Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Leading with Our Strengths

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

By Sarah Sweeney
June 22, 2023

For the second year I have an opportunity to participate in a mentorship program through my workplace, and am honored and excited about the chance to give back and guide someone else along their professional development journey. As a fairly new manager of people and processes I sometimes wonder if I am qualified to lead others in this way, simply because there is so much more to learn about being a public administrator. However, to be a mentor means leading by example. Having the strength and courage to be vulnerable and learn from our mistakes is a special way to share this journey with others. One of the first steps of joining the program involves taking an inventory of our strengths and sharing those with our mentor or mentee, which helps open a conversation of similarities or differences and lays out a path forward. This type of relationship requires a certain level of openness, empathy, understanding and honesty. It is not simply me telling my mentee how to be a leader, but helping identify their own strengths during this transformative experience.

It can sometimes be difficult to highlight our strengths when working with others because we don’t necessarily want to outshine our colleagues, but it is also important to acknowledge and recognize those things we do well so we can hone and develop our tool kit to improve our community. As Public Administrators we are charged with the development and progression of policies, programs and wellbeing of those we serve. Mentorship is a way that we can develop future leaders because it allows others to learn how to navigate systematic barriers. Strengths-based leadership allows for a sustainable future and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of our teams is important when working to change or improve the way in which we do business. 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.

A barrier to participating in a mentorship relationship can be finding the time to physically meet with your mentee or mentor, whether it be virtual or in person, which is why it is important to understand the motivations of participating in this type of program. Professional development is vital to the progression of public administration and finding the space to move forward is key. We are so busy with our work and lives it can be easy to block out the time necessary to build this work in to our daily, weekly or monthly schedules so I would encourage you to find the time to develop yourselves and your colleagues in a way that supports the mission and vision of the agency you serve and the staff you support. In my program at work the next step after identifying our strengths will be to create a mentoring plan and review goals of the relationship, with measurable outcomes. This can also be difficult especially if your mentee is not sure what they expect to gain from this experience, which is why discussing the benefits of a mentorship arrangement can develop the skills and abilities of your staff. 

As I learn more about what it means and what it takes to lead people in to the future, through change and uncertainly, the more excited I become when considering the development of others. I am drawn to opportunities where staff can grow and learn new tools and skills to lead their own staff or agency in to the next phase. I gravitated to public administration as a practice so I could have an impact on both a systems and policy level, not expecting the vast opportunities available to work with people in such dynamic ways and on different planes of service delivery. Mentorship programs create a safe space to explore and test boundaries in a way we can not do normally, where we can provide or receive feedback on different ways of doing things. Trying out a supervisory model, initiating difficult conversations or even finding your identity as a leader are all positive outcomes of engaging in this type of work. If your agency does not provide a mentorship opportunity, I would encourage you to seek out community based professional development opportunities to help build and sustain your own growth and that of your staff.

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]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)

One Response to Leading with Our Strengths

  1. Lori L Hardesty Reply

    July 17, 2023 at 10:58 am

    Sarah, thanks for sharing your piece. I am writing from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County
    (UMBC) in Baltimore, MD. I’ve had your article open on my laptop since it came out. My attention was caught by the inclusion of “strengths-based leadership” in your title. I finally listened to the included podcast on my way to work. Yes, yes, and yes!

    I am curious about your Top 5 Strengths. Mine are Arranger, Maximizer, Empathy, Positivity, and Developer. I have done a bit of mentoring myself, and recently sought out a mentor via the Section for Women in Public Administration (SWPA). Ironically, my mentor turned out to be a male. My knee-jerk reaction was almost to say “wait a second….” but am keeping an open mind, as he has already guided me well in our short time of working together (just a few months). He has asked me great Qs re: my goals. Thank you for helping me reflect more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *