“It’s easier to run for office than to run the office.”
Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill
Congratulations, you ran for public office and won!
Campaigning and getting elected is a great achievement and you should be proud of your new status. The people have spoken and they’re confident you are the best person to tackle the community’s challenges. But if you are like I was after reality set in, you’re asking yourself “Now what?”
As someone who spent fourteen years in public office, I assure you that you’ll eventually be comfortable in your role as a public official. There is definitely a steep learning curve though, so here’s some advice to help get you through the transition from campaigning to governing.
- Know Your Role: You need to understand the responsibilities, chain of command, and legal limitations of the elected officials and staff in your city. Your primary role is to set policy and direction, so focus on big ideas. The voters elected you because of your vision, not because they want you to micromanage the day-to-day operations of government staff.
- Be a Team Player: Remember, you’re only one vote so delivering on your campaign promises depends on teamwork. Another reason teamwork is key is because governing bodies whose members work together as a team get more accomplished for their community…and making your community better is why you ran in the first place, right?
- Define Success: At the end of your term what do you want to be remembered for? If you develop a vision of what you want to accomplish and a plan to achieve your goals, you’ll stay focused on the big picture instead of just reacting to others’ priorities. As Yogi Berra said “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
- Remember Who You’re Working For: You work for the citizens who voted you into office. Pretty obvious, right? You would be surprised how power can transform some dedicated public servants into self-serving egomaniacs. Always make the long-term interests of your community your top priority, and keep your constituents informed and engaged.
Serving in public office is a wonderful honor and big responsibility. As a community leader you’re always in the public eye. Remember that how you behave and what you say affect your fellow elected officials, citizens, and community.
Here’s wishing you much success as you embark on this incredibly rewarding journey!