National Academies Press: OpenBook

Developing Transportation Agency Leaders (2005)

Chapter: Chapter One - Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Developing Transportation Agency Leaders. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23300.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Developing Transportation Agency Leaders. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23300.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter One - Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Developing Transportation Agency Leaders. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23300.
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3BACKGROUND Transportation agencies face many challenges in this first decade of the 21st century. These challenges include the fol- lowing. There is an increasingly high demand for more ser- vices. Infrastructure, once new and fully functional, now needs significant investment and renewal. Funding, although never plentiful, is in short supply, with no apparent remedy. Security concerns are a new issue that transportation profes- sionals must address while in an unpredictable environment. These issues and others present transportation leaders with unprecedented and formidable obstacles and challenges. Solutions to these challenges are complex and multidi- mensional. Agencies must recognize that whereas current or former strategies have been effective in dealing with past problems, they are often inadequate in dealing with present and future challenges. Historically, a transportation agency could rely on a skilled engineering workforce to step up and solve these problems—were they generally technical in nature. Today, however, technical skills are not enough, because they are not adequate in addressing current policy, procedural, operational, and legal issues. Leadership is emerging as a potent discriminator between agencies that excel in meeting 21st century challenges and those that merely operate in a survival mode. Understanding the nature of leadership includes comprehending how it dif- fers from management, because these terms are often incor- rectly interchanged. The skill set for leaders is, in most cases, not technical, nor is it related to the basic engineering work routinely performed by transportation agencies. Today, the transportation world needs leaders who are able to help their organizations thrive on present challenges and develop new strategies for the future. Such leaders must be able to take agencies with mod- est financial resources, constrained staffing levels, and increas- ingly complex legal issues and transform them into opera- tional systems that give exceptional customer service. The challenge is to find, cultivate, train, motivate, and liberate these individuals who will then be able to accomplish this significant task. This synthesis project focused on developing leaders in transportation agencies. The choice of the term “leader” was careful and purposeful. As stated previously, leadership is not merely management. Leaders inspire people; they leverage the skills and abilities of team members in ways that cause synergy in accomplishing goals and facing challenges. In further emphasizing the difference between leaders and managers, it is safe to say that leaders often manage but that management does not define leadership. In traditional orga- nizations, the supervisor/manager manages things—vehicles, personnel systems, property, and other tangible assets and activities, whereas leaders lead people. Leaders achieve objec- tives by providing vision, inspiration, coaching, encourage- ment, and commitment to team members, then allowing these same individuals to excel. A manager cannot inspire this kind of performance, but a leader can. Leaders are facilitators who remove barriers. In the words of Max DePree, “Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain” (DePree 1989). This distinction between leaders and managers is important because it will be the leaders who transform our transportation system in the coming years, not those who function strictly as managers. An interesting phenomenon of state departments of trans- portation (DOTs) is that the chief executive officer (CEO) and many of their direct subordinates are appointed officials. Although some may have worked their entire career at the state DOT, others are positioned in the organization following the election of a new governor or the appointment of a new trans- portation commission or board. When a leader comes from outside a traditional organization, such as a state DOT, he/she face additional challenges. For example, loyalty and trust must be earned in a short period of time. Depending on the politi- cal climate, longevity may be an issue, because the leader may have fewer than 4 years experience. The expectations of those making the appointment may not be compatible with the realities of a public agency. In some respects, a situation where a public official serves at the will of an elected official or board is really no different than a key leader in a private- sector company who serves at the will of a CEO or a board of directors. Good leaders do not necessarily have to be charismatic. For example, Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great (2001), iden- tifies the leaders of some of our country’s most financially suc- cessful companies of the last century. Each performed ahead of the financial markets over a recent period of 15 years. Some of the companies considered “great” included Circuit City, Walgreen’s, and Gillette. In his book, Collins includes profiles on Alan Wurtzel, Cork Walgreen, and Colman Mochler as the CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION

CEO’s who made these companies great. To qualify, a com- pany had to adhere to the following basic pattern: “fifteen-year cumulative stock returns at or below the general stock market, punctuated by a transition point, then cumulative returns at least three times the market over the next fifteen years.” With much less fanfare, their companies outperformed many well- known and higher profile industry giants. These leader’s are not generally familiar, nor are they household names, such as Jack Welch or Lee Iacocca. Although the performances of private companies offer a definitive tool for measuring the effectiveness of their lead- ership team, a state DOT has no such gauge. Margins or overhead are not measured, nor do they have the same accountability to shareholders that exists in a private-sector organization. Nevertheless, public-sector agencies are mea- sured, if not specifically through profit margins, then through the eyes of a discerning public and critical analysis by elected officials. Succeeding in either or both of these forums requires more than just the routine execution of construction, mainte- nance, or operations activities. Leadership is the key to ensure that an agency fulfills its responsibilities to the public it serves. Without it, the agency is a rudderless ship, drifting without bringing specific achievements to the state’s transportation. Additionally, private-sector leaders are not the only group recognized for contributing to their respective industries. A number of entities offer honors or rewards to those in the public sector who have excelled in leadership and manage- ment. For example, Engineering News Record annually high- lights the top 25 newsmakers of the year and chooses one from that group as the top newsmaker. These individuals are often from the public sector and have made major contri- butions to the engineering profession as well as to their con- stituent communities. Governing magazine offers similar recognition, as does the American Public Works Association, which each year identifies and honors the country’s top 10 public works leaders. As with the highlighting of private- sector leaders, those identifying the successes within the public world can offer valuable insights into the character- istics of great leadership. Compounding the challenge of providing leadership in transportation agencies is the issue of the aging workforce. Some estimates put the range of possible retirements from agencies at 40% to 50% of the workforce within the next few years. Many of those retiring have three and four decades of experience. The loss of this wealth of knowledge and expe- rience is certain to be a major issue for state DOTs in the future, because it will leave a void that must be filled. Replace- ments will most likely have less experience yet face greater challenges than their predecessors: the learning curve will be steep, to say the least. However, experience has shown that they will learn, develop, and rise to the challenge and that the ensuing changes in the agencies will be positive. Although this report focuses on state DOT leaders and leadership programs in their agencies, there is a striking sim- 4 ilarity between DOTs and other public entities. Cities, coun- ties, and other public organizations are under many of the same pressures to serve customers, maintain facilities, deal with straining budgets, and cope with often inflexible per- sonnel systems. As this is the case, much of the information in this report can be directly applied to other public agencies. The new leaders for this century will have to be trained, seasoned, and developed in an accelerated fashion. Thus, the topic of this synthesis, Developing Transportation Agency Leaders, is both important and timely for the transportation industry. SYNTHESIS OBJECTIVE This synthesis will document state practices in developing transportation leadership and report on innovative approaches that address this issue in today’s work environment. The report will cover hiring, development, evaluation, and reten- tion of current and future leaders and also evaluate the effec- tiveness of these practices. APPROACH The study approach for this synthesis involved a number of efforts designed to assess initiatives among transportation agencies in their leadership development and succession management programs. A survey was prepared and distrib- uted to the states with questions comprising the following four key subtopics related to the overall report: 1. Demographics, 2. Recruitment and retention, 3. Leadership training, and 4. Succession management. States were offered three means for completing the survey; facsimile, U.S. mail, and the Internet. The complete project survey is found in Appendix A. Twenty-five states responded to the survey, and this information serves as the basis for the analysis provided in the report. In addition, a literature review was undertaken to ascertain the depth of published information on leadership develop- ment and succession management. Finally, private companies that also engage in these types of programs were identified and, to the extent they were willing to share their experiences and policies, are included in the synthesis. ORGANIZATION Chapter one contains a brief summary of the current situation in state DOTs concerning the specific workforce challenges of hiring, developing, evaluating, and retaining current and future leaders. It also includes a statement of the synthesis

5objectives and study methods, as well as information regarding the organization of the report. Chapter two provides a summary of the literature review, with common themes and observations presented. This chap- ter focuses on the practices that appear to be the most suc- cessful in addressing the synthesis topic. In addition, prac- tices from other industries, as identified through the literature review that appear to have application, are included. Chapter three highlights the background information gathered in the survey. It emphasizes demographics by state, attrition levels by experience and position, and other exter- nal and internal constraints. Additional pertinent background material will be provided to establish the context and foun- dation for the remainder of the report. Chapter four is a consideration of state practices for recruit- ing and retaining current and future leaders. Possible trends and practices that could serve as models for other agencies to follow are identified. Chapter five is a review of the various state leadership development programs, including information regarding their implementation and effectiveness. Chapter six contains a summary of state-reported succes- sion management initiatives currently in place in the respec- tive DOTs. Best practices are identified and discussed. Both formal and informal succession management practices are considered. Chapter seven discusses the private sector, which has much to contribute to state DOTs concerning leadership develop- ment programs. This chapter covers a sampling of private- sector firms and highlights their programs. Chapter eight presents the major conclusions reached in this synthesis effort. The discussion covers an array of the most successful practices relating to hiring, developing, eval- uating, and retaining current and future leaders in transporta- tion agencies. Based on the results of the effort, suggestions are made for areas that need further study.

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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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