Widgetized Section

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

Management Is a Second Profession

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

By Thomas Barth
July 14, 2023

The importance of employees continuing to learn and develop as leaders and managers cannot be overstated when it comes to government and nonprofit organizations ability to operate at peak capacity. My experience this summer consulting with a local government utility and directing our Public & Nonprofit Management Academy at the Gerald G. Fox MPA Program at UNC Charlotte has driven home the power of professional development on several levels.

In the case of the public utility, you have an organization with immense technical responsibilities for the availability of safe drinking water, sewers and waste management, facility construction and maintenance, logistics, meters/billing, etc. These areas all require ongoing training and certifications in a variety of technical fields that are constantly evolving with technological advances and environmental challenges presented by population growth and development—not to mention environmental challenges from hurricanes and flooding. Yet, what is really holding them back is not technical challenges but the need for improved communication by the managers of the agency and more effective collaboration among the leadership team. These are areas where they do not receive ongoing professional development, and in many cases have never received any type of leadership or management development. Enter the need for a public administration professor to work with them to uncover the communication issues undermining the morale of an otherwise skilled and dedicated workforce. This experience reminds me of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of 35 years ago, where as a member of the Management Development Staff I had to work with highly skilled lawyers, engineers and scientists with little to no leadership or management training who were micromanaging and holding back their very capable staff. Old wine in new bottles!

Turning to the UNC Charlotte MPA Public & Nonprofit Management Academy, the demand for the program shows it is clearly addressing a need for professional development among supervisors and mid-level managers who don’t always have the time, resources or desire for full-blown traditional academic degree programs offered by an MPA, MPP or MNP. In my case credit goes to Dr. Milan Dluhy, who early on recognized the need for such an academy alongside MPA programs in his days at Florida International University. The executive level in government and nonprofit agencies may have access to expensive programs offered by universities, but the much greater number of first-line supervisors and mid-level managers can be left out to learn through the school of hard knocks, at the expense of their staff and effectiveness of their units.  Furthermore, there are also scores of technically talented line staff with management potential but little preparation for positions leading people and organizations. To tailor our program to the schedules of busy professionals, our Academy is offered on three Fridays spaced throughout each semester and conducted on zoom to enhance accessibility. The theme for each session reflects practical core knowledge useful to any manger: Setting Goals and Achieving Outcomes with modules on strategic planning, performance measurement and project management; The Power of Data with modules on budget/resource strategies, program evaluation and data presentation; and Leading and Managing in a Government/Nonprofit Context, with modules on ethics/leadership, working with elected or appointed boards and collaboration across sectors and engaging stakeholders. An additional unique feature of our Academy is that we close each day with a roundtable of practitioner community leaders who comment on the topics of the day from their professional experience. This integration of presentations by faculty with applied insights from practitioners is a powerful combination of theory and practice for the participants. A final feature of the Academy is the opportunity to build new professional networks with other participants in the class who come from not just the greater Charlotte region but beyond given the online accessibility option. For more information see https://mpa.charlotte.edu/mpa-public-management-academy.

The realities of government and nonprofit organizations are scores of supervisors and managers who are promoted based on technical expertise, yet are faced with the daunting challenges of leading and managing a workforce with minimal, if any, training, particularly below the executive levels. MPA programs should strongly consider offering affordable professional development for such public administrators and support faculty to provide consulting services that can also enhance their teaching, practitioner networks and applied research.

Author: Thomas J. Barth, Ph.D. is a Professor of Public Administration in the Gerald G. Fox MPA program at UNC Charlotte.  He teaches, conducts research, and consults in the areas of organizational development, strategic planning, human resource management and ethics. He can be reached at [email protected]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

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