The Common Thread in the Many Hats of Government

Posted on March 24, 2022

many black and white hats on a shelf

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Katie Beemer, recent MPA graduate. Connect on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

  • What I’m Reading: A Guidebook for City and County Managers: Meeting Today’s Challenges by retired city manager Jim Bourey.
  • What I’m Watching: Inventing Anna on Netflix
  • What I’m Listening To: Lover by Taylor Swift

In local government, we often end up with a diverse skill set, simply because on the day to day our work is anything but ordinary. On any given day, we might find ourselves to be utility experts, customer service agents, recreation program leaders, amateur architects. Especially in smaller municipalities, we can wear a lot of hats.

I recently realized something about the many hats that we wear, and it is that at the end of the day, no matter which hat you’re wearing, what you’re being asked to do is wear the hat of decision-making. In the private sector, they make decisions, but not in the same way. When a private sector employee makes a decision, that decision is often voluntary in some way. They are making a product decision, or a service decision, but ultimately the decision-making itself and the consequences of the decision-making can be somewhat limited.

However, in government, we have to be professional decision-makers. On any given day, we are evaluating the landscape of our constituencies, taking in data regarding community health and wealth, looking into see what needs aren’t being met, how we could create a more inclusive community. We have goals given to us by elected officials, and each day we ask ourselves, what decisions can I make to fulfill these goals? What decisions can I make to improve the lives of those that work here? That live here? That play here? What decisions do I make to keep people safe? What decisions do I make to keep people healthy? What decisions do I make to keep people housed? What decisions do I make to help others?

And unlike in the private sector, every decision we make has consequence. The decisions that we make have far reaching impacts, not just across sectors, but across time too. The question of intergenerational equity is never far from our minds, as we make decisions on how the choices we make today impact the choices of tomorrow.

On the surface, the many hats of government can seem disjointed, disconnected from one another, only compatible in that they are tasks left to governments because of private sector failures or traditions. But the real connecting factor is the thread of decision-making. The hat we are always wearing is our decision-making hat, and a part of what we are trained to do in local government is to make decisions every day and consider all of the consequences that decision might carry. And so, it becomes extra important to take a moment to consider the consequences, to check and see if other communities have faced the same question, and to always check our decision-making against codes of ethics, in order that the decisions we make may be the best ones.

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