A few keys for success for women in public works

Cora Jackson-Fossett
Public Affairs Director
City of Los Angeles, California
Member, APWA Diversity Committee

More and more women are appearing in the leadership ranks throughout the public works field and from all accounts, they like the challenges and benefits.

Marianna Llanso, General Manager III in the Hillsborough County, FL Public Works Department, served as a panelist during the 2006 Congress session "A View from the Top," comprised of female managers sharing insight on their careers. Llanso also serves as Committee Chair, Accreditation for the APWA Florida Chapter.

According to Llanso, being in the public works industry has allowed her to experience great career success. "I love my job! I have the trust and respect of the Public Works executive staff that empower me to be creative and innovative in the formulation and implementation of improvement programs," said Llanso.

Having mentors helped Llanso to reach this level of fulfillment in public works. They imparted important principles that still guide her career today. She said, "One constantly reminded me that it is a privilege to serve our community; to rediscover the wonder of work every single day; taught me strategic planning, and strove continuously to get me to be more diplomatic. The other taught me that ethics in government means being productive, competent and responsive in the best interest of the citizens we serve. And they are both male."

Llanso also credits Sue Hann, Deputy City Manager of Palm Bay, for inspiring her on a regular basis. "She doesn't know it, but through her written word, Sue is a model of what I strive to become as a 'woman in public works.'"

To other women (and men) aspiring to move forward in their public works career, Llanso offers these words of advice:

  1. Acquire technical expertise - Know your trade thoroughly: read, research, benchmark, and network. If you have a university nearby, take courses in public administration.

  2. Hone your leadership skills - This includes listening, oral and written communication; consensus building and persuasion; conflict resolution; and decision making.

  3. Be ethical at all times - Know the rules, regulations and codes. Be responsible and accountable. Have a framework for ethical decision making. In government, ethics is our fiduciary duty to the citizens we serve. It's all about service.

Cora Jackson-Fossett can be reached at (213) 978-0319 or Cora.Jackson@lacity.org.

If you are a woman in public works, we urge you to get involved in APWA and take advantage of all the networking and leadership opportunities you have available to you. Some of those include the APWA Professional Women in Public Works listserve, the Women's Forum at APWA Congresses, your chapter meetings, and serving in a leadership position at either the chapter or national level of APWA. The APWA Diversity Committee also encourages you to write an essay about your career experience in the public works environment. Your essay could focus on leadership, challenges, how you happened to enter the public works field, opportunities for the future, and/or how role models/mentors influenced your career decision-making. If you, or someone you know, would like to contribute an essay, please send an electronic version (approximately 800-1,200 words) to either Ann Daniels at adaniels@apwa.net or Kaye Sullivan at ksullivan@apwa.net. The committee has set a date of January 31, 2007 for all essays to be submitted. Once the essays are reviewed, the committee will determine if there is sufficient information to develop a publication or if the essays should be used in some other format/venue. APWA looks forward to hearing from you.