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Mentoring Our Future

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

By Sarah Sweeney
April 4, 2022

As we head towards the end of this school year, the opportunity for mentorship and ushering in the next generation of public administrators is key to our future. We have heard about paying it forward and living out our legacy as leaders through those who will follow in our footsteps. Becoming a mentor is a vital part of supporting and guiding our future leaders, and helping develop our communities in the best way possible. When I was in school and learning all about what it means to become a public administrator, I envied those who were actively practicing in the field and longed to have their knowledge and experience. I made connections through my professors and fellow students, seeking out events and groups that could help develop my professional identity, knowing it could open doors at some point in the future. But not every student or new professional knows the necessary steps to obtain a mentor, or the value this relationship can add to their own career and development. So why is mentorship important, and who does it benefit? There are so many avenues we can take as mentors and mentees, and understanding how import these relationships are to the field is what will carry us forward.

For students and new professionals, a mentor can be someone who supports your growth and helps set goals to move your career forward, all while training a high quality workforce. Having someone to hold us accountable in our development journey is another reason why mentors serve as such a motivating force when meeting our goals in professional development. The goal is to have someone that offers constructive feedback and also helps identify objectives and guidelines for what’s expected as a professional in the field. As a mentor we have the unique opportunity to build upon our own skills when working with young professionals, such as increasing our interpersonal skills, strengthening our knowledge and expanding our network. It can be difficult at times to understand why mentorship is so valuable to the future of our field, especially if you’ve never engaged in this type of mutual relationship. However, in the past two years, I’ve come to realize that mentorship is even more important than ever; especially as new generations of public administration students are joining the ranks of leadership and public policy. 

Our guiding principles as a field of practice include advancing professional excellence, which according to the ASPA code of ethics, “strengthen personal capabilities to act competently and ethically and encourage the professional development of others.” This statement clearly outlines the importance of mentorship in building future generations of public administrators, and it is our duty as leaders to guide them. By sharing our experience and knowledge, we can elevate our profession and prepare for a more successful future for our communities, strengthening the relationship between our constituents and building public trust. Over the past few years there have been major events in society that have challenged social trust in public government. Only by mentoring new professionals in ways that manage and respond to community concerns, can we then regain our footing and move forward in a more equitable and just way.

I mentioned early on that an important feature of mentorship is to pay it forward and reciprocate what you’ve learned by becoming a mentor yourself. Even as a new professional, you have the skills and ability to share your own experience and insights with others who may benefit from your successes and your failures; we can all learn from each other—a valuable lesson to learn from all of this. Be the bridge for future generations within our field of practice and don’t hesitate to take a risk and put yourself out there, you won’t regret it. You have so much to teach others, even if you feel like you don’t, because your experiences are unique and have the capacity to teach valuable lessons. Be open and willing to accept and provide feedback throughout this process and I assure you that you will enjoy the process yourself. Mentorship is vital to the success and future of our profession and we are all responsible for succession planning.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State.  She may be contacted at [email protected]

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