No matter what type of organization you are engaged with, private, public, utility, non-profit and so on, leaders will be the defining element in why a non-profit or for-profit is successful or not. I regularly participate on Linked-in blogs on topics that speak to utility management, subject matter experts, infrastructure asset management, change management, organizational management and strategic management. There is a consistent thread of interest around the subject of engagement and what it will take to gain the confidence of employees, union and non-union, to participate in strategies designed to promote long-term sustainability of their local government, utility, airport, county government, port authority and so on. The thread invariably targets the lack of management to open the door to communication, transparency, shared vision, participation in goal setting, and understanding the value of everyone’s role in making the organization successful and valued by their customers, taxpayers, and ratepayers.
Leadership is not a trait that is shared by all. In fact, the selection of some managers by councils and boards is less of an interest in a strong leader and risk taker as opposed to a greater inclination for a follower that won’t raise problems with their constituents. What’s the old adage, you get what you pay for? Governing bodies need to shift their priorities to install solid leadership with the mission to engage their employees in critical service delivery systems. Leaders need to delegate authority down through the organization that expects and willingly opens the door to ideas, opinions and dialogue to mentor the next generation of crew chiefs, division heads, department managers and potentially CEO’s of the organization. Not everyone is suited for management roles but everyone has good ideas and can support a vision that they had input in building.
The opinion of many responders to the blogs acknowledge an invaluable requirement of a good manager or leader. Essentially, those managers who engage best with their employees are those that have come from their ranks and understand the realities and pressures of performing at the department level. From a personal experience, I found the budget office to be the ideal environment for learning and understanding the broader organization because in that role, the analyst must deconstruct the departments they are assigned to understand them and then rebuild them with the department managers to budget effectively for maximum efficiency. It is too easy for employees to say “what does this manager know about what we are doing, he/she’s never done it.” This comment is a statement on credibility. It is also targeted on newly minted assistant/deputy managers coming right out of grad school and they are given management roles with no understanding of leadership, team building, how to speak with and not at their more experienced employees, and so on.
To conclude, governing bodies must appoint true leaders to serve as champions for change and to engage employees in building a solid team that will share the mission and vision for a sustainable organization. First, governing bodies need to agree on a long-term strategic vision built with full organization and public engagement. Then they need to get out of the way and let the manager/risk taker challenge his/her staff to push themselves to provide exceptional, high quality services as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.