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3 Things Aspiring Managers Can Do to Stay Competitive in Their Local Government Career


We’re eager – and sometimes overeager – to find a prestigious job with an impressive title and extensive responsibilities. We’ve all been there but sometimes the often overlooked, less glamorous choices may better serve our long-term career choices.

The ICMA publication The Effective Local Government Manager notes that often more important than title and starting salary for the enhancement of one’s competitiveness for the next career step are:

  • The nature of the job.
  • The opportunity to test and develop skills.
  • The possibilities for advancement.
  • The opportunity to learn from a respected mentor.
  • The reputation of the employing government.

As an aspiring manager, you’ll be competing for future positions with very talented colleagues, and in some cases, friends who will be just as eager to have the position. Early in your career, you should take care to do the following three things to stay competitive in your local government career:

1. Build a record of accomplishment

Position title, number of employees supervised, and size of budget managed – these are not the measures that will help one compete for a position with greater responsibility and greater compensation. Instead, it is critical to assume responsibility for a specific issue, problem, capital project, or service area, especially during the first few jobs.

Tip: If the responsibility is not assigned, you should seek out an assignment that will lead to measurable results; that is what builds a professional reputation for accomplishment.

2. Build relevant experience

There are various routes that you can take to build relevant experience in the local government profession. Some early-career professionals choose a specialized field like finance, human resources, planning, or economic development, which often culminates in a department director’s position. Others try out positions that support elected officials in their policy making or constituent representation responsibilities, and they develop a keen interest in support or generalist administration roles. These individuals are frequently interested in assistant positions that come with increasing responsibilities. A smaller number remain focused on the top appointed administrative posts in local government and they try to vary their early assignments so as to gain a broad exposure to all the concerns facing a local government.

Tip: There are a number of variables to consider when deciding which early experiences to build on: First is the size of the community. In smaller communities, the top manager may be the only manager; a decision to focus experience and career on small communities means much greater exposure to the daily details of a government’s operations. Larger communities involve more staff and specialist management positions with more internal upward mobility and greater responsibilities for coordination. [Inside the Year Book, 2002]

Second is community type. Managing in a central city/urban center involves more skills that are different from those required in suburban communities, and those skills need to be built and sharpened through early experiences.

Third is where you want to live. The local government profession has always required its practitioners to move from one community to another as they seek increasing responsibility. Some managers limit their movement to communities within the same state in order to build on experience with state laws, customs, and traditions, while some managers might spend their entire career in one jurisdiction.

3. Learn to compete

If you are interested in moving up in your local government or plan to move to another local government, you’ll discover quickly that competition for the most desirable positions is fierce.

Tip: The strongest contenders establish the foundation for their candidacy early by securing an advanced education, gaining the appropriate experience, and building a record of accomplishments. Becoming and remaining an ICMA Credentialed Manager is also an advantage. This foundation, coupled with a reasonably keen knowledge of the recruitment process and an ability to present oneself effectively, enhances the odds of a competitive standing in the job market.

Continue to stay competitive in your local government career by attending the Emerging Leaders Development Program. A leadership program where emerging to mid-career managers build knowledge, skills, and abilities in the basic management and technical topics that managers need to know to be successful. Learn more & register.

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