April 5, 2014

York County manager turns to teaching to improve staff’s skills

Former college professor, now county manager, Bill Shanahan plans six-month leadership and development course for county employees.

York County Manager Bill Shanahan plans on taking his teaching experience at universities to a different classroom – county headquarters in York.

Shanahan, who has been overseeing day-to-day operations for the county since he was hired late last summer, said a new leadership course will get county staff on the same page and thinking ahead.

“Your employees are your greatest resource,” Shanahan said. The six-month course is a way to maximize the potential of the county’s current department heads while grooming current employees for leadership roles.

While working in Augusta and Savannah, Ga., Shanahan said leadership courses and professional development classes were crucial in training staff.

Shanahan has taught public policy and administration courses as an adjunct professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia.

The county’s program would mirror similar courses with the added benefit of being done completely in-house, he said. That will allow Shanahan to tailor the classes to York County’s culture and governmental structure.

With the council’s approval, Shanahan hopes to start the first class later this summer,. The class would have about 20 students – all current department heads. Each session would start with a question and be more conversational, not a lecture, he said.

Topics would vary from an overview of the county’s personnel policy, ethics and integrity, conflict resolution techniques, management styles and identifying types of power.

The final class is “Understanding and Influencing Public Policy,” a guide to recognizing the distinction between theory and practice in achieving organizational objectives.

“We’re not politicians and we should not be politicians,” Shanahan said. He added staff is increasingly playing larger roles in shaping policy as what’s expected of local government has also increased.

Staff recommendations are commonly cited by council members during biweekly meetings and the current council is interested in being involved in matters early on, including the current budget process, Shanahan said.

In the past, Shanahan said, residents expected the bare minimum from the county in terms of sewage, water and utility services. The county’s role has expanded to include more federal and state mandates, a push for greater economic development projects, and housing needs.

The course will culminate with a project where participants present an idea to make a county department more efficient – whether it’s cutting costs or creating a new way to increase communication between departments.

Graduates of the first class will select the next group of incoming participants, or current employees who they see as their successors. The county tends to promote internally, he said.

The course falls within Shanahan’s overall mantra of efficiency, teamwork, and “no surprises.”

His office is currently updating software to track complex capital projects. The system will allow Shanaha to instantaneously see changes.

“I will always know what’s going on,” he said, Council members will also have access to the software.

Shanahan said he hopes the software will add a layer of accountability to change made to ongoing capital projects.

The manager’s background in military and government administration makes his perspective “unique,” according to assistant manager David Larson. “In looking at our organization, he recognized early on that we lack a program for preparing the next generation of managers and supervisors,” Larson wrote.

Assistant manager Anna Moore, who served as interim county manager last year, said the program will help broaden perspectives for supervisors.

Shanahan said that leadership is combination of people skills and experience – a balance that might not come naturally to people.

The monthly sessions from the six-month course should also improve interaction among departments.

“No department in York County is an island,” he said.

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