The Assistant with Susan Sherman, City of Olathe, Kansas

Posted on July 15, 2014


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Ben McCready, Rock Island (IL) assistant to the city manager, adds to ELGL’s ongoing series on assistant city manager and deputy city managers by profiling the Assistant City Manager in Olathe, KS.

Background Check

Susan Sherman

 Connect: LinkedIn and Twitter

ELGL members may remember being introduced to Susan Sherman earlier this year when she was part of a dream team of local government professionals who provided input for a feature post The Rule of 5: How to Succeed in Local Government.

City of Olathe Assistant City Manager Susan Sherman holds a degree in Politics and Government from Ohio Wesleyan University and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Kansas

Susan Sherman’s career with the City of Olathe spans over 25 years. She began her career focusing on budget preparation, the wellness program, and special projects. In 1994 she was promoted to Assistant City Manager, taking on additional duties. Sherman is now responsible for day to operations of the Police, Fire, Parks and Recreation, and Information Services Departments. During her tenure with the City of Olathe she has served as interim City Manager for over one year.

Sherman is an active member of ICMA, the Kansas City/County Management Association, and the Northeast Kansas Administrators organization.  In September 2006, Susan was awarded the Assistant Excellence in Leadership Award by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in honor of Buford Watson, Jr. 

Background Check on the City of Olathe

Connect: FacebookTwitter and World Wide Web

With a population of 125,872 Olathe is the 5th most populous city in Kansas. Olathe continues to define itself as a growing community and has been recognized multiple times for being one of the best places to live. It is also home to MidAmerican Nazarene University and the Kansas State School for the Deaf which has been around since 1866. Olathe is home to a few companies you may have know, including Garmin who sponsors what is likely an extremely accurate marathon in Olathe.

Lightning Round

First concert you attended: Steve Winwood

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….Make a difference.

Dream job as a child:

I once thought I might be President of United States.

Book you are currently reading: 

Just read The Secret Life of Bees—my  son has to read it for AP English☺  I would recommend it!

Best restaurant in your community: Mi Ranchito

Q & A with Susan

Your first local government job.

I guess technically my first local government job was concession worker at our local pool and later a lifeguard.  Those were really fun days.

My first professional local government job was with Olathe, Kansas and I have had a great career in Olathe.  I have seen a number of city manager changes and the population has doubled.  I have gotten to see many different management styles and approaches without ever leaving the city.

Three professional accomplishments that you are most proud of

1510672_733369866696345_6180967127014129537_nYouth Programs.  We have an Olathe Youth Congress, Olathe Teen Council and Olathe Youth Court.  Each has a different perspective, but all of them are student run.  It is a partnership with the Olathe School District and has fostered wonderful relationships with our school district that has paid on in numerous ways.

I was just elected to the International City County Management Association Board of Directors for the Mountain Plains Region

I have been a part of some major organizational changes in Olathe and am proud of the many things that we have been able to accomplish with Vision, Mission and Values, Organizational Scorecard and culture.

Give us a couple things to be careful of while advancing up the local government career ladder.

1. Build bridges, don’t tear them down.

2. Always remember to help the next person too.  Pay it forward

Your mentors.

Jewell Scott is currently the Executive Director of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City.  Jewell was the City Manager in Deleware Ohio where I attended Ohio Wesleyan University.  It was the internship that I did in her office that sealed the deal on my career choice of city management.

Ron LeBlanc is currently the City Manager of Durango, Colorado.   I first met Ron at an ICMA Conference when I interviewed him as part
of my MPA class.  He made such an impression on me, that when he was selected for the Olathe Kansas City Manager job, I knew that I had to try to get the assistant to the city manager position when it posted.  He gave me my first job in City Management.

Bill Ramsey is a former Public Works Director in Olathe Kansas.  Bill has been with me throughout my career here in Olathe and helped me tremendously while I was acting city manager in Olathe for a year.  I credit Bill with telling me that whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.  He is still a person that I talk with about my career.

Finding the right work/life balance is a constant struggle for many of us, what is your approach to maintaining your personal life while leading a successful professional career?

Know what is important to you, set priorities and know that sometimes one part of your life needs a bit more attention than the other.  Recognize that and work to do small things that can make a difference when work seems to needs you more.  A note in a lunchbox, a call to say hello and check in or even a treat for the dog or the family just to let them know they are important too.

(Complete the sentence) Local government is……pivotal to the future of our communities and our nation.

ELGL is hosting its second annual conference in October, help us out by suggesting three topics of speakers we should include.

  • “Understanding the other generation”
  • How to make change that outlasts you
  • I really like the research from the book  “Daring Greatly”

1016714_705993609433971_1109083965_nIf we ever encounter you on an interview panel, give us a few specific tips for making a good impression.

  • Show a passion for local government and the difference you want to make
  • Include some humor in your answers from time to time so we know you are human.
  • Be eager to contribute, learn and grow.

What does city management look like in 2020?

I think that we will be collaborating on services, staffing and resources because the public will demand it and the resources will be limited.

Finally, would you encourage your children to consider local government as a career?

Absolutely, but only if they show a passion for it.  There are a lot of ways to make a difference in the world, and I hope my children find their passion to do that—whatever that is.

What questions should we have asked you? 

  • What’s it like to have both spouses in professional local government?
  • How can long time professionals help young professionals and vise versa?

Supplemental Reading

Ingrams 40 under 40

The Rule of Five: How to Succeed in Local Government

City of Olathe – Assistant City Manager Susan Sherman

The Assistant with Scott Sorrel, Peoria County

The Deputy with Jeff Mihelich, City of Fort Collins

The Assistant with Alice Cannon Rouyer, City of Tualatin

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