Editors note: The basis of this blog post is the ICMA e-book Making it Work: The Essentials of Council-Manager Relations
by Niles Anderegg, research and content development associate, ICMA
Communication between elected officials, managers, and staff can be a complex issue, as it is the role of the manager to implement policies set by elected officials. This generally means that they shouldn't interfere with the manager's decisions on how to implement policy. Similarly, the manager needs to try not to influence the policy-making duties of the officials except when called upon to provide recommendations and guidance on other policy questions. With that in mind, here are three tips for managers when communicating with elected governing bodies.
1. Give all relevant information accurately and precisely.
When giving recommendations to elected officials, managers must include all relevant options in order to help them make decisions on their own, even when the manager may have a preferred option. This means presenting the options fairly, with all the facts laid out clearly and precisely. This even-handed approach not only allows the officials to make an appropriate decision based on all the pertinent information, but it also enhances the credibility of the manager as they can see that the manager is doing his or her due diligence when making recommendations.
2. Manage the number of tasks governing officials handle at one time.
In order to get the best ideas from officials, the manager should try not to overload them with too many major priorities at one time. Sometimes bad decisions come from the timing of the decision making, not from the actual decisions themselves. If governing officials have more time to consider a specific issue, they are more likely to come to a better conclusion than if the question is one of several big decisions they have to make at the same time.
3. Make time for elected officials.
One of the most important ways to get the best ideas from elected officials and managers is to make sure that the two groups value each other. Elected officials often look to the manager for evidence that they are valued participants in local government. By making time to meet with them individually, managers can strengthen their relationship with them as a whole and generate more good ideas that can help the organization function most effectively.
These are just a few of the strategies that local government managers can use to communicate more effectively with elected officials. These strategies encourage not only clearer communication but also better decision making. To find out more about improving your relationship with elected officials, check out the ICMA publication Making it Work: the Essentials of Council-Manager Relations.
Ask an ICMA Manager: Three Key Elements of Council-Manager Relations. This 2018 blog post explores the council-manager relationship from the perspective of an active local government manager.
When It Comes to Communication, More Is More. A PM magazine article from 2018 provides nine guidelines for communicating with individuals who work for a local government in some way.
How to Foster Two-Way Communication During the Budget Process. This 2017 blog post looks at how to facilitate a conversation between community stakeholders and local government during the budget process.