Have you ever had a burning question that you really wanted to know the answer to, but maybe you were afraid to ask? Or perhaps you just didn’t have anyone to turn to for an answer?

No need to wait any longer…the time to ask your questions has come…why not try Ask A Coach!!!

This exciting element of the FCCMA Coaching program will give you the opportunity to submit questions on career topics to experienced professionals anytime via email. The program director will forward them anonymously to a team of volunteer coaches (senior managers and executive recruiters). You’ll receive a response via email and the answers (without identification of the questioners) will appear in the “Ask a Coach” form on the bottom of this page. So go ahead and send in your questions today…

[toggle title=”Handling A Hot Potato”]

I am a brand new City Manager on the job for only a couple months, and I just found out that my administrative assistant is dating a firefighter who is currently the president of the local firefighter’s union. Any advice on how to handle this situation?

Dear “Handling a Hot Potato,”

First I assume there is not a policy involving relationships between employees. I would sit down with the administrative assistant and explain the confidentiality of the administrative assistant’s job and explain that there could appear to others in the organization to be a conflict of interest due to this situation. Explain that trust to all involved is imperative. Explain that for her protection you may have to use other administrative staff to prepare any union documents. I would also warn that if this does cause performance issues with her work, she may have to be transferred to another department.

-Jim Drumm

Well, employees are people, and people have relationships. There is no reporting relationship between your administrative assistant and the firefighter, so I doubt your HR policies prohibit this relationship. However, there are some things that are just very good to know and this is one of them. Judgment and discretion are more important than any clerical skill for the successful administrative assistant to a City Manager. However, knowing what you now know, your judgment and discretion will serve you well in handling this hot potato. There is certainly no need to overreact or perhaps to do anything immediately. After you get to know your administrative assistant better, let her know that you are ok with her relationship, but discuss possible scenarios where she might be “conflicted” in her role vis-à-vis the role of her boyfriend and discuss how the two of you should deal with any of those should they arise. This conversation is a great opportunity to establish trust and respect with your new employee as well as to establish some important professional expectations.

-Vincent Long

Although this situation appears to be quite sticky, I feel that the solution is relatively straight forward. You obviously cannot suggest to your Administrative Assistant that she stop dating the firefighter (who also happens to be the local firefighter’s union president) but the opportunity for personal vs. professional conflict could exist in this current state of affairs. First, you should have a very serious discussion with her concerning what you expect from her as a member of the City Manager’s Team. Second, discuss the importance of confidentiality that comes with this position and hopefully through that conversation you can determine if she can handle this situation in a professional manner. Should you both agree to give this working relationship a try, you need to be clear that any breach of business related information (especially any information related to the Fire Department) will be grounds for serious disciplinary action. On the other hand, if you find that this individual cannot handle her responsibilities in a professional manner due to the fact that you are the “brand new” City Manager you are not obligated to keep this individual in her current position. I would recommend that you discuss the situation with her (recognizing the conflicts that could arise within your working relationship) and transfer her to a similar position within the organization with no adverse changes to her rate of pay or job responsibilities. Once the transfer has been completed, you can implement a recruitment process to fill the open position.

-Carl Harness

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[toggle title=”Prisoner of Public Works”]

I am several years into my career and I am aspiring to become a City Manager but based on the opportunities that I have had so far, my career path has primarily taken me through the public works arena. If I want to become a City Manager one day, will I need to eventually break out of the niche I am in and pursue jobs in other disciplines to become a well-rounded manager? Or should I embrace the opportunities that I have and work to establish myself as manager with specialized skills (i.e. public works)?

Dear “ Prisoner of Public Works,”

Certainly if you are a Professional Engineer and only a few years into your career, I think it is a fine idea to pursue becoming the Public Works Director, then City Manager. That’s a well worn and effective career path. If your educational background is more general management (MPA, MBA, etc), I would actively seek out opportunities to get in the City Manager’s office. It is true that people get pigeon-holed and you can become viewed as a “public works type”, which could limit your opportunities. My advice: let it be known within your organization what your career goals are and actively seek opportunities to get closer to the City Manager’s office. In the meantime, seek out every interdepartmental assignment you can to demonstrate the transferability of your skill set within your organization and to build a resume of assignments, which are not strictly “Public Works.”

-Vincent Long

I would agree that it is time for you to break out of Public Works and seek general management positions. You could specialize in another field as well. Planning in Florida is often a fast track to the City Managers position. PW experience is valuable as a city manager as well. I would suggest seeking Asst. City Manager positions or even City Manager in a smaller organization.

-Jim Drumm

I am going to address this question with 2 responses. The first response is to think of yourself as a sponge in this stage of your career. Soak up every bit of knowledge you can expose yourself to. Despite the fact that you primarily work in the Public Works arena that should not keep you from getting involved in other areas of your local government. Look for opportunities to participate in special projects and city-wide taskforce activities. This will broaden your knowledge base and will allow other Department Heads as well as the City Manager to observe your working skills.

I think that it is particularly important that you gain some experience (at some point in your career) in budgeting & finance if you have not done so already. In addition, strengthening your knowledge in the areas of Public Safety, Community/Economic Development, and Parks & Recreation. These functions are fairly standard throughout and should be helpful to you as you build on your career. The second response comes from a different perspective. Although I still believe it is important to gain as much knowledge as possible among the various disciplines within your municipality there can also be advantages to being a specialist. There are many career opportunities that will arise with a city searching for a candidate with a specialty within a specific area.

I have seen job advertisements recruiting for both Assistant City Managers and City Managers requesting extensive experience in areas such as Public Works, Planning and Growth Management, Economic Development and Fiscal related responsibilities. Therefore, being a specialist is not particularly a negative aspect for your career. It is important that you get involved in you local and statewide organizations. Make contacts and network and keep your eyes and ears open for new opportunities not only in your own jurisdiction but in other ones as well. You may find that in building your career will require that you move to another municipality or county agency to gain the experience you need. Keep your options open, work hard and you will be rewarded.

-Carl Harness

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[toggle title=”Learning to Job Hunt”]

I will be graduating in the spring with my MPA but I have come to learn that one thing my graduate degree has not necessarily prepared me for is job hunting. I have to admit I am not sure what kinds of jobs I will be qualified for. What types of jobs should I pursue to help me begin to build a solid foundation for a career in local government management? At this point in the game is it more important to get my foot in the door or should I hold out for a position that can offer me more quality experiences? Are there resources specific to Florida that I can use to find local government jobs in the state?

Dear “Learning to Job Hunt,”

I am surprised that you do not have a Career Development Center or Office at your University to assist you with the initial elements of job recruitment. However, if those resources are not available to you, I think that our State organization FCCMA (Florida City and County Management Association) would be an excellent resource to assist you in getting started. If you are currently a member of FCCMA, you could utilize our new coaching program which would put you in direct contact with many seasoned professionals that could provide you with valuable advice. If you are not a current member, I would recommend (if possible) that you attend the upcoming pre-conference event “So You Want To be A City/County Manager” at our annual conference to be held in Marco Island in May. This would give you the opportunity to meet some of our members and gain a sense of the challenges and rewards that we experience through our profession. If you can actually attend the full conference, we will have professional recruiters available (by appointment) who could provide you with advice on developing your resume (content & formatting). They would also be able to discuss interviewing techniques with you. I realize that you will be coming straight out of graduate school, but I believe that this type of information would be very valuable to you.

As it relates to actually “getting your foot in the door,” I would explore the various internship programs that are available, not only those here in Florida, but there are other prominent programs throughout the country. Usually these programs are set for a duration of 1 year. The participants have the opportunity to work in a rotation with 4 or 5 different departments which provides them with a variety of experiences in that organization. The pay rates for these programs are good, especially for those individuals coming directly out of school and the best part, with most of these programs you are hired on into a permanent position after the 1-year period if you have done good work during the internship period.

-Carl Harness

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[toggle title=”Looking for the Fast Track”]
I am a recent MPA graduate who moved here from the West to start my career in local government. My dream is to someday be a city manager of a small city. When I was in graduate school, I met many alumni from my program who became city managers of smaller cities after just three to five years’ experience as a management or budget analyst. I had always considered them to be lucky. As I look forward to my career, I’m wondering what the next step should be. If I’m an analyst for three to five years, could I really obtain the skill set necessary to manage a city? If not, what are some more realistic goals to shoot for?

Dear “Looking for the Fast Track,”
I would submit to you that the alumni from your alma mater who became city managers and you considered “lucky”, made their luck. I can recall a graduate professor of mine telling our Public Finance class that many of us would do well to seek out our first job opportunities in the budget office of a city or a county if we wanted to someday be the top manager. My brain scrambled to find ways to skip that step. As much as the idea of sitting in front of a computer crunching numbers for eight plus hours a day nauseated me, as soon as I had the opportunity I went to the closest OMB and volunteered my services – in anticipation of someday being qualified to get the budget analyst job. That day came and for several years I lived in the budget office.

It was that experience which provided the foundation necessary on which to build the skill set necessary to manage a city. If you are really fast tracking, then it will be imperative for you to have a mentor / city manager simultaneous to your budgeting experience who can teach you all the intangibles of policy execution and effective council-manager relations.

-Vincent Long

I had similar questions myself, years ago. I would say you should look for a position that will get you on a fast track if that is your goal. I would not recommend jumping right into a City Manager role right out of graduate school. Some people do this, and it is baptism under fire. Some do not make it and some do. The better option is to learn from a manager so you don’t have to learn personnel and political issues the hard way. You do not want to have a bad experience in the first job.

I would suggest looking for positions that involve working closely with the city or county manager. There is valuable experience in every administrative government job, but you need a title that elected officials will understand when they review your resume in a few years. You should look for Management Analyst, Budget Analyst, Asst. to the City (or County) Manager. After three years in these jobs, you could make a jump to manager or asst. manager in a small city and do very well.

-Jim Drumm

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[toggle title=”Surviving the Heat”]

I recently signed up to receive Ken Small’s newsclipping services. While it is very informative, it is also very scary. It seems managers are always getting fired for political reasons. As someone new to the profession, with a family to support, this makes me pretty nervous about going for the top job. Can you give me some perspective on getting used to getting fired?

Dear “Surviving the Heat,”

I have been fortunate so far in my career that I have not had the distinct pleasure of going through the experience of being fired from a job, however, I can share my opinion with you having had good friends and colleagues in our profession that have gone through it. I can imagine any time someone loses his/her job for any reason it can be both a traumatic and challenging experience. In most cases my friends have learned from that experience, gathered themselves and moved on, sometimes to find themselves in a better situation than they were in previously. They will be the first to tell you, you will survive and there is life thereafter.

I think most people in our profession are well aware of the challenges we face when we decide to enter into the realm of becoming City/County Managers and in some cases Assistant City/County Managers. Being fired without cause (not due to performance or professional related issues) purely resulting from political motivations are part of what we have signed up for. All that being said I do not think anyone will ever get “use to being fired”; however, I would not let that factor alone discourage you from reaching your personal goal of becoming a City Manager if that is your true desire.

-Carl Harness

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[toggle title=”Thickening My Skin”]

Even if you’re not getting fired every few years, it seems that managers are always getting bashed in the media. How do you develop the “thick skin” and resiliency needed to survive and thrive in the profession?

Dear “Thickening My Skin,”

I believe that this is a trait people in our profession develop internally over a period of time. The hardest thing that I had to learn when I started in this profession is that you cannot take things personally. Battles are going to be fought, you will win some and lose some, politics will always be at play and we will not always have total control over every aspect of a particular situation. I think that as long as you stay on the right side of the ethical scale and maintain your sense of integrity, you can go home each night knowing that you did the best job possible for that day. What more can anyone ask of you?

-Carl Harness

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[toggle title=”Seeking Balance”]

I’ve noticed that some managers work 24/7 and some seem to be able to get the job done and still have a balanced family life. Can you offer some wisdom as to the proper way to balance the infinite job responsibilities with the demands of family and the need to have some “down time”? How do you determine which community events are essential vs. optional to attend?

Dear “Seeking Balance,”

I think that this is a matter of personal perspective. For individuals in our profession that may be single or are well established with their family situation the 24/7 routine may be how they balance their lives. For others who have children or those individuals just starting their families I am sure their priorities may be slightly different taking into account family commitments and events. The bottom line, as professionals we all put in the appropriate amount of time that is required to get the job done. Do keep in mind that in order to maintain some sense of sanity you must fine some time for yourself. At this level, most people are not able to take a one or two week vacations (very rare). I have found that getting away just for a long weekend can do wonders to recharge your internal battery.

As it relates to community events I usually consider all of them as essential if organizations take the time to invite me to participate. Obviously, if you receive multiple invitations during the same time period you will have to make a choice. In that case, I usually try to give equal time to both by choosing one event and giving priority to the other during the next cycle. If you are an Assistant City/County Manager, I think that it is important that you assist your boss (when possible) with his/her schedule by taking some of the load off of them from the many invitations that they receive during the course of a year.

-Carl Harness

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