Career Corner: The Art of Negotiating – Tips from Cheryl Hilvert, Management & Leadership Consultant

Speak up for yourself!

To help women better position themselves for negotiating — whether for salary purposes or to get better assignments — the League is doing a series of articles with tips and techniques to help local government women improve their skills by learning from other women in the field. This article is the third in our continuing series.



Today’s Negotiating Tips From

Cheryl Hilvert, Management & Leadership Consultant (and former City Manager) – Montgomery, Ohio

What techniques  do you use when negotiating a higher salary with your boss/elected officials?

My most of my recent experience has involved negotiations with elected officials rather than a “boss,”  however, I would think the approach would likely be the same.  When discussing salary, I always tried to provide the elected officials with a “survey” of similar cities to the one in which I was working.  I would include some that were nearby as well as from other nearby regions of the state.  I limited the cities I utilized as “comparables” to ones that were truly comparable.  I looked for cities with similar employee populations, city services provided, city size, budget size, etc. and avoided cities that were significantly larger/smaller, those that provided services that our city did not, and those that either had a large budget/budgetary surplus or were cash strapped.  By limiting the list to those local governments that were truly comparable, it helped to avoid council members cherry-picking one or two off the list that they didn’t regard as a comparable city.  (We also used this comparable cities list for salary setting for all employees within the city.)

In addition to listing comparable cities, I tried to make sure that the “salaries” represented were also comparable.  To do this, I took into account “total compensation” of the manager.  This included any payments made by the city for deferred compensation, retirement system contribution, bonuses, car allowances, etc.  Again, this helped to present a “total picture of compensation.”

I provided this comparable cities salary list every year when we talked about setting my salary for the coming year.   We also always had a conversation about “where the council wanted our salaries to be” in terms of comparable cities.    For example, do we want to be in the upper half of comparables, in the upper 25%, or at the top.

Between the information provided on comparable cities salaries/total compensation and having the discussion on “where we wanted to be”, the City Council appeared to be more comfortable with the discussion on salary setting.  I guess I have always believed that giving them the facts was the best approach to discussing salary.

How have you negotiated a special project/great assignment in your organization? 

I firmly believe that communication is the best route for managers and employees alike in any organization.  As such, I always found it helpful when employees took the time to truly understand what is required in a special project/assignment and then expressed their interest and background in working on such a project.  It sounds pretty simple, but I have also found that way too many people sit back and wait for things to come to them.  Speaking up and letting your managers and supervisors know that you have an interest in being more involved should be a good way to get involved beyond your regular tasks.

Any advice for women in particular? 

My advice to women pretty much mirrors my advice to anyone in the organization:

  1. Make sure that for your part, you are engaged in the work you are hired to do and do the best job you can.
  2. Take the time to get to understand what is important to the organization and how things work in the organization.
  3. Take advantage of opportunities to get involved in work/activities/personal development opportunities both inside and outside your normal job duties, are yet important to the success of the organization.
  4. Communicate to your managers/supervisors your “needs and interests” as an employee of the organization.
  5. Listen to feedback that you receive and give feedback in return.
  6. If you have a concern, talk to the appropriate person who has the responsibility for addressing the issue. If you do not get satisfaction, go to the next person up the chain of command.  Simply complaining to those you work with likely will have little to no impact on the issue at hand  and instead will tend to poison the work environment or label you as a complainer.
  7. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
  8. Be willing to pay your dues. The more experience you have in a learning position and environment  the  better prepared you will be for a top management position.  Local government is a wonderful and rewarding career.
  9. Take the time to learn from all your experiences as each can be rich in its own right. You do not need to be a top manager to contribute to your organization’s success. Keep working hard; your  time will come when it is right for you and the organization.
  10. Also, remember that as top managers we often age in “dog years” meaning that those positions can be challenging. As someone who became a city manager at age 29 and held that title for 22 years, it is great if you can make it that long, but there are also times when a lower level organizational position seemed very appealing!


Cheryl Hilvert is a management and leadership consultant, providing education and technical assistance for local governments on key management strategies designed to enhance organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

Cheryl most recently served as the Director for the Center for Management Strategies for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). Prior to her position at ICMA, Cheryl served for more than 31 years as a local government manager. Cheryl has served as Midwest Regional Vice President for ICMA and as a board member and chair of the Alliance for Innovation, Ohio City/County Management Association, Senior Executive Institute Advisory Committee, Cincinnati Area Local Government Management Association, and the Cincinnati Chapter of ASPA. She was named as Public Administrator of the Year by the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of ASPA and was the recipient of the ICMA Program Excellence Award for Strategic Leadership and Governance.

Cheryl holds Bachelor and Master of Public Administration degrees from Eastern Kentucky University and is a graduate of the Senior Executive Institute at the University of Virginia and the Economic Development Institute at the University of Oklahoma. She is also designated as a credentialed manager by ICMA. Cheryl lives in Montgomery, Ohio.


By |2018-02-14T02:26:20+00:00August 30th, 2017|Exclusives, Featured, Uncategorized|0 Comments

About the Author:

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.