Credit: Jay Walter

Construction of the Damon-Garcia Sports Fields in San Luis Obispo, Calif., took months of work with community sports groups, local officials, and environmental groups to get consensus on a location, determine its various uses, and clear a variety of regulatory and environmental hurdles.

Credit: Teresa Scott

Progress on the ambitious Depot Park brownfield project in Gainesville, Fla., has been helped by open communication among all the agencies involved, and with area officials and citizens.

Many times, elected officials get their dander up because they're armed with either wrong or incomplete information about a situation or project, then direct their bile at you. If you come to a meeting ready with the facts and well prepared to answer their detailed queries, you'll look better—and they'll feel better.

Before Walter worked as public works director, he found himself presenting an update on a construction project before a statewide commission when he worked as district director for the California DOT. Caught unaware by a panel member who, prodded by a dissatisfied county official, reprimanded him during a 30-minute diatribe for not making enough progress, Walter stood and listened to the ranting, but “learned from that meeting that I should plan for the hard questions that I should have the answers to.”

Finally, keep in mind who you're working for. A public works director is charged with serving the citizens of a municipality and helping make their lives better. Mayors, aldermen, and other elected officials also hold the same responsibility, but they often are more visible and held more accountable to the public, and city leaders rely on public works officials to help them make informed decisions.

“It's our job to make them look good,” said Kappel.