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Blogs / Leadership {RE}imagined / The 6 Keys to Excellent Council-Manager Relationships

The 6 Keys to Excellent Council-Manager Relationships


It’s no secret that good relations with your elected official is one of the key components to your job. If it’s poor, your community will suffer. If there’s mutual respect, an understanding of roles, and open communication, the sky can be the limit.

But what should you do if there is significant friction or loss of trust between you and the elected body?

I recently had the opportunity to read ICMA’s new e-book, Making It Work: The Essentials of Council-Manager Relations, which focuses on city and county managers establishing, nurturing, and maintaining good relations with their elected officials.

Kevin Duggan and Mike Conduff, authors of the e-book, offer a variety of suggested techniques and strategies to maximizing the likelihood of establishing and maintaining an effective working relationship with the governing board.

Here are six key pieces of advice they have for positive and productive relationships between the elected official and the manager.

1. Form your relationships right from the start.

Start the council member orientation process early – even as candidates are campaigning – and as soon as possible once candidates have been elected. Doing so allows you to establish and clarify roles as well as develop mutual trust and confidence.

2. Use interpersonal and communication skills to sustain a solid foundation.

It is often interpersonal and communication skills and talents that dictate to a greater degree a manager’s long-term success. These skills ultimately translate into the quality managers’ relationships with their elected officials and key constituents.

3. You need a comprehensive system of players, roles, and rules that propel good government.

Good governance happens when the players (the governing body, the chief administrative officer, and staff) truly understand and respect each other’s roles in the process. Duggan and Conduff suggest that the chief administrator can often help elected officials – especially new ones – understand their role, and their skill in providing this educational component to elected officials can be critical for long-term organizational and governance success.

4. Positive relationships start with new council member orientations.

This is both a responsibility and an opportunity for local government managers. A well-organized and information orientation program will help council members clear the hurdles they encounter while adjusting to their new roles and responsibilities.

5. Council and board meetings are where local government democracy takes center stage.

These meetings are key points in the local government process where the community’s elected leaders make decisions on the community’s behalf. Successful governing board meetings are a top priority for elected officials.

6. An essential tool for helping councils achieve their goals are council retreats.

The key responsibility and added value of the governing body is to describe the community’s future desired state so that the chief administrator can implement the processes and procedures necessary to bring that future state to reality. One of the best tools for exploring, discussing, and agreeing on these outcomes is a successful council retreat, also sometimes called leadership summit or annual planning session.

Have any other tips for mastering the council-manager relationship? We’d love to hear it! Comment below.

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