The Administrator’s Dilemma in Public Projects

• November 2, 2012 • Comments (0)

What’s the best way to handle a public project? There are basically only 3 choices: abdicate, delegate, or educate. Image by zeevveez at flickr.com

Some public projects are someone’s great idea for a better future. Some are to solve or prevent a problem.

Some are welcome. Some are thrust upon executive staff of cities, schools, counties, utilities and hospitals. These projects can come from mandates, emergencies, or even be inherited.

 

However and from whomever they come, Administrators face three choices:

  1. Abdicate
  2. Delegate
  3. Educate

To abdicate may sound like the worst option but sometimes that’s the only one, especially if there’s no time and no experiences. When I was told to design and install a closed circuit television station for a state agency, I didn’t know where to begin. I tried working with colleagues but that proved unworkable. Besides knowing what to buy, I needed a law degree to deal with the regulations specific to our agency. I ended up working closely with my provider who worked me through it so I could accomplish my mission to provide staff training 24/7.

Delegate seems like a better option to protect the public’s money and to maintain taxpayer confidence. But, how do you know who can take the responsibilities to make things happen correctly? Ultimately, the buck stops with the Administrator. Delegation is risky.

Administrators who educate themselves have better results. I can prove it. Austin Community College asked me to design and run the City Management Academy for smaller cities. It was really a privilege to better prepare first line supervisors and above on a process that allowed them to take ownership of their job duties and better manage their staff. It  won a Program of Excellence award from the Texas Association for Community Service and Continuing Education which was wonderful. But it was better to have attendees learn how to run their departments and tell us how it helped them make better decisions and to feel proud of their work they did.

Given the choice and given preparation, it’s better to be an educated, prepared administrator. It’s too dangerous to put blind faith in providers — “The architect or contractor knows best” or rely on the “kindness” of well meaning but not fully informed staff. That didn’t work well in the Arthur Miller play  A Streetcar Named Desire and it certainly doesn’t work in public projects.

The Center for Public Construction gives Administrators, officials and other top managers the opportunity to make the right choice.

How do you handle this dilemma? What has worked in your situation?

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