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August 2017

Public sector leadership requires empowered and accountable teamwork


When I became administrator of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, the governor was clear on what he wanted me to do: improve service and influence safety. After 9/11 shook our world, he added another item to that list: secure credentials.

I became the MVA’s leader when I understood that to achieve the governor’s vision, I needed the talent, energy and dedication of the MVA’s employees leading the way.

We achieve our greatest successes when the hearts and minds of our employees are fully engaged and empowered on the job. In order for the agency to achieve its full potential, employees must feel encouraged and supported to reach their full potential. Successfully leading a public agency—and leading any organization—depends on a culture where the mission is clear (and inspiring), the goals are achievable, and the work environment is trusted and respectful.

For the chief, it’s being accountable for setting a clear direction, mission and purpose. It’s also creating and maintaining an organizational culture that respects employees’ contributions and empowers them to solve problems as close to the source as possible—a culture that allows room for error in the interest of solving the problem. This kind of culture supports risk-taking and occasional errors in judgment, with clear authority to bump things up from time to time. For managers, it’s accepting a bottom-up culture, even when the rules and regulations feel top-down.

Everyone has a role to play in helping the agency succeed. Whether you are a manager or team leader responsible for program delivery, a frontline employee helping a challenging customer, an executive in the C-suite or a business partner, each of you influences the agency’s performance. Your buy-in to the agency’s mission and personal accountability to contribute to its success are critical to meeting the bottom line.

In public service, the bottom line is fairness and equal opportunity—even-handed application of the law, policy or program so everyone, law-abiding or not, gains the benefit of a safe and secure system and the opportunity to be successful. Sometimes this means ticketing or suspending a high-risk driver in the face of pressure from an angry customer or outside influencer. It means carrying out the credentialing and revenue rules and requirements to maximize the safety and security of your drivers, vehicle owners and license holders.

The AAMVA community’s stock in trade is collaborating to help our peers do their best in the ever-changing landscape of customer service expectations, critical safety challenges and security threats. Among the many ways AAMVA’s Board models and supports this collaboration is through the AAMVA Leadership Academy (ALA). Now in its fifth term, the ALA engages the next generation of agency leaders to practice empowered, ethical leadership, building upon a network of like-minded colleagues to help the public agencies they will someday lead.

Public service and agency leadership are sometimes difficult, but it is always exciting and gratifying when you work as a team to get the job done. This issue of MOVE magazine offers all of us an opportunity to reflect on the role that we, individually and together, play in helping the organizations we serve achieve success. It reminds us to ask the question, “What can I do to help make it happen?”

Anne Ferro

AAMVA President and CEO