City Engineer
City of Charlotte, N.C. Employees: 410
Population served: 800,000
Budget: $85 million

James “Jeb” Blackwell has learned the hard way that managers have three choices when high-performers get overwhelmed: watch them slowly drown, hire more people (rarely an option in public works), or streamline the process.

“When the administrative load gets out of hand, a lot of the good stuff gets squeezed out,” he says. “It makes your people feel like they’re running in sand.”

Great leaders teach employees how to develop and defend processes that cut through the red tape and reclaim their ability to innovate.

A process that aligns with community values and goals and engages key partners produces projects that are “technically elegant and serve the community you aspire to become,” Blackwell says.

Processes also should include only the necessary steps and signoffs.

It all boils down to this: “If you’re not directly serving citizens, find someone who is and make his job easier. I don’t place any sidewalk or review permits, but I do find ways to help my staff be more effective.”

More 2015 APWA Top 10 Leaders.