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Leading Through Change

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

By Sarah Sweeney
February 9, 2020

I recently started as a supervisor for a government agency and am quickly learning there are key skills necessary to build; beyond what we might have learned about in school. The knowledge base one must master to become a solid leader in a large organization is complex and ever changing, but also exciting and motivating in building a professional portfolio. I am learning what it means to be a public administrator in my community and am quickly realizing this field is so dynamic and widespread. I believe that we should constantly learn new things about who we are in community and how we can build the trust that it takes to lead others well.

When holding positions of power we must be mindful of how we are impacting the work of our teammates and how we are perceived by the actions we take day-to-day. Pew Research conducted a survey on how community leaders are perceived when it comes to managing people, resources and communication with the public and how confidence in leadership is dependent on certain key indicators. Deciding which attributes are necessary to gain the confidence of constituents is so important because once that trust is lost, gaining it back could prove very difficult.

As leaders it is our duty to model the behaviors and actions that we want to see from our staff, especially when working with the public and professional colleagues. Having an understanding of your responsibilities, utilizing ethical decisionmaking and exhibiting empathy towards others will go a long way in moving toward change. Identifying areas for growth and development may also encourage our staff and colleagues to feel more engaged in the work we are doing, especially if the organization is due to change its policies or procedures. Change is difficult for people, and we must lay the groundwork that will ease the transition for staff, especially in historically stagnant agencies.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has detailed competencies that great leaders must achieve in order to be effective in leading others professionally. As one develops their leader/manager/supervisory personality and style, it is necessary to draw upon these foundational markers of achievement so that we are driving the organization forward and not backward. The competencies described are analytic, personal, communication-oriented, organizational and positional. As public administrators it is our duty to understand the data before us, be mindful of how we are engaging with our staff personally, communicate efficiently and effectively, maintain regular organizational expectations and set professional boundaries within the agency at each level of staffing.

Effective leaders are accountable to the organization, staff and the public at all times when conducting business on behalf of the agency. We must be reminded of that when asking our staff to increase performance and when evaluating our systems and programs as public administrators. So as I move forward in my new role I hope to encourage those around me to do better in their own work for the benefit of the community and the clients we serve. Having the emotional intelligence to support quality employees and build trust among staff and community partners will help foster a strong future in any organization. I would suggest that anyone in pursuit of a management position must be driven, creative, honest and have the courage to put themselves out there.

The opportunity to manage people in a professional setting is a way to give back; utilizing your skills and knowledge to help others grow is priceless. To do this well we need to be sure that we are always learning and taking the chance on ourselves and on others to ensure that we are making a difference that will be lasting and impressionable. As public administrators we owe it to the community to develop ourselves and those we manage to become great leaders so that the future of our agencies is long lasting and designed to aid the people who come to access services. As I mentioned we must model the behaviors we wish to see. As leaders we have a unique opportunity to do this so that we can make a difference in society. Our cities deserve positive leadership and the only way to do this is to be sure that we are developing ourselves and others in such a way that we are upholding the values that public administrators stand for.


Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and recent graduate of Seattle University’s Master of Public Administration program in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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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.

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