I am a second-generation city manager, and until my retirement in 2005 there had been a city manager named Ray Botch employed in either Oregon or Illinois since 1950. My dad was the recipient of the 1978 ICMA Distinguished Service Award.
During my 35 years as manager of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and Westmont, Illinois, I gained helpful hints that can make a difficult job easier—at least they did for me.
BE A LEADER, NOT A BOSS
The Boss says “I.” The Leader says “we.”
The Boss inspires fear. The Leader inspires enthusiasm.
The Boss commands. The Leader asks.
The Boss drives people. The Leader coaches people.
The Boss takes credit. The Leader gives credit.
The Boss sees today. The Leader sees tomorrow and beyond.
Maintain an open door policy with the public. Limit the amount of time your office door is closed. You do not need an irate citizen showing up at a council meeting and announcing: “I went to see the city manager but the door was closed.”
Recognize that civil media relations are essential. Try to establish mutually accepted ground rules with members of the media. There will be negative stories. Do not attack the reporter; it shows you are upset. Reporters, especially young reporters, love to make you sweat. Keep your cool and disarm them with kindness.
Remember that you were hired to run the city or county, not each individual department. Don’t micromanage. Coach the department heads to become better managers. Also, treat people with respect. Yelling and cursing turn people off.
Know your employees and the departments where they work. Get out in the trenches. Visit and be seen. Calling employees by name will make you a hero.
Discipline employees privately. Stress their positive points as well as the negative. Together, come up with a plan of action that will prevent a negative incident from recurring. Employees try harder when they know you care.
Be a good listener. Hear what people are saying. When responding, look directly at the person to whom you are talking.
Don’t let problems fester. Attack them head on. The ostrich theory of management does not work.
Don’t keep people waiting. Their time is valuable, too. Plus, it shows poor manners. Follow up on telephone calls and citizen complaints immediately.
Budget your time wisely. There will be demands for your time from elected officials, citizens, staff members, news media, and civic and professional organizations. You must learn to delegate.
Make sure reports to elected officials are concise, detailed, and easily understandable. Put yourself in the council’s place and ask “how would I vote on the manager’s recommendation?” If you have done your homework, the only unanswered question should be “when do we start?”
The annual budget scares most governing bodies even though the budget is only dollars in and dollars out. The budget should be the manager’s best friend. The manager should prepare the major portion of the budget because that will provide the manager with an excellent opportunity to know in detail the workings of each of the departments without micromanaging.
In essence, the budget message is the manager’s state of the city report. It should, in financial terms, cover three areas: (1) where we are, (2) where we need to go, and (3) how we are going to get there!
Remember that local government’s purpose is to provide services, not jobs. Eliminate or consolidate unnecessary jobs. The least painful way is to have the elected officials declare a hiring freeze.
Make your local government more efficient and frugal through the elimination of duplicate or unnecessary services. Look at mutual aid agreements, intergovernmental agreements, joint purchasing, mixed-use facilities, consolidation, or even public referendum.
Be active in your state municipal league.
Get to know your state and federal legislators and school and county officials. The best way to get the pulse of your city is to become actively involved in such organizations as the chamber of commerce, civic and social clubs, school groups, and the religious community.
Deal with the fact that councils look for conflict. They do not feel they are doing their job if they are not solving some problem. A manager who spends time with councilmembers individually and listens to their concerns and goals reduces potential conflict.
Keeping elected officials well informed is extremely important to a manager’s professional well-being.Simply put, your job is to make the elected officials look good!
Thank employees when they make you look good. It shows appreciation and that you are not taking all the credit. You can demand respect, but you will not get it if you do. You earn respect through your work ethic and fairness.