Cal-ICMA Tackles the Issues That Managers Find Most Challenging
Kevin Duggan, Frank Benest, Jan Perkins, and Kevin O'Rourke
Managers and elected officials can build effective working relationships, in turn creating more effective local governments.
27 March 2016
Have you ever:
If so, you are not alone. These are only a few of the challenges for city and county managers identified in a 2015 study by Cal-ICMA—the official state affiliate for ICMA members in California.
While local government management can be uniquely interesting, fulfilling, and meaningful, there are also unique challenges that are a natural part of the profession. Some in California believe that the profession in our state can do more to promote effective council-manager relationships, and therefore, the success of city and county managers.
Cal-ICMA, with the support of a grant from Bob Murray and Associates, undertook an effort to identify the most significant challenges faced by managers and to identify strategies to help managers address them. An additional goal was to determine how to make existing resources more readily available while identifying resource gaps and developing recommendations to fill those gaps.
This project, titled the City/County Managers Survival Skills Project, resulted in the report Challenges and Strategies: Maximizing Success for City and County Managers in California.
Cal-ICMA formed a project team of staff and volunteers, and also created a 25-member advisory group of managers working throughout California. The advisory committee convened through conference calls and e-mails to serve as a sounding board on a number of critical aspects of the project.
The use of both a survey and focus groups was determined to be the best way to obtain the views of more than 500 managers in the state.
With input from the advisory committee and using SurveyMonkey, an online survey was set up to obtain manager input regarding major job challenges and techniques to address them.
The project also collected a variety of demographic information. The survey garnered an approximate 50 percent response rate with slightly more than 250 responses.
Here are noteworthy findings from the survey:
Most significant professional challenges faced. These include:
Most frequent challenges faced in working with elected officials. These include:
In response to a question of whether technical or relationship issues represented managers’ greatest challenge, the challenge of relationships rated much higher by a 69 percent to 31 percent rate.
In response to a question regarding the techniques used by managers to strengthen their relationship with their governing board, the response was:
Respondents also had the option of providing narrative responses to the question regarding their greatest challenges. Key themes derived from these responses were:
The second phase of the project involved convening eight focus groups around the state with a combined participation of 75 city and county managers. The goal of the focus groups was to review and comment on the survey findings and to gather additional information regarding primary areas of concern.
The goal also was to develop recommendations to address these concerns and to begin to identify resources to help managers deal with these challenges.
Primary areas of concern identified in focus groups. These include:
The focus groups then brainstormed potential strategies to help address these challenges. Here is a sampling of the ideas and recommendations from the focus groups:
Based on the information generated by the survey and focus groups, a series of short and potential long-term recommendations were developed. These recommendations were premised on the need to coordinate efforts with other local government professional organizations within the state and the need to establish priorities based on resource availability.
Short-term recommended actions. These include:
Potential long-term actions and initiatives. Recommendations from the survey and the focus groups also identified a variety of followup and long-term actions. These include:
Cal-ICMA, the League of California Cities, the Institute for Local Government, and the California City Management Foundation have joined forces to begin implementation of the report’s recommendations.
Here are the priority actions to be undertaken first:
1. Development of effective governance attributes and model protocols for effective council-manager relations.
2. Development of an online compendium and repository of council-manager relations resources.
3. Identification of existing resources and development of new resources to assist first-time local government managers.
4. Strengthening of regional peer support and peer coaching programs/alternatives.
5. Development of program content for specific League of California Cities conferences on the topic of council-manager relations and effective governance.
This comprehensive assessment of the challenges facing California city and county managers has initiated an important dialogue regarding how managers can be more successful in their roles. This effort also has the potential of providing important resources to elected officials to help them partner with their managers to maximize organizational and community success.
All of us are hopeful that the initiatives and the resources resulting from this work will help support effective working relationships between managers and the elected officials for whom they work, in turn creating more effective local governments.
Challenges and Strategies: Maximizing Success for City and County Managers in California can be read at icma.org/challenges+strategies.
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