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Educational sessions at Congress

APWA has the finest educational program in the public works community. What follows are brief summaries of just a few of the 150-plus educational sessions and workshops at our recent Congress in Kansas City.

Working Effectively With the Media (Pre-Congress Workshop)
Presented by Michelle Bono, Director of Communications, City of Tallahassee, Florida
From replacing a bridge in the heart of the community, to roads closed by snow or floods, to an investigation of employees caught sleeping on the job...they are all certain to garner media attention and often it's not the kind of attention you want. How to tell your government's story and get your message out to your customers through the media was the focus of one of the Pre-Congress Workshops entitled "Working Effectively with the Media."

Participants learned how to determine their key messages on any topic and how to help ensure the media repeats those messages. Where you stand, what's going on in the background, how to show empathy, anticipating difficult questions and having a good response, and even knowing when to be quiet, were all discussed as key elements in preparing for a media interview. While waiting to be called by the media may be the preferred course of action for many, the workshop explored the advantages of being the first to get the news out, even when it's negative. A critical component is being able to explain how the problem was discovered, what's being done to address it, and what's being done to limit the chances of the same problem occurring in the future.

The workshop highlight, however, was the actual "on camera" interviews of class participants with an "attack dog" reporter determined to make them squirm! They had a chance to try putting their new skills into action, with results that ranged from "Hey, it worked!" to "I need more practice!"

At a time when citizens expect public works professionals to be inclusive, open and accountable, it is more critical than ever to help ensure you have the skills to get your message across through the media who provide a major communications tool. It's a skill that participants learned requires both knowledge and practice to perfect.

Road Salts in Canada: A Toxic Topic
Presented by Gary H. Welsh, Roads and Traffic Services Director, City of Toronto, Ontario; Barry E. Belcourt, Director, Road Maintenance, City of Edmonton, Alberta; and Sandi Moser, Program Officer, CEPA Implementation, Environment Canada, Hull, Quebec
In Canada, over $1 billion is spent annually on winter maintenance including road salts. Road salts (particularly sodium chloride) are the preferred deicing/anti-icing chemicals for maintaining winter roadway safety because of their cost, effectiveness, and ease of handling. Excessive use of salt can have environmental impacts and, recognizing their responsibility to the environment, many road authorities across Canada are taking positive actions towards implementing salt best management practices. Salt management plans provide a vehicle for road agencies to document salt management initiatives and progress towards implementation of those initiatives. The amount of salt used is a function of local policies, practices, roadway system and weather conditions. Because of the variability of conditions across Canada, salt management initiatives need to be developed and implemented locally by each road authority. The TAC Road Salt Management Working Group has developed this framework to support road authorities in their pursuit of best management practices and the preparation of salt management plans.

TAC's Salt Management Guide and series of Codes of Practice are intended to assist road authorities as they find ways to more effectively manage their salt use. Codes of Practice have been produced on Road and Bridge Design, Design of Road Maintenance Yards, Pavement Design, Drainage and Stormwater Management, Good Housekeeping Practices, Vegetation Management and Winter Maintenance Equipment. Salt Management Plan is another in the series of Codes of Practice related to the effective management of road salt. The codes are provided as advice to road maintainers for consideration when developing their own policies, practices and procedures. The codes are not intended to be used prescriptively but are to be used in concert with the legislation, manuals, directives and procedures of individual road agencies.

City of Edmonton road salt strategy will also be reviewed to detail how a salt management plan can actually work.

Crisis Communications for Public Works
Presented by Cora Jackson-Fossett, Public Affairs Director, Department of Public Works, City of Los Angeles, California
Cora Jackson-Fossett is the public affairs director for the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works. In her session "Crisis Communications for Public Works," Jackson-Fossett presented a nuts and bolts emergency communications action plan that, if followed, will enable public officials to operate with a high degree of efficiency during times of disaster.

"A crisis communications action plan is essential for every public works department regardless of size," said Jackson-Fossett. "The goal should be to make the public aware of the status of a city's operations and activities during a time of emergency, which could be anything from a sewer spill to a power interruption to an act of terrorism."

In the presentation, Jackson-Fossett outlined the steps to be taken, the role of the public information officer (PIO), where that person is in the line of command, and the PIO's basic responsibility in providing factual, accurate and timely information to the news media and the public. She also discussed information that should be made available to the public, including issues of basic concern such as the location of nearby animal shelters and alternative modes of transportation.

She offered tips in getting the message out to a multicultural community like Los Angeles, where more than 100 languages are spoken. "This city has three daily newspapers, 45 community papers, 20 TV stations and about 30 radio stations," she said. "Such a community has a great and tremendous potential for both good and bad communications."

Some of the communications tools she suggests are very unique. In addition to the usual radio, TV outlets and print outlets, there are vehicles in every community as the Goodyear Blimp, internet publications, and ham radio operators.

Self-Assessment Using the Management Practices Manual — a Tool for Improving Operations and Management (Pre-Congress Workshop)
Presented by William A. Sterling, Public Works Director, Greeley, Colorado
In an ongoing effort to promote APWA's Self-Assessment Process, a one-day seminar regarding the program was held during the Congress in Kansas City.

The nearly 40 participants received an introduction on how to conduct a self-assessment of their public works practices. In addition, information concerning the accreditation process was provided.

Some of the topics discussed included the following:

  • Overview of the process
  • Benefits of self-assessment
  • Organizing for self-assessment
  • The self-assessment process
  • Compliance and documentation
  • Improvement/implementation strategies
  • Accreditation process
Self-assessment is a valuable tool for determining how a public works agency's policies, procedures and practices compare to recommended practices contained in the Management Practices Manual. The self-assessment is a volunteer program that can be utilized as a model for developing or improving existing practices, to enhance performance, increase productivity, and to strengthen employee morale. The process can be used simply as a checklist or as a major element in the process of strategic planning. Currently there are nine accredited agencies and an estimated 50 agencies actively engaged in the process.

Mentoring—A Personal Legacy to Your Profession
Presented by John Ostrowski, Management Consultant, JOMC, Vancouver, Washington; Dennis Scott, Associate Vice President-Human Resources, Burns and McDonnell, Kansas City, Missouri
Mentoring is as old as the ancient Greek after whom it is named. In more recent history, John Ostrowski related his understanding of some early efforts at mentoring by Roy Morris when he was the City Engineer of Seattle in the 1960s and current, more fully-developed programs at the Boeing Company. Some of this experience led him to develop the Public Works Administrator Training in Washington and Oregon.

The Training Program is a career guidance course that helps younger professionals decide if they want to pursue a career as a public works leader. The course content is heavily oriented toward people skills and is taught by seasoned public works professionals. This last feature of the course is what makes the program a mentoring opportunity. Over 200 people have taken the course and many have established an ongoing mentoring relationship with the course instructors. Anyone with broad experience in public works can use this course outline to teach what they know and tell the relevant stories that less experienced professionals are looking for. The benefits to the profession and society that come from passing on what we've learned are tremendous.

At Burns & McDonnell Engineering in Kansas City, the formal mentoring program was developed to introduce new employees to the company culture and to develop staff. The program lasts one year for each participant and great care is taken to ensure that there is a good fit between the individuals involved and that both parties are willing to participate. The program has improved employee retention, increased productivity, been an effective recruiting tool, benefited the mentors, and increased job satisfaction.

It's Not Really the Money: Top 10 Reasons Why Employees Leave
Presented by Phyllis Elikai, Chief Administrative Officer, McKim & Creed, Wilmington, North Carolina
Why do you think your employees leave your organization? A better paying job? Studies show that lack of competitive compensation can be dissatisfying, but compensation alone won't keep people if they are dissatisfied in other key areas. Our focus as managers should be really understanding and using the true motivators of our staff to propel our people and organizations upward. To do that, we must know what motivates each individual with whom we work. We all have our own cultures, baggage, backgrounds and particular situations that determine what motivates us. Your job as a leader of people is to find out what that is.

So, as Phyllis Elikai asks, how do you find out how your staff feels about working there and what's important to them?

  • Ask
  • Exit Interviews
  • Post-Employment Checkups—Perform 60-90 day "check-ups" with new employees.
  • What works for you?
  • MBWA-Management by walking around.
What can you do?
  • Don't be a Jerk!—"People join a company but leave a manager"; take time to do a little introspection.
  • Avoid the Peter Principle—Make sure that there is adequate training and coaching throughout the advancement process and recognize the importance of "people skills."
  • Set Clear Expectations
  • Establish High Standards and Accountability
  • Give Feedback
  • Spend Time, Make Time—Spending time with your employees is part of your job as a manager
  • Be Enthusiastic
  • Provide Resources and Support
  • Job Enrichment
  • Recruit Well
  • Communicate-No matter what you think, you cannot over-communicate.