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Jun 2018 | Leadership & Change Management


The local government landscape is continually changing, and unlocking the potential in yourself, your department, and municipality as a whole has never been timelier. As a public sector practitioner beginning my career, this article is a product of the power of having incredible mentors. The advice referenced below comes from the lessons I have learned, and the leadership skills I value in myself and others. As such, this article is a collaborative effort of the larger government community and will help you unlock your potential as a leader and make every moment count.


I. Be Prepared - try to “pack” for whatever challenges may lay ahead


Being prepared means knowing what you want to accomplish. This sounds simple, but it is a fundamental step that tends to be a neglected aspect of being prepared. How many times have you met with a client, or led a meeting, but did not take the time to come up with clear expectations of what you wanted to accomplish? If we are all honest, we can admit that there have been times we have been unprepared and as a result, did not accomplish what we set out to do.

Broadly, there are two categories of things to prepare for: what can be expected and those that cannot be expected. The easier thing to prepare for is what can be reasonably expected. For example, if you have two reports on the Council agenda, you can prepare the data and talking points for both reports. On the other hand, being prepared for the unexpected means trusting your values and demonstrating that you are confident and on-task for the delivery of what you might not have predicted, and in the message you are trying to convey. 


II. Think about the world that is and the world that’s coming


In our increasingly fast-paced and interconnected world, policymaking is becoming more complex and challenging. As such, it is vital that we think about shaping the future, and not just reacting to it. Municipalities cannot make decisions thinking solely about geographical borders. Rather, policies need to be made with a ‘big picture’ perspective. This worldly perspective must be interwoven in the organizational culture, applied to all departments, and instilled in public servants.

An example of this is the sharing economy – which can be defined as activities facilitated by digital platforms where people rent their skills (such as, driving or computer skills) and make their resources (such as properties or cars) available for money. The sharing economy plays an increasingly important role in the Canadian economy. As per Statistics Canada, from November 2015 to October 2016, an estimated 9.5 percent of persons (or 2.7 million people) aged 18 and older living in Canada participated in the sharing economy. Overall, spending on peer-to-peer ride services in Canada and spending on private accommodation services totaled $1.31 billion.[i]

It is important for municipalities to consider their role in the sharing economy by analyzing challenges/opportunities, and to think about the world that is and the world that’s coming. I see many communities and public service practitioners, as well as organizations like PSD, having this perspective of thinking about the world that is and the world that’s coming which is vital in our constantly evolving municipal sector.


III. Curiosity - The right curiosity never killed the cat



People who are curious tend to drive organizations forward and challenge others to do the same. Over the years, I've found that people who are inherently curious ask questions, search for creative ways to accomplish tasks, and are strong team players. Curious people seek out knowledge from different parts of the organization and apply what they learn to their daily responsibilities.

My curiosity led me to discover a gap in knowledge about municipal government among youth. I wanted to leverage existing avenues to examine how my department could close the gap. This resulted in co-creating a youth engagement plan to foster civic engagement with the local school boards. I began a pilot project and made interactive presentations regarding local government at the primary and secondary levels. I also developed a “price is right” game to teach students the value of municipal projects and what they actually cost. This youth engagement initiative has continued to evolve into programming that is focused on the role of government, responsible citizenship, and to demonstrate how governments and citizens can work together. These interactive sessions are fun, and I am always impressed with the student’s curiosity and outlook on government.


Iv. Ethics – do the right thing


Ethics matter; your peers, staff, and residents expect ethical behaviour. The principal goal of government ethics is to increase the public’s trust in government and, thereby, increase citizen participation in the organization that manages their community.[ii] Responsible, ethical behaviour is inherent in the concept of municipal employees as professionals. Public servants and politicians make a commitment to serve the public interest, and as a result are subject to internal or self-regulation through adherence to ethical or moral standards of their own. Despite the importance of ethics, doing the right thing is not always the standard and speaking truth to power can be risky.

I try to practice ‘everyday ethical leadership’ in my day-to-day because ethics and transparency go hand in hand. It needs to be recognized that every significant decision has ethical dimensions, so when all the options in response to a particular situation are being analyzed, they must include the question of right/wrong. Therefore, be open and honest with your communications on the street, in the office, and council chamber because it’s vital in making every moment count.


V. Collaboration - Shared leadership is all the rage


Top-down leadership alone will never make the differences we require in our communities. Shared leadership is not just about creating committees to give advice to Council; shared leadership and collaboration rests on the guiding principle that everyone’s voice matters. Everyone’s experience and expertise are necessary for municipalities to work effectively, and that the ideas created by a group are much stronger than those that could be created by any individual.

Collaboration means that my attitudes, my beliefs, and my actions are impacted and enhanced because of the work we are all doing together. Collaboration needs to be blended into the fabric of an organization. “What can I do to help?” should be a question asked laterally in an organization. Co-workers across departments or organizations in different sectors can collaborate to loan their time, energy, and expertise to those who need it. This can enable talent and resources to flow freely, which keeps the municipality moving forward.



VI. Results - show your work


Show your work and measure your success. Results are tied to accountability and demonstrating that you are accountable to your departmental goals, the organization, and more importantly, the public. Results also confirm that the municipality is not removed from this accountability. Construct a process where you build program indicators, objectives, and data to support the findings in the work that you complete. The most successful people crave constant feedback and I go out of my way to create a platform for this feedback to be communicated to me and then incorporated into my results.

Showing your results builds an evaluation culture that ensures the work you are completing actually performs the purpose it was designed for… and if it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board. Focusing on results can allow you to easily see how the program or initiative can be improved. As long as you showed Council and the public your results, even if they weren’t positive or successful, there is still a lot to gain from that.


VII. Conclusion


Some ideas can withstand the test of time – do not be afraid to share them. In 2016, I entered the PSD-CAMA Essay Competition in Municipal Government with a paper about the implications of cannabis legalization for municipalities, advocating for a shared funding model for tax revenue. In March 2018, it was announced that the federal government will share the tax revenue from legalization with provincial/territorial and local governments on a per capita basis as I advocated in my paper. The skills outlined in this article can help you capitalize on windows of opportunity to position yourself as an authentic leader in your organization and ensure that you’re able to make every moment count in your career.


CATALINA BLUMENBERG is a recent Masters of Public Administration graduate from Western University and a Deputy Clerk with the Township of Uxbridge.  Catalina loves local government as it is all things to all people, and her interests include meaningful civic engagement, multi-governmental partnerships, and municipal finance.

[i] Statistics Canada. (2017, 02 28). The sharing economy in Canada. Retrieved from
[ii] Wechsler, R. (2012). Local Government Ethics Reform. National Civic Review, 26-31

Sign up for our Editorial Round Table webinar on July 5th, 2018 1 - 2 PM ET to discuss all of the Leadership and Change insights of the issue. It is your opportunity to connect with the contributors, ask questions of your own, and engage with municipal leaders across Canada.