The work of city and county managers is complex and dynamic: complex due to the many challenges facing local governments across the country and dynamic due to the dizzying changes impacting communities and their citizens. These challenges and changes come at a time when public confidence in elected officials remains historically low (Pew Research Center, 2015). Given these various factors, city and county managers have both an opportunity and obligation to build trust with their various constituents through the practice of effective leadership.

Based on our work in the Center for Organizational Development and Leadership at Rutgers University, we have come to define leadership as a process of social influence that is shaped by verbal and nonverbal communication and co-constructed between leaders and followers (Ruben & Gigliotti, 2016). This definition, along with many other similar definitions, highlights the importance of both the leader and the follower in shaping the process of leadership. Put another way, the follower is what makes leadership possible, and leaders must regularly assess the impact of their behaviors on the various followers one represents.

As we consider the complex and dynamic context facing city and county managers, Brent Ruben’s (2012) leadership competencies scorecard provides a useful overview of the knowledge and skills required for effective leadership during this important moment. This scorecard is the result of Ruben’s synthesis of the extensive professional literature on leadership, leading him to develop a diverse portfolio of requisite competencies based on five broad areas:

1) Analytic competencies

2) Personal competencies

3) Communication competencies

4) Organizational competencies

5) Positional competencies.

Each of these broad competency areas encompasses a number of themes, as illustrated in the figure below. As Ruben describes these broad and expansive competencies, he suggests that the many challenges that leaders face require a diverse portfolio of knowledge and skills, “and the ability to analyze situations and employ those competencies as needed” (p. 2).

Five Major Competency Themes - Leadership Effectiveness
Leadership Competency Scorecard Themes (Ruben, 2012)

Leadership involves a combination of: (1) “vertical” competencies––the knowledge and skills needed to lead that are specific to one’s role as a local government official; and (2) “horizontal” competencies––the generic knowledge and skills that cut across these competency areas. For example, your role as a public administrator likely requires an intimate understanding of local issues, but your success as a leader also very much hinges on your analytical problem-solving skills, your organizational abilities, your enthusiasm for public service, and your effectiveness in communicating with the diverse constituents in your community.

As you think about your own leadership effectiveness, take time to review the various competency areas in the scorecard, and consider which of these areas you are most and least proficient.


Pew Research Center (2015). Public trust in government: 1958-2015. Retrieved February 6, 2017


Ruben, B. D. (2012). What leaders need to know and do: A leadership competencies scorecard. (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Ruben, B. D. & Gigliotti, R. A. (2016). Leadership as social influence: An expanded view of leadership communication theory and practice. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 23(4), 467-479.