Management Competencies: a summary of "The Baker's Menu" series

William A. Sterling, P.E.
Port Angeles, Washington
Member, APWA Leadership and Management Committee

"The role of the manager has changed significantly in many organizations. The strong manager, capable of almost single-handedly turning around an organization or department, while still a folk hero in the eyes of many, has given way to the recent demands of increasingly complex systems for managers who are able to pull together people of diverse backgrounds, personalities, training and experience and weld them into an effective working group." - William Dyer, Team Building

The APWA Leadership and Management Committee previously completed a series of 13 leadership core competencies entitled "The Baker's Dozen." This series of competencies was developed with public works leaders in mind. The Leadership and Management Committee then turned its attention to public works managers—those individuals within an agency that may or may not consider themselves leaders. This new series, entitled "The Baker's Menu," was developed and contains 13 core competencies specifically geared to managers. The committee realized there may be some overlap of the competencies between leaders and managers; however, "The Baker's Menu" series is more specific to public works managers and their important role in the organization.

The articles were developed to give further insight into the skills managers need to be successful in their agencies.

"Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall." - Stephen Covey

Starting with the March 2005 edition of the APWA Reporter, Susan Hann wrote an article entitled "An Effective Public Works Manager Resolves Conflict." A manager will be frequently confronted with conflict. One of the best ways to resolve conflict is to anticipate it and handle it before it escalates. Frequent and open communication will also help to anticipate and mitigate conflicts. Another tool is to build your reputation for fairness and build your network of professional and personal relationships. If people know you as fair and reasonable, they will trust your judgment in a difficult situation. If you are involved in conflict resolution, act decisively and fairly every time. Consistency is the key to establishing your reputation as a good mediator.

A second article, "An Effective Public Works Manager Encourages Team Building," was written by Patty Hilderbrand, P.E., and appeared in the April 2005 issue of the Reporter. This article stressed that teamwork is the very foundation of providing quality services to the citizens and traveling public of our communities. Our accomplishments and excellence are directly proportional to our ability to work together toward a common goal...because a TEAM means Together Everyone Achieves More. Teams, therefore, in their basic form, are nothing more than a group of people working toward a mutual goal.

The third article, written by George Haines, appeared in the May 2005 issue of the Reporter. This article, entitled "An Effective Public Works Manager Builds Trust/Respect," stressed that trust and respect are two of the keys to organizational effectiveness. Trust helps retain good people, lets people make mistakes, and recognizes a job well done. A lack of trust on the other hand can create employee turnover, a loss of corporate knowledge and low morale. Respect grows out of trust. Gaining respect and holding respect can only be accomplished through your own behavior.

Article number four, "An Effective Public Works Manager Involves Others," was written by Gary Strack, P.E. Appearing in the June 2005 issue, this article asks the question, why is it so important to involve others in the decision-making process? Involving others builds team strength and a feeling of accomplishment. What matters is that you have respected the opinions of others and their knowledge about a task or goal for which you are responsible. You must trust your staff to implement ideas and go through the learning experiences without doing it for them. It builds self-esteem and facilitates growth in the individual.

The next article, appearing in the July 2005 issue, was written by John Ostrowski. This article, "An Effective Public Works Manager Manages Time," focused on the many time management techniques available to us. Most people who give advice on how to better manage one's time tell you how to do what they do. The problem is that we're all different and one size doesn't fit all when it comes to time management. However, there are several things related to time management that are common to all of us. First, we all need to know what we're trying to accomplish. Why do you want to manage your time better? The second thing we need to understand is that we can't do everything. Those two things should allow you to manage your time by focusing on what you want to get out of life and only doing things that fit that mission. If you find it hard to set priorities that leave someone out, look at what you actually work on.

In her article "An Effective Public Works Manager Possesses Oral/Written Skills," Sue Hann stresses that the most important communication skill that a manager can have is the art of listening. The article, contained in the August 2005 issue, says you should stop talking and focus on the other person, including their body language. Ask probing questions. Make eye contact. Make sure you are engaged in the conversation and aware of non-verbal clues. When you are speaking use a communication style that is best suited for the recipient, and when you are writing make sure your written communication is succinct, clear and grammatically correct. Whether you are speaking, listening or writing, you are sending messages to your audience. Make sure it's the message you want them to receive. As a manager, your success hinges on your ability to mobilize a team and "get things done"; your communication skills are the foundation of your success.

With the September 2005 issue, the articles included in "The Baker's Menu" series reached the halfway point. An article written by William Sterling entitled "An Effective Public Works Manager Sets Realistic Goals" probed the issue of setting goals that have some chance of being attained. A Japanese strategy called "Kaizen" (continuous improvement) urges people to set goals that are only moderately difficult and then gradually raise the challenge as the process continues. To be realistic, the goal must be practical in terms of internal resources and external opportunities. Setting unrealistic goals is frustrating—a waste of time and self-defeating. Goals should be challenging but within an individual's capabilities and limitations.

The October 2005 issue of the APWA Reporter followed up with an article written by George Haines. The article, "An Effective Public Works Manager Develops Staff," indicated the importance of training. If you spend time and money on training and you are able to promote a number of your key positions from within, then you are doing a good job of developing your staff. There is no greater asset than a well-trained staff. Developing staff is done in many ways. We use terms like succession planning, leadership development, public works academy and career development—all staff development methods. One of the most effective ways you can develop your line workers and supervisory group is to have them participate in professional organizations and attend conferences and training put on by those organizations. Not all of these opportunities cost a lot of money or time. For example, APWA sponsors the Click, Listen & Learn sessions that can be viewed, online, at your workplace. Your Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP/T2) also provides regular training.

In the November 2005 issue, Sue Hann wrote about being flexible in the ninth article in the series. In her article "An Effective Public Works Manager is Flexible" she writes that flexibility is one of the attributes of an effective manager, as it can encourage creative thinking and enhanced performance. However, the development of flexibility in our personal and professional lives requires risk assessment, trust and accountability. Creativity and innovation will thrive in an environment that embraces flexibility. Honestly embracing flexibility requires a willingness to accept failure as a learning experience with the expectation that adversity will lead to even greater accomplishments. Most of us in the public sector are used to change. In a political environment change is a constant, so by the nature of our work we are fortunate to have many opportunities to practice our flexibility skills. However, the more challenging issues for public works managers involve the ability to judge the appropriate degree of flexibility in a given set of circumstances.

Continuing with the series, Gary Strack authored an article entitled "An Effective Public Works Manager Prioritizes." This article, published in the December 2005 issue of the Reporter, stressed that priorities are a list of actions or processes necessary to accomplish a task or parts of a task. Complicating this definition, priorities are generally based on the perspective of the individual or group with the expectation that their specific goal is going to be accomplished. The task of prioritizing is to determine the ranking of the decisions and figuring which one comes first. Getting our priorities in order so that we can accomplish our goals should be the first thing we do each day. However, as other people can influence the urgency of our priority list, we must be flexible.

In the eleventh article on core competencies for effective public works managers, our own Reporter editor, Kevin Clark, wrote an article for the January 2006 issue. In his article, entitled "An Effective Public Works Manager Manages Workload," Kevin shares with us some of the ways in which he manages his workload:

  • Develop a mantra (a simple way to keep up your courage and determination when tackling obstacles).
  • Managing your own workload means managing your team's workload (give yourself and your team the time, tools and motivation to do their jobs well).
  • Make a game out of it (develop your to-do list with the thought of celebrating when projects or goals are checked off).
  • Scratch your items off the to-do list (make a list, check it twice, and as you complete an item, scratch it off your list).
  • Limit your priorities (you can't be all things to all people; learn to say no).

The next to last article, "An Effective Public Works Manager Helps Others to Succeed," was written by George Haines. Appearing in the February 2006 issue, this article related that when you make it your mission to help others, the outcome will be that everyone succeeds—the employee, the manager and the organization. George introduces us to the FROG theory of success:

  • Focus—understanding how a particular job contributes to the success of the organization.
  • Roles—you must have the right people on the bus and in the right seat.
  • Opportunities—support for training and development of staff will help them to succeed and make them more valuable to the organization.
  • Goals—you can't drift through life and hope that good things will just happen to you.

The final article in "The Baker's Menu" series was written by William Sterling for the March 2006 issue. The article, "An Effective Public Works Manager Anticipates Future Needs," pointed out that, as a public works manager, one of your roles is to see that your organization has a mission, vision and values statement. Why are you here? Where are you going? How are you going to get there? In order to anticipate future needs, you need a number of important documents: a strategic plan, an operational plan, a capital improvements plan, operation manuals, an inventory and condition assessment of facilities, goals and objectives, performance measures and year-end reports (accomplishments). Why these documents? In case there are mid-year changes in operations or emergencies, you can determine priorities to handle these unexpected changes.

It is hoped that the above summaries will give you some insight into "The Baker's Menu" series. If you would like to learn more about the series, contact APWA in person or online at The APWA staff will be happy to help you find more sources of information about this important subject.

This brief summary was prepared with the help of all of the members of the Leadership and Management Committee. They wrote the articles and in some cases provided a summary of their article.

William A. Sterling, P.E., is a former Director of Public Works for the City of Greeley, Colorado. A past APWA Top Ten recipient, he can be reached at