Managing Strategically

A good local government manager recognizes managing a city or county organization is no different than managing a business in the private sector.  The aim is to maximize the utilization of resources, both revenue and people, to accomplish the goals of the community as efficiently and effectively as possible. A successful manager recognizes ongoing planning, strategic and long range planning as well as operational planning, is necessary to the efficient and effective delivery of quality services over the long term.

Strategic planning, development of the community's vision, mission and goals, must be an inclusive process involving elected officials, staff and the community to be successful.  Exclusion of any single stakeholder group can impact the positive implementation of a community's strategic plan.

Because the local government manager's playing field is fluid and political, annual planning is essential to successful management.  Typically, in business, the board of directors for a successful corporation remains fairly static over the years.  In local government the board of directors changes at the whim of the electorate.  In business, revenues are clearly established based on number of sales in the prior year and reasonable projections for the future based on economic factors and other variables in the marketplace.  In local government the annual establishment of revenues bears little or no relationship to the ‘successful selling’ of the service. While economic factors do play a significant role, there is often no connection to the actual cost of producing a service. 

Instead, revenue generation for local governments is based on such variable factors as

  • What services does the Community want to pay for?
  • Does the community want and is it willing to pay for a given service, in particular those services which might be considered by some as non-essential or non-core services such as parks, recreation and libraries?
  • How much is the community willing to pay for services which are considered essential to public safety, such as water and sewer, infrastructure maintenance, fire and police?

    So, strategic planning in local government while it incorporates all the standard business planning components of establishing clear mission, vision and goals statements is more politically driven and thus impacted more significantly by the cultural mores of a given community.

    While mission and overall goals of the community may not change annually, working annually with elected officials and the community to establish clear workable objectives based on the current political environment and funding levels is essential to the successful management of the local government organization.


    Once the strategic planning process is complete the manager is responsible for implementation planning. At this point in the process, the planning process reverts to the successful and proven management practices established in the private sector.

    1. Develop a budget which reflects the agreed upon priorities and objectives focusing organizational resources on the most strategic areas by using a staged approach.
    2. Allocate adequate physical and personnel resources to accomplish the objective.
    3. Establish both the formal and informal organizational structure necessary to accomplish the objectives including delegating the authority and assigning primary responsibility and/or shared responsibilities for accomplishing the annual objectives.
    4. Establish, for each work unit, an action or work plan to implement the goals and objectives identifying steps and timelines, policy or program development, accountability measures etc.
    5. Establish clear appraisal methods for determining how each work unit is meeting the goals and objectives and hold work units accountable for producing.
    6. Develop clear individual measures of success linked to unit goals and objectives and hold individuals accountable for producing.
    7. Establish regular review and reporting guidelines which outline the progress toward achieving objectives including maintaining effective communications – with monthly and quarterly updates to all stakeholders.  Transparency is a key component to success in local government management, in part due to public distrust of government, but primarily due to our responsibility as public managers to keep citizens informed.
    8. Incorporate long range ongoing planning, revising objectives as economic factors, expectations and/or available resources affect or threaten to affect outcomes.

    In conclusion, successful management and achievement of the local government organization’s objectives and priorities depends on the same factors relevant to the successful management of any private sector business.

    1. Selecting, motivating, training, and appraising staff;
    2. Securing and allocating funds and managing budgets;
    3. Evaluating accomplishments and incorporating long range planning and
    4. Remaining accountable to the primary stakeholders, elected officials and the community.

    Ultimately the local government planning process, requires that the manager provide leadership that

    • Keeps elected officials and the community focused on issues critical to the community’s long term sustainability.
    • Creates a work environment enabling employees to do their best work and feel pride in producing a quality service for the community.

    Dr. Oel Wingo, Ph.D., Oel Wingo Management Consulting Services