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10 tips for building your municipal career

by Jennifer Ladouceur
in Human Resources

A wide range of diverse and exciting leadership opportunities exist in municipal government across all departments, including human resources, finance, operations, building and planning, and economic development to name a few.

At a recent event, I was asked what advice would I give to Millennials trying to get ahead in their careers in municipal government. After some deep reflection on what has made a real difference in my own career, I narrowed it done to 10 tactical and practical recommendations that can make you a stronger leader and help you thrive in your career:

1. Follow your passion

You will never reach your full potential if you are not sincerely passionate about what you do. Resist the pressure to follow someone else’s dreams for you. Once you find your passion, go after it, despite your current situation. If you are in a position that doesn’t drive you, then take the time to identify opportunities for how you can, in your current role, begin to gain a sense of higher purpose.

2. Create your own opportunities

You have more power than you realize when you are creative. Want an opportunity that doesn’t exist? Create it! Volunteer for an organization and make yourself irreplaceable so they create a job for you. Already working? Bring forward a new idea and ask to lead it.

3. Surround yourself with people smarter than you

Learn from others and support other women, especially those smarter than you. Never feel intimidated. Success as a leader is often due to hiring amazing people, supporting and encouraging them to succeed, and then celebrating their successes. A good leader is one that helps others shine and ensures the entire team shines.

4. Be aware of your unconscious biases

I encourage you to watch Kristen Pressner’s TEDx Talk “Are you biased?” Diversity and inclusion is the key to innovation and creating a workplace where everyone thrives and businesses grow. Taking the time to become more aware helps you to identify new opportunities and thrive as an authentic leader. As John Mackey and Raj Sisodia say in their book, Conscious Capitalism and the Heroic Spirit of Business, “To be more conscious means to be fully awake and mindful, to see reality more clearly, and to more fully understand all the consequences – short term and long term.”

5. Treat everyone well

Titles mean nothing; anyone can hold power in the workplace. Treating people well is not only the right thing to do, but you would be surprised just how much influence and power many lower level positions have. Take the time to build strong connections. It is virtually impossible to be successful in any career without a network of support.

6. Create management systems such as a critical path

I’m telling you this works: provide your boss with a high-level summary of all the projects you are working on and update the document with a one or two sentence current status update biweekly without being asked. You can even apply a (red, yellow, green) system and highlight those projects at risk, potentially delayed, and on track. This will help you manage an increased workload and will give your boss a higher comfort level that you have everything under control. Also, take the time to clearly understand the larger organizational and political system of which you are part of; know your role and how you can effectively influence positive change.

7. Don’t panic & be a calm influence

Good leaders provide a sense of calmness even under extraordinary pressure. This comes with time and experience, but try to make a conscious decision to not panic when things go wrong. Take a step back, assess the situation, and deal with one issue at a time. Being seen as having a high tolerance under pressure and the ability to solve problems will get you noticed.

The Mayor by George B. Cuff

8. Do something that scares you

It is that simple: You grow when you take on a challenge that scares you. Push yourself to do it. Say public speaking terrifies you, for example. In the very moment you are about to speak, remind yourself that it is okay to feel the way you do and that in fact you are actually growing in that very moment. Try to discover what calms you in the moments when you are most afraid – it might be as simple as carrying a picture with you of someone close to you or being alone a few minutes before you go on stage.

9. Sometimes moving backwards is the way forward

There may be a time in your career when you must make the decision to take a new role that is seen as almost a demotion in order to get to where you want to be and that’s okay. If it is your passion, follow it and keep moving forward.

10. Learn to make decisions with minimal information

You will not always have all the information, but you can’t let that stop you from moving forward. Learn how to become more comfortable with the unknown. In times when you must make important decisions, reach out to a mentor or peers who have perhaps already experienced something similar. Use your network.

It is important to remember that, as Mackey and Sisodia state in Conscious Capitalism, “Leadership and management are not synonymous. Leadership is mostly about change and transformation.”

Don’t forget to follow your intuition and know that it is okay to not have all the answers; you just need to know where to find the answer.  MW

As published in Municipal World, July 2019

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Darcy Michaud’s article: Take off the golden handcuffs.


Jennifer Ladouceur is the President of Women Leadership Nation, a company committed to helping close the gender gap and create unified workplaces that attract, develop, engage, and retain  women leaders.

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