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Leading into the Future: Implementing Leadership Development and Succession Planning at Sacramento County Sanitation District 1

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During the past decade or so, Sacramento County has evolved from a quiet state capital surrounded by an agricultural economy to a vibrant regional economy that is experiencing explosive growth fueled by a growing diverse economic base and relatively affordable housing (particularly when compared to the San Francisco Bay Area two hours down the road!). This growth has created many opportunities and advantages for the citizens of the County, and many challenges for those who are in the business of providing wastewater services to support this growth.

The Sacramento County Sanitation District #1 includes nearly 400 personnel working in five different sections: Maintenance & Operations (“M & O”, the largest group with over 250 personnel), Administration (which includes Customer Service), Local Sewer Engineering, Technical Support, and Asset Management.

The statistics abound as to the impact that aging baby-boomers are starting to have on the utility's workforce and particularly its leadership. Leaders are retiring in significant numbers and utilities are not preparing leaders to fill their shoes. The workforce crisis is no longer looming; it is here.

To deal with these issues, CSD -1 implemented a leadership development and leadership succession planning process consisting of the following elements. They are also an important component of an overall employee development program.

Organizational Assessment

It's important for managers to understand the organization and context within which they lead. For this reason, an organizational assessment is an important part of effective leadership development. This includes an in-depth understanding of how the organization provides value to its customers, the organization's culture (how things get accomplished or implemented), and how leadership functions within the organization. The Organizational Assessment process also looks at how supportive (aligned) culture and leadership as a whole are with how the organization provides value to its customers.

Core Competency Mapping

Comprehensive succession planning requires a clear understanding of the components of effective leadership for various management positions within the organization. A well-constructed competency map can be very helpful to the members of your organization in providing direction and focus to their development efforts. Mapping leadership attribute sets to an organization's competencies helps the organization to identify and understand the specific leadership behaviors that each competency requires. It then allows the organization to assess and develop its leadership talent using the appropriate attrubutes.

Leadership Development & Leadership Succession Planning

The actual leadership development process consists of the following activities:

Leader Assessment. CSD-1 uses the Leadership Effectiveness Analysis (LEA) instrument, a 360-degree assessment system that provides comprehensive information to individual managers and supervisors about their leadership attributes.

Leadership Leaderhsip Training Workshop. A two-day leadership training workshop is proviced that covers the basics of leadership in a utility organization.

Development of Individual Leadership Development Plans. Each leader participating in the leadership development planning process designs a preliminary plan for his or her individual development.

Succession Planning and Implementation Consultation

Working with the organization's leadership team and TAP Resource Development Group, CSD- 1 is creating a process for identifying candidates for designated leadership/management positions. Much of this is dependent on the demographics of a particular organization, but having this critical staffing “bridge” built will go a long way towards ensuring organizational continuity.

The development of a sound leadership development and succession planning process is a utility's straightest path across the “bridge to the future” and, in fact, taking this approach is quite possibly a utility management's best tool in ensuring long-term measurable success for the organization, its customers, and its employees.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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