APWA ACCREDITATION: TENTH ANNIVERSARY
Accreditation is a leadership activity
Bob Hyde, P.E., Executive Director, Port of Anacortes, WA; former Public Works Director, City of Anacortes, WA
Sandi Andersen, Accreditation Manager, Public Works Department, City of Anacortes, WA
December 15, 1997 was a historic day for APWA's accreditation program. On that day the City of Greeley, CO and the Village of Schaumburg, IL became the first two accredited agencies in North America. In the past ten years, an additional 37 agencies, making a current total of 39, have joined the ranks, with 37 in the United States and two in Canadian provinces.
Throughout 2007, accredited agencies, their staff members, evaluators, and elected officials will be sharing their experiences with the program. The first article in the series is presented below. For more information about the program, contact Ann Daniels at email@example.com or (816) 595-5223, or visit the website at www.apwa.net/About/Accreditation/.
Poet and outdoorsman Robert Service once said, "It isn't the mountain that wears you out, it is the grain of sand in your shoe." We public works professionals usually spend a lot of time trying to climb mountains with a beachload of sand in each shoe. Some of us can even get pretty good at it! We tend to never truly solve problems, but just go from crisis to crisis. I would submit that true leaders work at getting those grains of sand out of their shoes, and make faster time to get to the mountaintop.
Accreditation is a true leadership activity. The accreditation process undertaken by the City of Anacortes' Public Works Department was perhaps the most significant achievement in the department's 115-year history. It inspired, directed and "forced" the department to do things and review areas which had been neglected or purposely avoided for years. Major areas we "never had the time" to fix, such as a lack of engineering and development standards, and an archaic management system in our equipment maintenance shop, amazingly were created during the accreditation process while still meeting the normal day-to-day workload! One by one the grains of sand in our shoes were addressed and removed.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Today, other municipalities come to Anacortes to see and borrow our engineering standards and development processes, as well as our automated equipment maintenance system. The departmental leadership focuses on planning and goal setting rather than being mired down in the crisis of the day. These are the things that accreditation can do for your organization.
The harvest is plenty but the workers are few. When I first began to discuss taking on the challenge of accreditation with APWA in 2002, I was shocked to find out that so few public works and infrastructure agencies had shown interest in the program. At the time, fewer than 20 agencies had become accredited, and perhaps a dozen more were active in the process. In the fall of 2005 when we at the City of Anacortes, Washington, received our accreditation, we were just the 27th agency in North America to do so. Today there are 39 accredited agencies and 15 more under contract. Out of the thousands of public works agencies in North America, this is a small number.
No excuses. I began to advocate a bit for accreditation and received a number of common reasons or excuses for not attempting this effort.
Accreditation creates a learning organization. I believe that accreditation is the most important leadership activity available to an agency director. Taking on a huge, long-term goal for an organization, such as accreditation, is the responsibility of public works leaders and no one else. By initiating the process you will learn the intricacies of your organization, free up countless hours of time (policies allow lower-level staff people to make decisions), and build esprit de corps and teamwork from the success that comes from hard work and accomplishment of lofty goals.
The unintended consequences are awesome! A word of warning: There are some unintended consequences of accreditation. First, if you allow your full staff to participate, you will be amazed at the pride taken in being an accredited agency. It is overwhelming. Everyone wants to be on a winning team, and being accredited shows you are a winner! Second, the public will appreciate having an accredited agency more than you think. Taxpayers like to be supporting a winning organization with their tax dollars. Third, you will continue to become more successful. Your senior leaders will suddenly have more time to plan and lead your organization as the brush fires smolder and then are extinguished.
Well, what are you waiting for? If Anacortes, Washington, population 15,754, can do it, so can you!