NLC University Seminar Highlights at the 2015 Congressional City Conference

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Jim Hunt explains how to build strong relationships between city managers and city councils, and Natalie Houghtby-Haddon reveals eight practices for effective multi-sector leadership.

NLC University’s pre-conference training sessions at the 2016 Congressional City Conference are an ideal time for you to strengthen your leadership skills and build confidence prior to meeting with your legislators on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 9. (Getty Images)

How to Build Strong Relationships Between City Managers and City Councils

This is a guest post by Jim Hunt.

Each year I speak with thousands of city officials and one of the topics that seems to be near the top of the list are issues surrounding council-manager relationships. A healthy council-manager relationship is critical to the success of a city and a dysfunctional relationship can often adversely affect the city staff and the interaction with citizens. There are many reasons why council-manager relationships are difficult and often they can be improved by analyzing some of the dynamics of the relationship.

Failure to communicate is often cited as the beginning of a breakdown in the council-manager relationship. In today’s busy times, managers will often use text messaging or email to communicate with their council, without finding out if all members of council prefer to communicate in that manner. Some managers use written memos and reports to distribute information and that might infuriate a councilmember who would rather receive a quick text or email. How can a manager win? One tip is to discuss a communication strategy with the governing body and decide on a method that works for everyone. Be considerate of everyone and if there is a need to accommodate a member, it is a good idea to do so. Many councils are using laptops or Ipads to distribute information and if a member is not a technology user, communication issues may be looming in the future.

Some might think that a city manager needs a Doctorate in Psychology to do their job and while that might be helpful, it is important to understand the personalities and needs of their councilmembers. Often, problems arise when new members join a council and they feel out of the loop because veteran councilmembers seem to have a closer relationship with the manager. In my 27-year career, I often counseled fellow councilmembers that it takes a while to develop a good relationship and feel comfortable with the manager. Many times they formed a negative opinion for reasons that were not the fault of the manager but just a difference in personalities.

I think one of the most important factors in establishing a good council-manager relationship is to recognize the unique properties of the city manager form of government. In it, a professional manager is appointed by a governing body to run the city while the council oversees the budget and policy making responsibilities of the city. Too many times, councilmembers fail to respect the boundaries of their city charter and overstep into duties that are in the domain of the manager. Likewise, some managers will attempt to legislate or control the budget, often with disastrous results.

My good friend, Mike Conduff, a former board member of the International City Managers Association (ICMA) and city manager in several cities in Texas and Kansas, often kid each other about who is at fault in dysfunctional council-manager relationships. We plan to engage in a lively discussion at the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference and promise that whether you are a city manager or city councilmember, your questions and issues will be addressed. Please come ready for a fun workshop and remember the words of Dr. Phil, “No matter how flat you make a pancake, there are two sides to every council-manager relationship!”

For more lessons on building strong relationships between city managers and city councils, join my session at the National League of Cities 2016 Congressional City Conference. Here are the details:

Stronger Together: City Manager and City Council Relations
1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
March 5, 2016
Marriott Wardman Park, Maryland Suites A and B

In order to successfully deliver services to citizens, elected officials and the city manager must work as a team where everyone understands their role, gets to contribute their voice, and problem solve. In this seminar, learn tangible skills for effective teamwork between the city manager and council. Learn skills and best practices to facilitate positive and productive meetings, create a healthy work environment, and clearly define roles. You’ll hear from two individuals, each with more than 30 years of local government experience, who are dedicated to creating excellence in municipal government.

Curriculum/Proficiency Area: Management
Credits: 2
Level: 201
Cost: $150

About the Author: Jim Hunt works with cities and organizations throughout the United States on the subject of excellence in local governance. He founded Amazing Cities, a national consulting organization, and travels extensively meeting with city officials and visiting hundreds of cities each year. Jim served as President of the National League of Cities in 2006 and led the Partnership for Inclusive Communities, an effort that included over 200 cities with over 20 million residents. He has served as Mayor of Clarksburg, West Virginia, and as President of the West Virginia Municipal League. In 2006, Jim was honored by American City and County Magazine as the “Municipal Leader of the Year”. Jim is also a member of the World Council of the United Cities and Local Governments headquartered in Barcelona, Spain.

8 Practices for Effective Multi-Sector Leadership

This is a guest post by Natalie Houghtby-Haddon.

Fiscal pressures are a fact of government life; and taxpayers aren’t making it easy. Public sector leaders are expected to provide the same level of service – or better – with less resources.

These pressures are particularly acute at the local level. State and federal funding cuts have left municipalities facing critical infrastructure, housing and public safety challenges – just to name a few. The solution? Government can no longer do its job without partnerships. Almost all ‘big hairy’ missions these days are co-produced.

Multi-sector collaboration, however, doesn’t just happen. Deliberate actions must be taken to inspire partnership with individuals and organizations representing different sectors.

City leaders must create the conditions – developing networks and building alliances – where stakeholders from different sectors can formally come together to combine their assets and achieve a shared goal or objective. Local leaders must be politically savvy, identifying the internal and external politics that impact the work of the organizations with whom they seek to partner. Leaders must also be able to influence and persuade, building consensus through give and take and gaining cooperation from others to obtain information and accomplish goals.

But where do city leaders start? Begin with considering these eight practices essential to any effective multi-sector partnership:

  1. Define and articulate a common outcome
  2. Establish mutually reinforcing or joint strategies
  3. Identify and address needs by leveraging resources
  4. Agree on roles and responsibilities
  5. Establish compatible policies, procedures, etc. to work across operational boundaries
  6. Develop mechanisms to monitor, evaluate and report results
  7. Reinforce accountability for collaborative efforts through plans and reports
  8. Reinforce individual accountability for collaborative efforts through performance management systems

For more lessons on solving today’s complex societal and community problems through multi-sector efforts, join my session at the National League of Cities 2016 Congressional City Conference. Here are the details:

Organizational Leadership in a Multi-Sector Environment
1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
March 5, 2016
Marriott Wardman Park, Delaware Suite B

Solving today’s complex societal and community problems- from infrastructure to public safety to public health- requires a collaborative, multi-sector effort. The private sector, federal, state and local government and the nonprofit community must all work together to generate and implement creative and effective solutions. Doing so requires a special type of leader: one who understands the motivations and unique contributions of the various actors and can align common agendas, incentives and outcomes.

In this session, participants will be introduced to theories, skills, and practices from a variety of disciplines and examine how both internal and external political environments impact city officials’ ability to achieve their mission.

Curriculum/Proficiency Area: Management & Leadership
Credits: 2
Level: 201
Cost: $150

About the Author: Dr. Natalie K. Houghtby-Haddon is the Associate Director of The George Washington University Center for Excellence in Public Leadership (GW CEPL), and an Associate Professor in the GW College of Professional Studies. She is also the Academic Program Director for the Center’s two graduate programs, the Master of Professional Studies in Public Leadership with a Specialization in Multi-Sector Management and the Graduate Certificate in Organization Performance Improvement. Prior to her appointment with GW CEPL, Dr. Houghtby-Haddon was President of Immaculate Heart College Center in Los Angeles. She also served both as the Interim Executive Director and faculty member for the Institute for Community Leadership in Los Angeles, California.