National Academies Press: OpenBook

Developing Transportation Agency Leaders (2005)

Chapter: Chapter Eight - Conclusions

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Page 30
Suggested Citation:"Chapter Eight - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Developing Transportation Agency Leaders. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23300.
Page 30

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30 Leadership is clearly a major issue facing state departments of transportation (DOTs) in the 21st century. However, it is not unique to state DOTs, for many other public entities face the same issue. Other challenges facing the public sector have never been more intense or difficult: funding shortfalls, workforce limitations, baby boomers approaching retirement in large numbers, higher than ever customer expectations, and system needs that far outstrip revenues. Collectively, these factors weigh heavily on transportation agencies and their leadership teams. State agencies need highly qualified and capable leaders now and in the future. This study reveals two aspects of state DOT demograph- ics that will converge in the coming years. First is the pend- ing retirement of a high percentage of seasoned employees, including those holding key leadership positions. Second is that many agencies have a younger workforce rising through the leadership ranks that will result in filling critical leader- ship positions with individuals who have less experience than their predecessors. Many states recognize how important recruiting the right individuals is to the strength of their future leadership cadre. Their selection processes reflect the seriousness with which they take this task. Once employed, however, there is always the chance that promising leaders will leave the state DOT; attrition seems inevitable. Competition with the private sector and its usually higher salaries present difficulties for public agencies in their efforts to retain key individuals. On the other hand, states often offer superior benefits, including health, dental, vacation, and retirement programs that are strong enticements for state leaders to continue public service. Interest is high at the state DOTs in establishing leader- ship development and training programs in their organiza- tions. Several trends are noteworthy, including that they desire to add funding and more students to their programs, that cur- riculum and program content are rarely dictated solely by the DOT, that less than 20% of the programs are led by the state CEO, and that only one state, California, rated its program as excellent. There is great opportunity for improvement in these leadership development programs. Succession management programs in state DOTs is an area that could use more emphasis in nearly every agency surveyed. The value a good program brings to strengthening the leader- ship team over time is indisputable. However, some agencies have struggled to establish either a formal or informal pro- gram. There are many difficulties with establishing a program in a public entity like a state DOT, not the least of which is that the appointment of CEOs and other key leaders is often a political decision. Personnel rules and other constraints make advancing an effective leadership development program chal- lenging at best. Nevertheless, there are several examples of states that have transcended these challenges and put excellent programs in place. Doing nothing is not an option. Private-sector leadership development and succession man- agement programs are excellent and offer state DOTs an effec- tive model. These programs are driven by the cost imperative evident in all private-sector companies, with the understand- ing that an effective leadership program is not a cash drain on the balance sheet but rather an investment in future company profitability. Private programs are generally led at the CEO level, are more defined and rigorous than their public-sector counterparts, and emphasize more diverse areas of business. The attributes of these private-sector programs create a valid model for state DOTs to follow. If a state DOT were to establish a leadership development program that was CEO led, included both succession management and leadership training elements, developed a wide variety of technical and nontechnical skills in its participants, started early in an indi- vidual’s career and was otherwise deliberate in its imple- mentation, then that DOT would be well on its way to hav- ing an effective initiative. These are among the attributes that have proven effective for the private sector and will be the keys to the success of state DOT’s as they endeavor to enhance their leadership development efforts. This study was, by design, focused specifically on state transportation departments. Nevertheless, the concepts pre- sented, the results, and the conclusions drawn are directly applicable to transit agencies as well as other public organi- zations at all levels of government. Leadership development and succession management are issues for public-sector leaders from the smallest municipal agency to the largest state organization. Leadership development and succession management will be critical to the future effectiveness of state DOTs in deliv- ering services to their customers. The state programs sur- veyed in this project reflect some advances in establishing effective leadership initiatives. However, state DOTs would benefit from using methods similar to those of their private- sector counterparts as they seek to further improve their own programs, and ultimately, the caliber of their leadership corps. CHAPTER EIGHT CONCLUSIONS

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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 349: Developing Transportation Agency Leaders examines practices and innovative approaches that address the development of transportation leadership in today’s work environment. The report covers demographics, recruitment and retention, leadership training, and succession management.


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