6 Tips for Succeeding in Local Government

Posted on January 8, 2015

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6 Tips for Succeeding in Local Government


by Harrison WicksLinkedIn and Twitter

As a professional at the beginning of a local government career, I am continuously learning tips for succeeding in the workplace. Full disclosure, a lot of this learning is trial-and-error, doing the wrong thing and learning not to do it again. I was fortunate enough to have a boss/mentor that gave me advice to better myself and make my actions more effective in a previously unknown work environment. He showed me that simple traits like active listening, strong communication skills, and having the ability to relate to others become really important because being successful in the workplace is dependent on whether you’re successful working with other people. I mean that’s why we got into the local government business right? To help people and better the society we live in? Well that is only achieved through success in the workplace and that comes from successful personal relationships.

In this article I will highlight the ways I was able to use what I learned to develop personal relationships and ultimately succeed in the local government workplace. I’ll also highlight the input that you provided in a recent ELGL survey.

Be an active listener. 


Hearing someone and actively listening to them are two different things. One key challenge I was facing was that instead of being an active listener I would hear someone speak and start to form a response in my mind, or worse, start talking before the person finished what they were saying. Active listening means you listen without interruption and then take the time to think and form a response before replying. I learned active listening allows you to engage another person in a more thoughtful discussion and allow for the advancement of conversation and problem solving. Also when using active listening, there is a noticeable change in the perception of attentiveness. People want to talk to me because they think I am listening and care about what they’re saying (which of course I do).

Develop your communication skills.


This is arguably the most fundamental trait to possess in the workplace. It not only serves as a gateway for people to see, know, and understand the real you, but it also impacts your ability to get along with other colleagues and potentially persuade others to listen to your ideas. The local government workplace today is full of situations that value and demand strong communication skills. There are meetings: with your boss, other employees, team members, with customers, etc. There is correspondence in the form of email, instant messaging, proposals, letters, etc. that require strong communication skills. Essentially an effective workplace can be boiled down to whether or not there are strong communication mechanisms in place. I learned very quickly that my ability to draft emails was going to be very important in the local government workplace because if I wanted to get anything done, I had to effectively communicate my feelings, goals, objectives, while at the same time showing empathy for those who were no doubt experiencing the same type of demands. I won’t go into the multiple rules that govern email etiquette but suffice it to say that it does play a big role in any workplace environment.

Be able to relate to others.

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Having the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes is a key trait for anyone to have in the workplace. Rarely are things as black and white as they may seem and in order to have effective relationships with others we need to show compassion, empathy, and understanding. This not only allows us to create relationships with others, it provides insights into people’s motives and allows us to predict future situations and potential challenges. Additionally, being able to relate to others can simply mean that you’re willing to agree to disagree with mutual respect and letting the other person know you understand their position. This level of understanding can increase communication which in the big picture benefits the entire workplace.

Honorable mentions


These additional items are also important to remember for success in the local government workplace:

  • Establish a high level of trustworthiness and reliability: Local government administrators do not want to do all the work themselves, however, they want to know the work will be done correctly with an attention to detail. It is necessary to prove your worth to these leaders and let them know they can trust and rely on you for important tasks.
  • Respect a high level of confidentiality: There are many issues in the local government workplace that demand a higher level of discretion and confidentiality. It is important that this confidentiality is not breached either with other members in the organization or at a late-night dinner party. With the more responsibility one gains in the workplace, the more confidential issues and information becomes so it is important to understand this relationship and not violate its principles.
  • Ask for more responsibility: I believe this one is very important for anyone in the local government workplace aspiring for advancement. Leaders need to see that you’re willing to take on more responsibility and with that they can see that you’re driven, ambitious and, depending on how you do with that new responsibility, whether or not you would be a good candidate for advancement. I refer to this item as the ‘Yes, Man’ principle (thank you Jim Carrey). Never say no to a new project or more responsibility because it is an opportunity to shine and show your boss what you’re made of.

Supplemental Reading

6 Tips for Writing a Resume by Katie Babits, Veneta, OR

163 Tips for Your Career and Future Job Searches

Cover Letters: The Hardest Part of the Search

6 Tips for Interviewing for a Job by Emily Leuning

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