Local Government Innovation & Redesign

To support local government redesign efforts and recognize the innovative work already underway, the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center has partnered with state associations to create the Local Government Innovation & Redesign Guide and host a yearly Local Government Innovations Awards ceremony.

Reading List

Powered by Delicious


Special skills needed for public affairs today?

Two things have my attention as of late – recent news of the bailout plan, er, I mean, rescue package and the launch of PNLC professional development program for the Minnesota state senate. Yesterday in the midst of our first session of a staffer leadership series, I found myself wondering what skills emerging leaders in government and nonprofit organizations will need to impact the behemoth political and economic challenges of our time.

We face exponentially increasing national and governmental deficits, military occupancy in the majority of the world, an aging boomer generation, an outdated and failing public school system…sheesh…and I’m just getting going. Overlay those issues with the reality that managers in public affairs face – vastly declining resources, a divisive political tenor, major generational shifts, and siloed sectors. The corporate sector is sounding pretty good to me right now.

As a young professional, I’m overwhelmed by the complexity and severity of current policy issues and management conditions. How do I even begin to get my head around what this means for us, inheriting years of policies that have served as bandaids to deep wounds? I find myself wondering if there are specific skills one needs to manage this tenuous environment.

Here at the PNLC and Humphrey Institute, our faculty and fellows teach courses to reinforce and strengthen specific competencies for public affairs students and professionals. Our curriculum is structured in internal and external management, with the majority of courses grounded in leadership and management, while some classes focus on technical knowledge for specific roles and or organizations. Students also learn macro-management competencies including integrative and cross-sector leadership, negotiation and dealing with power, organizational change, high-level finance and revenue processes. It’s certainly a start.

And today we’re focusing on interpersonal/individual leadership with senate staffers, where we’ve delved deeply into understanding emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication. Later this fall we’ll move to committee and policy leadership to include workshops in negotiation, legislative revenue structures and budgeting, and policy implementation tools. Maybe our leaders in Congress can recall their public affairs courses to provide some insight in forming real solutions to our policy problems.


Kim, your question about special skills needed by public leaders bring to mind another that you may add to your list.

To my eye, public administration, perhaps more than other disciplines, seeks answers to both positive and normative questions: "what are the facts?", and "what ought we do?" In order to get a handle on the first of these questions, a public leader should be able to interpret the data and statistics that undergird any rigorous analysis of facts. She should know the difference between significance (in the statistical sense) and importance (in the normative sense).

Having just this morning finished a recently published popular economics text, I've got numbers on the brain. In some sense getting the "numbers" right is the easy part of policy change--much more difficult to find a way to persuade an audience where heart always trumps head.

Thanks for your comments, Bjorn. Great points. I agree, there are certainly a number of frames in which we deal as public affairs professionals. Another that comes to mind for me is Heifetz' adaptive and technical solutions. In fact, I'd argue that in an increasingly complex and shared-power world, one needs to be competent in navigating multiple levels of policy arenas and political actors.

Post a comment

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs or the University of Minnesota. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota or the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.