Launch Slideshow

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Top Leaders

Top Leaders

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    Steven Hansen's greatest challenge is maintaining aging infrastructure. Incorporated in 1829, Liberty, Mo., juggles the need to meet demands of a growing population with system components that date back 100 years or more. Photo: Sara Cooke

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    Morton, Ill., superintendent of public works Bob Wraight credits his organization's efficiency to its horizontal structure. “The more levels there are between the top and the bottom, the more communication breakdowns there are,” he says. Photo: Marc Nix

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    Kurt Corey poses with Lily the Pacific Green Tree Frog, the mascot for SPLASH (Stormwater Pollution: Learn and Share), an educational outreach program in Eugene, Ore. Photo: Kurt Corey

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    As former commissioner of transportation and works for the Regional Municipality of York, Ontario, Kees Schipper served a community that grew by an average of 40,000 people per year. Photo: Gail Lemieux

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    In 2005, Larry Lux visited Australia to compare the country's emergency management programs to American programs. He attended Australian football games, and got up close and personal with kangaroos, dingos, wombats, and fairy penguins. Photo: Larry Lux

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Taking risks

Bob Wraight doesn't hesitate to go out on a limb.

The helm of a public works department is no place for the faint of heart. If you're looking to wear the director crown, you'd better be tough.

“Don't put yourself in a position of leadership if you don't want to be criticized,” says Bob Wraight. “Your intelligence, integrity, motives, and competence will be questioned publicly by people who have little or no knowledge of the issues. You'll get scars dealing with problems and people after a certain amount of time.”

Still, says Wraight, the rewards make the risk of sticking your neck out and being an innovator preferable to keeping quiet and doing nothing.

“Sometimes people do as little as possible to get by—I could do the least amount of work and my paycheck would still come on time,” he says. “You need to make waves and lead the charge. You have to survive on the personal satisfaction of knowing that you did the right thing and the best you could.”

Bob Wraight, superintendent of public works, Morton, Ill.
  • Years in public works: 28
  • Village stats: Morton, a suburb of Peoria, has a population of 15,400 people. The public works department has an annual budget of $28 million and 34 employees.
  • First job: His family's business, which specialized in concrete, asphalt, and sewer construction.
  • Three wishes: more funding for infrastructure, increased budget for staff, and more time “to stay on top of things.”
  • Fun fact: In his spare time, Wraight flies airplanes; he received his pilot's license at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.