APWA Book Review

Public Works Management: Things They Never Taught in School
64 pp * 2005 * APWA * James Nichols

For those in the public works profession, how often have you faced the blank stares of people who just found out what you did for a living? Or when was the last time someone responded with the word "interesting" after you told them you worked in the public works field? Unless you are talking with someone who has a friend or relative serving in the public works arena, these reactions are fairly standard. We've all heard the lines regarding the public works profession: "What does that mean exactly?" "You do stuff with sewers?" Or the author's personal favorite, "So you work with the public?" We all realize how uninformed the general public is about public works and all that it means.

Therefore, in writing this long overdue book, the author has made an important contribution to the field of public works management that should have value to managers and supervisors at all levels of experience. For the newcomer to leadership and supervision or the relatively inexperienced manager, it provides a great point of reference for thinking about how to address the key issues that any manager must address if he or she is to be successful. For the veteran manager, it provides an excellent checklist for performing a current assessment of how an organization may be doing at any point in time—a thorough list of critical elements to examine in exploring possible options to address problems or to improve an already effective group. Even for those who might not agree with every idea in this book, it provides an exceptional point of departure to cause managers to further analyze what they believe in and what they want to implement in their own management practices.

Some of the key elements of effective public works management include communication, employee development and empowerment, and relationship building. One of the most precarious and unique elements about overseeing a public works organization is the relationship side. A public works manager develops and maintains close and yet distinctly different connections with staff members, peers, elected officials, regulatory authorities, and various factions within the community. Though they never taught "us" how to work with a city council or homeowners association back in school, the application of some basic philosophies can help budding public works leaders be successful in their career. This book offers some suggestions and observations on the public works field—particularly public works management. Chapters include:

  • What is Public Works?
  • The Role of a Public Works Manager
  • What Do We Do in Public Works?
  • Communications—It's What You Say AND How You Say It That Count
  • Management and Leadership in Public Works
  • Customer Service
  • Developing an Effective Working Relationship With Your Staff
  • Special Relationships in Public Works

Regardless of how you ended up in the public works field, you probably entered a realm that you weren't completely prepared for. This book will provide a brief review of the technical elements that make up public works followed by a detailed review of the management skills necessary to help you be successful as a public works leader.

This publication is part of the From My Perspective series, experience-based commentaries on management topics that usually aren't covered in any formal classroom. Written by public works professionals, the books are intended to convey the kind of "insider wisdom" one might expect to pick up from a mentor. Other titles in the series include: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Public Works Director and Survive and Thrive: Five Things a Public Servant Needs to Understand.

For more information on purchasing this book and other American Public Works Association books, please visit the APWA Bookstore online at www.apwa.net/bookstore or call the APWA Bookstore at (800) 848-APWA, ext. 5254.