An Expert Opinion: Advancing Your Career

An Expert Opinion: Advancing Your Career

From time to time, NCLGBA features commentary from industry and government experts on a variety of issues impacting local government budgeting professionals. This post, written by Dr. Stephen Straus, President and Founder of Developmental Associates, LLC, takes a look at competencies sought of those seeking management positions in local budgeting and finance.


The world of local government is changing rapidly.  Perhaps nowhere does this change reverberate more than in in Finance and Budget.  Certainly, there are long standing expectations of finance and budget managers especially with respect to credentials that remain fixed.   Nevertheless, local governments are increasingly concerned with new competencies.

When Developmental Associates conducts a search for any position we are looking for competencies in four areas detailed below.

Technical Competency – These competencies are concerned with specialized areas, such as computer programming, financial analysis, cost accounting, and statistical analysis. There are two levels of technical competence—knowledge and skill—both of which are acquired through education and experience.   Knowledge is a necessary but insufficient foundation to ensure skill, which is concerned with doing.  Knowledge of certain technical competencies is necessary for many executive positions, but skill is not. For example, finance and budget managers must have the knowledge to understand the financial reports generated by IT programs, but need not have the skill to operate the IT program and generate the report.

Finance and budget managers need to have a wealth of technical competencies, but the nature of those competencies are evolving.  One newer theme is the emphasis on breadth – not just depth.   In addition to the standard financial reporting, budgeting and accounting, local governments are also looking for experience in bond financing, capital improvement programs, and self-insured fund management. More “cutting edge” competencies, such as forecasting, performance management metrics, managing enterprise solutions and investment strategizing are fast being prioritized in skill portfolios.  Last but not least, in these economic times, local governments want their financial and budget managers to be creative about finding new revenue sources without raising taxes and to be skillful in finding organizational efficiencies that will reduce expenditures while maintaining or enhancing service.

Managerial Skills – Knowledge is of little importance when it comes to management; it is skill that is essential.  Traditionally, budget and finance managers could use the power of their expertise as well as their proximity to the manager to use a controlling approach.  Today, the more autocratic approach is a recipe for failure.  Finance and budget managers must develop partnerships with other departments to ensure a deeper understanding of their operations and to build trust so those departments are willing to provide information and jointly seek efficiencies.  The collaborative skills necessary for working effectively with other departments are also ideal for building competencies in staff and for retention since younger staff, in particular, want to find meaning in their work.

EQi-2.0Emotional Intelligence – When we evaluate candidates for managerial skills, we seek corroboration for these skills by assessing their Emotional Intelligence.  Candidates that exhibit emotional intelligence factors, such as flexibility, optimism, emotional expression, and social responsibility (a team orientation) are most likely to have the concomitant managerial skills necessary to partner with staff and other stakeholders.

Values and Beliefs – Competency with respect to values and beliefs covers a host of critical areas concerned with motivation and career aspirations. What motivates the candidate? Why is he or she seeking to change jobs? What are his or her career goals? What are his or her goals for the organization?  The key question here is what values and beliefs is the organization seeking, and how well do those match those of the candidates?

The best advice we can give candidates that wish to move up the ladder in local government budget and finance is to seek a variety of experiences, strive to be on the forefront of new developments in the field, and constantly work to refine your team leadership skills.

DevAssocDevelopmental Associates, LLC, helps organizations identify and develop leaders, people, and programs to achieve superior results. Their services include coaching, curriculum and program development, training, executive recruitment and applicant screening and selection. To learn more, visit their website,, or call 919-813 6096.

An Expert Opinion: Food for Thought on Nonprofit Funding Evaluation

From time to time, NCLGBA looks forward to featuring commentary from industry and government experts on a variety of issues impacting local government budgeting. The following was posted to the NPLG listserv by Margaret Henderson, Director of the Public Intersection Project, UNC School of Government.

Margaret Henderson
Director, Public Intersection Project
UNC School of Government

During this time of year, local and state governmental organizations, as well as some foundations, are in the process of receiving and considering nonprofit funding applications, then making their final decisions.

The purpose of this email is to (1) serve as a sanity check for the challenges of the season and (2) remind nonprofits, foundations, and governments that it might be useful to schedule a meeting to assess how well the process worked this year and how it might be strengthened for next year.

Those of you struggling to compare the outcomes of different kinds of nonprofits might appreciate this blog by David Heinen, the director of public policy and advocacy at the NC Center for Nonprofits:

Those of you wondering whether your funding process accomplishes what you want it to might find this article useful as a guide for group discussion:

Finally, it can be beneficial for foundations and governmental funders to meet to exchange information.  Even though your work might seem different, you do serve the same communities and might share similar goals.

At the local level, this meeting might involve city and county governments, United Way, and community foundations.  At the state level, the meetings might be organized around topical areas, such as violence against women or redefining local economies,and involve regional/state foundations and state offices that manage state or federal funding streams.

Renewing efforts to exchange information across organizations about available resources, priorities, processes, the rationale behind decisions, and emerging developments is particularly critical during times of economic and political stress.

Thanks for all of your good work,
Margaret Henderson
Director, The Public Intersection Project
The School of Government, UNC-Chapel Hill

An Expert Opinion: What’s impacting fuel costs?

From time to time, NCLGBA looks forward to featuring commentary from industry and government experts on a variety of issues impacting local government budgeting. This post, written by Kevin Keen, Manager of Fuel Supply and Sales for Go Energies, LLC, provides an overview of factors that should be considered when predicting gasoline and diesel fuel costs for your fleet in the coming year.

Go Energies is blessed to have the opportunity to serve numerous municipalities with bulk fuel and fuel management services.  With that responsibility comes the yearly request from some of these counties, cities, and towns to provide price per gallon estimates for fuel in the upcoming fiscal year.

While no one is able to definitively predict movements in fuel prices, we are able to provide our customers with valuable insights we have gained throughout recent months and years of experience in this industry.  By considering some of the factors that contributed to rapidly changing fuel prices and supply shortages in 2012, we can attempt to paint a picture for 2013.

Sunoco Refinery, Eagle Point, NJ

The most notable event of the previous year was Hurricane Sandy and the impact of the aftermath on fuel supply; however, this was only one of many forces at work.  More specifically, 2012 saw the closing of a refinery in the Caribbean, a shortage of fuel and higher prices at the terminals receiving waterborne products, the annual switch to summer gasoline, cycles of a strengthening and then weakening US dollar, and ongoing tensions overseas. 

With these factors in mind, 2013 will most likely demonstrate a similar pattern and therefore municipalities should be on the lookout for:

  • Fuel supply allocation shortages;
  • A market that many sources predict will see rising fuel prices; and
  • Increased volatility leading to major swings in market prices over short periods of time.

Given the above predictions, the most critical skill to focus on in the upcoming years will be informed fuel purchasing.  Based on fuel prices from 2012, we saw a move up or down $0.04 on 20% of the days in the year and a $0.02 move up or down occurred on 45-50% of the days.

As swings in this amount can save a municipality up to $300 per load it will be imperative that municipalities are armed with the proper tools necessary to make active purchasing decisions based on rapidly changing market conditions.


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