PRESIDENT’S CORNER: New Job for the President!
Last week I started my job as a Chief Administrative Officer. Not only is it the first CAO position for me personally, but I am the first woman to serve in this position in the history of the county where I am now serving. A “first” that is not lost on me in terms of the added pressure to succeed, not only for my community, but for all of the women who are seeking a CAO position themselves.
So far, it’s been exactly what I expected (long days, information overload, and people telling me that I don’t look like a county administrator – LOLZ!), but it’s also been fun and incredibly interesting. With the news of my new position, I’ve received a lot of questions over the past month from colleagues, peers and up-and-comers about my career path, and to what I attribute my success over the past twenty years in local government. Here’s some of the advice I’ve shared:
1. Be particular about your bosses. You have a choice where you work even if it doesn’t always feel like you are in control. Work for people who will give you freedom to develop your own style, make mistakes and learn from them, and will back you if you’re questioned or attacked internally or externally about your work and decisions.
2. Surround yourself with colleagues who will push you to try things that are beyond your comfort zone and will spend quality time advising you on how to prepare for job interviews, negotiate a good contract/hiring package, and be a sounding board when needed during the course of the new position and beyond.
3. Know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor and populate your life with both. A mentor is a sounding board and a coach, someone who can advise and encourage. A sponsor is someone who can give you or help you in some way to get that promotion, project, or position that advances your career and puts you in a place where you can grow and succeed.
4. Understand where you are in life and “timing.” So much of getting the top job is about being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes a council wants someone who’s an insider who knows the people and landscape and sometimes they want an outsider who’s independent and can provide a fresh start. So be open to opportunities and follow the politics. You never know where you might land.
5. Your professional reputation is your most valuable possession. When decision makers are considering candidates, they will ask around with anyone who may know you about whether you’re ethical, trustworthy, and capable. Adhere to the ICMA Code of Ethics and never compromise your principles. You will be surprised at “who knows who” and just how small the world of local government truly is.
Finally, everyone who becomes a chief executive has their own story that they can describe to you. If you’re working towards becoming a municipal CAO, reach out to others in these positions that you respect and admire. My guess is that they can add to this list and help YOU start blazing your own path to the next step in your career!
Ashley Jacobs, President