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Takeaways from the West Coast Regional Summit

Every year, ICMA hosts Regional Summits across the county to offer professional development and networking opportunities for local government professionals. The workshop sessions and conversations at these summits facilitate the sharing of innovative ideas and best practices that strengthen local government teams throughout the country. As an aspiring local government leader, I was thrilled to receive a student scholarship from ICMA to attend the West Coast Regional Summit in Newport Beach, California.

I am pursuing my MPA because I desire to devote my career to the service of others and make positive contributions in municipal policy development. I am particularly drawn to city management because I believe in the unique advantages of local government to effectively promote sustainable and equitable growth and deliver critical services to strengthen all members of a community. Thanks to ICMA and their Next Generation Initiative, I have the opportunity to integrate my academic and professional learning and build a strong professional network.

ICMA and Women Leading Government kicked off the regional summit with a special educational session entitled, “You Have What It Takes to Be a Resilient Leader.” This session featured ICMA President Pat Martel moderating a panel of five inspiring leaders holding executive positions in public and private organizations. As these women shared their stories of moving out of their comfort zones to tackle challenging situations, I noticed a common theme: not a single panelist felt 100 percent prepared for the task at hand. Despite their professional management experience, they all felt underprepared and uncertain in their ability to succeed. Research has shown that women tend to underestimate their ability to do the job while their male counterparts tend to do the opposite. I am puzzled by this finding and yet I recognize it as a challenge I face myself. Not surprisingly, many other women in the room shared the same sentiment during the breakout session at the end of the panel discussion. What is the antidote to this common woe? Opportunities like this session to share our stories, encourage each other, and remind ourselves of what we can achieve when we do our best to prepare, trust our instincts, and just go for it!

During lunch, I had the opportunity to meet with three policy analysts from San Luis Obispo County, the assistant to the city manager from the City of Santa Ana, and ICMA Executive Director Bob O’Neill. As they each shared their story of how they came to local government and their current work, I felt inspired by the diversity of opportunities offered in local government. From urban planning and financial management to economic development and public engagement, there is truly something for everybody in local government. Notably, there is no single path to management. According to these leaders, it all comes down three things:

1)      Giving your best effort, no matter how small the task,

2)      Surrounding yourself with a supportive professional and personal network, and

3)      Always being willing to help others and try new things.

The rest of the summit focused on organizational engagement. Bob O’Neill shared his key takeaways from his conversation with management expert and author, Pat Lencioni, for engaging employees and fostering a strong organizational culture:

  • Build a cohesive team and remember, a management team is not the same as a leadership team. Leaders inspire and encourage others to achieve results.
  • When looking for new talent for your organization, choose the people who are “hungry, humble, and smart.” These people will be your best employees.
  • Never underestimate the power of continual and clear communication. Clarity is king!
  • Reduce unnecessary email communications by embracing the daily 5- to 10-minute informal check-in meeting with your team.
  • The surprising cure to “death by meetings” is to actually schedule more meetings, but make them shorter in length and more intentional in topics covered.

In addition to these valuable and informative sessions, I am thankful for the many opportunities to engage with local government leaders from across the West Coast. It was especially rewarding to get to know two city managers from the Portland-metropolitan region where I will be serving as a Local Government Management Fellow (LGMF) after I graduate this June. While an MPA offers a powerhouse of public management and policy tools to tackle complex problems, a strong professional network is just as critical to success. Local government is all about people – building relationships, working together on a team, and serving the public. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have attended the West Coast Regional Summit. Thank you, ICMA!

Ashley Sonoff, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in Seattle. 

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