Leadership in government organizations is changing into something quite different than it was as recently as 10 years ago.

The International City/County Managers Association (ICMA) is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2014, and our members have been marking the turn of the century by taking a careful look at public sector leadership and the skills we will need to be successful in the years ahead.

For those who work in other orders of government, a city manager is a specialized professional who leads a municipal administration. The Council-Manager form of city government is prevalent throughout North America today.

In 1914, the year ICMA was founded, there were only 31 city managers in the U.S. At that time, some cities and towns still did not have full water and power service. City Managers led the development to today’s complex, integrated utility and transportation systems. They made cities cleaner and healthier and improved our quality of life to a level that was unrecognizable 100 years ago.

At the beginning city managers were technical experts. The legacy of that era is an emphasis on a command-and-control style of management, but the model is evolving.

Today many more people are involved in the decision-making process. City managers spend their days working jointly with City Councils, not-for-profits and the community. Our community conversations happen in the virtual world as often as not.

City managers – or any public sector leaders – are now facilitators and enablers, not the subject-matter experts. Managers set the tone for our organizations. They set norms of behaviour and influence their corporate culture.

Public sector employees now expect to be involved in decisions that affect them. They want to understand value in their public service. This opens up new potential for innovation and creativity in our workforce. When employees understand the big picture, they can make good decisions and take real accountability for their work.

In fact, involving staff in a meaningful conversation will ultimately build capacity in an organization. Governments at every level are caught between increased demands for service and pressure to keep taxes low. If we are unable to expand our work force, we need to better engage the staff we have.

Leaders’ success will be based on their capacity to motivate, empower build their organization’s reputation through story telling.

It’s a very different future and it means a new skill set for government leaders.

For more on the work we are doing at ICMA, visit

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