. Public procurement is no longer considered a “back office” enterprise and has surfaced as a critical strategic administrative area. Governments at all levels have come to note the significant implications associated with procurement, both as an administrative function and as a policy mechanism. The field as a whole has also been targeted by heavy professionalization efforts.

Taken together, these forces have set the background for a new, importantly different, set of demands now routinely imposed on procurement specialists. Within the context of these conditions, public procurement specialists are often expected to assume roles that go beyond the traditional ones. Some of these roles might place procurement specialists outside their comfort zones, which are outlined by their past experiences and training.

There are many important reasons to understand the daily roles assumed by public procurement specialists; not the least being that the everyday decisions made by procurement specialists impact and shape public policy outcomes. Much can be gained from a systematic study of public procurement specialists and their evolving roles, especially within the realities of today’s governance.

Yet, despite this obvious need to understand the roles assumed by public procurement specialists, there is only limited empirical research in the area. What are the roles typically assumed by public procurement specialists? What explains the assumption of a certain role? Do public procurement specialists seek to be active representatives of the public interest or to be  professionally neutral? These are just a few of the intriguing questions that warrant attention and have yet to be clearly answered.

Administrative roles are very powerful institutional structures. Once assumed, a role provides the expectations-based instructions, as it were, of what represents one’s appropriate behavior. An administrator seldom has the luxury of time to consider every single action as a unique and independent event. One’s role, however, provides the decisionmaking “shortcuts” that enable an administrator to navigate through routine organizational decisions.

In other words, rather than having to analyze the appropriateness of one’s every action, a public procurement specialist is simply guided by what he or she thinks is expected from someone in his or her role. According to public administration scholars, while there are numerous sets of patterned behaviors that public servants routinely engage in, most of these actions can be categorized within the scheme of five broad roles – steward of public interest, practical idealist, adapted realist, resigned custodian and businesslike utilitarian. Anecdotal accounts and most of the extant literature would suggest that businesslike utilitarians and resigned custodians are the two most commonly assumed roles by public procurement specialists. Is this really the case?