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.
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Last week, participants in a forum cosponsored by the PNLC, SLPP, and CTS received a firsthand account of collaborative leadership in action from Tom Sorel, the recently appointed commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Sorel, who previously was regional director of the Federal Highway Administration based in St. Paul, highlighted several new initiatives including the MnDOT ombudsman, whose primary responsibility is to work with citizens affected by the department’s projects.
Appointing the ombudsman helps the department pay deeper attention to citizen concerns and ensure that construction projects are more than merely technically sound. “There really isn’t a DOT in the country that has a position like this,” he said.
As a dramatic example of collaborative leadership in action, Sorel offered the story of leaders from many different public agencies that worked together to deal with the collapse of the I-35W bridge and with its reconstruction. He spoke of the “phenomenal” way in which teams came together from different agencies and companies to get the new bridge in place. Among the lessons learned was the importance of strong top leadership, but also “letting people on the ground develop and carry out solutions.” The reconstruction of the bridge showed the effectiveness of streamlined processes, and some of that can be continued on less urgent projects, he noted.
Sorel’s commitment to collaboration stems from his discovery and adoption of the servant leadership philosophy some time ago and from his experience with coordinating transportation for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Whenever multiple interests must be accommodated, collaboration is much more workable than proceeding unilaterally, he has found. In Minnesota this approach is helping MnDOT develop a consensus on development of high-speed rail, and Sorel hopes to apply it in other transportation policy areas and projects.