Dealing with a superior who has an axe to grind with how the municipality is operated can be a taxing situation for a municipal manager. If you are faced with this daunting situation, you might consider the following suggestions to reverse the discontentment. One might conjure up words like disgruntled, annoyed, peeved, resentful, and many other negative connotations. Set those aside and work to restore a workable relationship.
You are undoubtedly familiar with the saying that we have one mouth but two ears. As a municipal manager, it is important to listen actively to your superiors’ concerns. Make sure you fully understand their perspective and ask questions to clarify any points of confusion. For example, it could be that they do not have all the facts, and a piece of the puzzle is missing. Let them fully explain their concerns before you attempt to rectify or clarify the situation.
This leads to a vital part of a manager's profession. It's important to remain professional and not let emotions get in the way of your communication. Be calm, respectful, and courteous even if the superior is confrontational or argumentative. Many times, responding with aggression increases tension and serves no one. Both parties will never forget the confrontation and most likely harbor ill will toward one another for a long time. A strained professional relationship can make for long days at work. Remaining calm during a rant can take the wind out of the sails if you genuinely listen.
Try to address specific concerns the supervisor has rather than engage in a general debate. However, there may be multiple problems that they feel need to be addressed, prioritize them, and tackle the most important ones. It is possible that when you are seen correcting a situation to their satisfaction that the other issues may not seem as important or could even go away, achieving new respect. This can help to focus the discussion and resolve issues more effectively.
Always provide them with factual information that supports your decisions and actions as a municipal manager. Holding a document in your hand and reading for yourself can certainly help to shed light on the real problem. This can help alleviate concerns and reassure them that your decisions are based on sound reasoning and careful consideration, which is precisely what a good manager does.
Compromise may be the final answer. Landing on common ground that can work for both of you by identifying areas of agreement with the superior. Find that sweet spot to build on and work together to achieve common goals for the municipality.
If the situation becomes unmanageable or the superior’s behavior is interfering with the smooth operation of the municipality, seek outside help. This could include consulting with a human resources professional, a mediator, or a legal advisor. This is where the experienced team at KMS can help. Often, a fresh, uninfluenced third party can help rectify the situation. Some may balk at this idea but waiting until the situation is toxic leads to departures and resentment. Never hesitate to get help.
In summary, dealing with a superior with an axe to grind with how the municipality operates requires active listening, professionalism, addressing specific concerns, providing information, finding common ground, and seeking outside help if necessary. By following these steps, you can help maintain a productive working relationship with the entire board and continue to serve the municipality's best interests. So "Fire this thing up," stay calm, and move forward.
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 33 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at email@example.com. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.