From Planner to Manager

By: Russell Forrest, AICP - Manager for the City of Gunnison

Are you a planning/community development director that has considered becoming a City/County manager?

Is this simply a logical professional next step or a bridge too far?

No one else can answer this question for you but for me it has been a very fulfilling next step in my career that has built upon my skill set as a planner. I think I am also a better planner for being a City Manager. I have found that planners have many of the critical skill sets to be good managers such as: thinking about the big picture while also able to focus on the details, thinking holistically, leading public conversations, and respecting community values while also being advocates for responsible change. We also find ourselves as planners facilitating complex conversations with many different types of stakeholders in our community and also with different departments. Its often the planner that is attempting to navigate win/win solutions which require a high level of understanding of an applicant’s goals and other Departmental policies and practices. As a manager I have enjoyed refining my planning skills by working closely with public works and transportation departments that are often operationalizing our plans in that they plow snow, drive heavy equipment, operate bus systems, and maintain the infrastructure that we help envision. Working closely with public safety and understanding a police officer’s perspective on transportation conflicts can be invaluable in finding workable solutions in creating safe downtowns.

If you enjoy leadership, creating future vision with community leaders, and then implementation results to achieve that vision - being a manager may be for you. However, it comes with both its risk and rewards. Where do you start if you are interested in taking the next step? First, talk to your manager and express interest in working on cross departmental projects or working on an interesting organizational management/leadership issue. Pursue opportunities to learn about and practice leadership and management (they are two different but related areas of knowledge). Volunteer to lead interdepartmental projects. Also the International City/County Management Association (ICMA - and the Colorado City County Management Association (CCCMA - ) both have inexpensive membership options for emerging leaders and department directors. As a manager you have the opportunity to foster an environment of excellence for an entire organization and help both individual team member and departments realize their full potential. Your days are diverse, challenging, sometimes frustrating, and also incredibly rewarding.


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