APWA Book Review

Taking Charge! The Captain’s Guide to Developing Effective Leading and Managing Skills is a thought-provoking and informative book that explores what it takes to become a good captain to your staff by developing effective leading and managing skills.

According to the author, Bill Cook, public works professionals “are accustomed to building things. In part, that is what we do for a living—the so-called ‘real work.’ So when it comes to building our own leading and managing skills, many outside of the profession feel that we should inherently know what to do and how to do it. To some it is inherently known, but for many of us, developing and enhancing the skills required to be an effective Captain is a big change and a big challenge.”

Cook goes on to say, “Good Captains are demanding, but they also maintain a connection to their people and, therefore, build a sense of loyalty. Good Captains are those whose followers produce results. To be effective, leaders have to develop skills such as instilling values, listening, communicating and learning to work together. Spotting or developing Captain talent is not like dusting for fingerprints. There is no agreed upon pattern of traits and talents. However, there is a growing consensus that strong interpersonal skills and the capacity for self-learning are essential building blocks. For us to be effective Captains, we need to be lifelong learners. The very best lifelong learners seem to have high standards, ambitious goals, and a real sense of mission in their lives. Many past leaders have been hailed because they knew more and could do more. The Captains of today are experts because they have become knowledgeable in what they and their agency didn't know. They focus their attention on what their agency needs to learn fast in order to achieve their goals.”

Taking Charge! is divided into six chapters and three appendices:

  • “The Dynamics of Leading and Managing” (differences between managing and leading; what is an effective leader; the role of public works managers and leaders)

  • “Leading Skills” (creating vision, communicating, building consensus, building healthy relationships, influencing people)

  • “Managing Skills” (making decisions, solving problems, running good meetings, managing time, administrating)

  • “Insights from Proven Public Works Leaders” (Joni Earl, Eric Lamberton, Ed Warn)

  • “Personal Action Plan” (identifying 2-3 action items)

  • “And, in Conclusion” (final thoughts)

  • “Appendices” (Specific Action Suggestions, Captain Self Assessment, and Professional Standards)
This book is the third written for the American Public Works Association by Bill Cook. The other books are Performance Measurement in Public Works: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Public Works Professionals (2000) and Public Works Performance Management: Creating Accountability and Increasing Performance (1999). Bill is currently the executive director for the city council and administrator for the Redevelopment Agency in Ogden, Utah. He previously worked for the Snohomish County Executive Office in Everett, Washington. Prior to his work in government, he was involved in banking, consulting, and hospital administration.

Bill’s involvement with APWA has included: Charter member and Chair of the Accreditation Council, member of the Leadership and Management Committee, and a member of the Management Practices Advisory Committee. He was instrumental in the development of the self-assessment and accreditation programs. He also served as a self-assessment clinic instructor and assisted many agencies around the country through the self-assessment and accreditation process.

For more information on purchasing this book and other American Public Works Association books, please visit the APWA Bookstore online at www.apwa.net or call the Member Services Hotline at 1-800-848-APWA, ext. 3560.