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Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom

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    Photo: Bryan Haraway / Getty Images

    Qiong Liu, deputy public works director/city engineer for the city of North Las Vegas.

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    Photo: City of Oregon City

    Nancy J.T. Kraushaar, right, public works director and city engineer for Oregon City, Ore.

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    Photo: City of Hays.

    Brenda Herrmann, director of public works for Hays, Kan.

Balance

Patricia Biegler, PE
Director of public works
Chesapeake, Va.
Population: 199,184
Area: 350.9 square miles

Biegler's business cards list her title as director of public works. However, considering the amount of professional and personal responsibilities someone in her position must handle on a daily basis, “tightrope walker” is another apt label.

“One of my greatest challenges is maintaining balance in my life—balance between family, career, and personal growth,” she says. “Also, on an internal level, maintaining my emotional balance in the face of the kind of negatives that municipal public works deals with, and the types of negatives that can take place at the director level.”

While she has seen gender disparities and discrimination lessen in her 25 years in the field, Biegler still encounters negativity from time to time.

“There are still individuals who see women as incapable of being good engineers, good senior managers, or good in any other non-traditional role,” Biegler says. She and her colleagues combat the naysayers with patience and a passion for their work.

“Here in Chesapeake, we've coined the phrase ‘public works junkie' for those who join our ranks and quickly gain enthusiasm for the work we do—those who drive down the road and comment on the state of the ditches, or who are outraged by letters from citizens about city services that they just don't understand,” she says.

“My challenge to all: How do we make them understand? We need to tell the story, so that the city council and the public understand where we are and what needs to be done, so that I, we, and they can make informed decisions about where to put limited resources.”

As for maintaining balance, Biegler busies herself with a range of hobbies outside office hours, including reading, crocheting, writing, working jigsaw puzzles, playing sudoku, and traveling.

“It's not an easy job, but a deeply challenging and satisfying one,” she says. “I wouldn't want to do anything else.”