Five Tips for Mentoring Assistant Managers

In preparing to be a City Manager or Administrator, Assistants need to be well rounded with experience in operations as well as human resources, communications, oral presentations, information technology, etc.  We find that many Assistants are developing these skills.  We have noticed some areas where Managers/Administrators could further develop their Assistants for success and have the following suggestions.  We believe Assistants aspiring to the Manager/Administrator position have a greater chance for success if they have these experiences in their background.

Regular Involvement with Elected Officials

When an Assistant can say they regularly interact with elected officials, they have an advantage in a Manager recruitment process.  As an Assistant, they should consistently present at council meetings and Committee of the Whole meetings, serve as a liaison to a council committee and be included in executive sessions whenever possible.  It is important for Assistants to have an elected official as a reference when competing for a Manager position.

Significant Supervisory Responsibility

Assistants who have department heads reporting to them have an opportunity to develop their leadership skills and can include that experience on their resume, giving them a real answer to “tell us about your supervisory experience.”  It is also helpful as department heads are often part of the City Manager/Administrator interview process and are going to provide feedback to the elected officials.

Budget Development and Presentation

Assistants must lead or co-lead the entire budget process including presenting some parts of the budget to the elected officials (revenue and expenditure forecast, capital improvement program, etc).  We often hear that the Assistant “prepares the Manager’s office budget” or “is a part of the budget team.” Being a part of the budget team is a step in the right direction, but real involvement in the give and take of the process and in presenting to elected officials is critical experience. Consider having the Assistant lead the Budget Team.

Regular Community Involvement

Assistants need to connect with community leaders, gaining experience in community engagement and in building relationships with the business community, and other stakeholder groups.  Attendance at the Chamber of Commerce meetings/events, joining service clubs and making presentations in the community can provide essential professional development opportunities for Assistants.  These community leaders can be references for an Assistant or important support if the Assistant wants to move up to the Manager’s position in the community they are currently serving.

Economic Development

Communities are seeking candidates with economic development experience.  In addition to engaging with the business community, Assistants need involvement in negotiating agreements with developers, in shepherding developments through the regulatory process and in the recruitment and retention of business.  Economic development projects can become contentious. Gaining the skills that are needed to navigate these types of projects on behalf of the community are important tools for Assistants to possess.

We hope these suggestions are helpful in the development of our next generation of leaders in local government!

Heidi Voorhees and Joellen Cademartori, Co-owners, GovHRUSA