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Women + Leadership + Public Service = LEGACY

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Marvin Pichla
March 24, 2015

This year represents my second year of having the privilege and opportunity to serve as a quarterly guest columnist for PA TIMES online. This quarter’s main topic area is women as leaders in local, state and federal government. As usual, I will take a non-traditional and creative approach to the topic. Most importantly, I will take the position that women have been and continue to be leaders in all levels of public service.

However, in contrast to the recognition that is offered to many men in government, the incidence of LEGACY discussions offered to women in public service seems to be less prevalent. Therefore, the goal of this article will be to first better recognize the diverse leadership contributions of women in the area of public service employment and also encourage this group to build their contributory legacy.

Before I continue on, I believe it is important for all readers to be aware of my long standing interest in leadership and recognition of women working in service to the public. When I was completing my doctoral dissertation, I selected leadership as my research topic. My dissertation committee allowed me to integrate my research with my job in the field of employment training and to study the perceptions of clients seeking workforce development assistance from staff working in our Michigan Works! Agency Service Centers.

My single focus of study was: Did clients view the staff assisting them as LEADERS?  As much as I would like to have everyone read my entire dissertation, the result of my research was that 100 percent of those questioned considered the staff LEADERS. The special significance of this finding in relation to this article is the fact that a large segment of many human service agency employees are women. I don’t mean the directors and mangers. I am referring to the front-line staff who:

-           Complete the paperwork to help a student get enrolled in a college course.

-           Ensure children have appropriate licensed day care.

-           Arranges for transportation for a special needs student.

-           And the list goes on.

Pichla marchThese women are LEADERS everyday and to everyone coming through the door. Hence, it is critical for women employed in all levels of public service to be recognized as leaders and take action to build their legacy, not in relation to another person or entity, but THEIR public administration LEADERSHIP LEGACY.

The beauty of legacy building is that it begins with one person and one action at a time. Think about it. When one considers the leadership legacy value of citizen development, it starts with a child’s day care, pre-school and other early childhood experiences. As a testimonial to this occurrence, my sons remember many “person building” moments with Anna, Barb, Mrs. Klee and specific female elementary school teachers. Each of these women has secured a leadership legacy within my sons that still continues.

Quality legacy building is not about plaques or tenure within a company. It’s about approaching each day with a sense of urgency (because they grow up so fast), a goal of making a difference and a belief that every day is the “opportunity of a lifetime.” Also, because each public service workday brings with it a unique line-up of person-specific challenges, the demand for quality diversified leadership becomes endless.

There is no doubt that the leadership impacts of women working in the public sector are very much alive and growing. Likewise, I believe that women think more about the leadership legacy they are building. Why:

-           Because they know making a difference matters.

-           Because legacy building is the purest form of teaching and mentoring.

-           Because personal credibility builds when colleagues know the source of the leadership action.

Additionally, if you add the findings of my dissertation to the incidence of women employed within public/private nonprofit organizations, the extent of their leadership legacy building capacities is tremendous.

As I conclude my thoughts, please be advised that in consultation with my old dictionary and thesaurus the definition of LEGACY is something immaterial such as a style or philosophy that is passed on from one generation to another. Also, Webster’s dictionary says a LEADER directs and guides. But how about if we add skill traits like completeness, accuracy, compassion, unity, perseverance, quality and sense of humor to the LEADER definition?

Going forward, we must then keep these definitions in mind as we ask: Where are the women (in public service) and (where are) women as leaders in government? The evidence-based answers to these questions are found in the day-to-day actions of thousands of women that help people of all ages, one by one, in a wide variety of public service roles—building their LEADERSHIP LEGACY everywhere.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

One Response to Women + Leadership + Public Service = LEGACY

  1. Sara Oliver Reply

    March 24, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    I very much appreciate the article Women + Leadership + Ppublic Service = Legacy. Having worked in the public sector for almost 43 years, I am very supportive of women in leadership positions and the legacy that service provides so many Americans. Public Service is still a male-dominated profession, but women often are the impetus for making public services actually available to eligible beneficiaries. Women actually do leave a legacy of service provision, but often are not recognized for that legacy. Let’s hope that recognition is made more available to the women so derserving of it!

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