Best idea: Achieving hands-off success



When Raleigh, N.C., formed a Public Works Department seven years ago, 14 different divisions and 27 budgetary programs were combined under new Public Works Director Carl Dawson.

“It became very apparent that I wasn't going to be the expert at everything we did; that I was not going to be a hands-on manager in day-to-day operations,” says Dawson. He had to rely on the people who run the department's various divisions.

His role as an enabler expanded on that day.

Dawson learned to give employees guidance, support, and resources, but to also hold them accountable. “That doesn't mean we can't make mistakes,” he says. “But when we do, we acknowledge the error, fix it, and don't do it again.”

Dawson rose through the department, spending 13 years as Transportation Division head with six employees, two years as Central Engineering department head with 100 employees, and finally becoming public works director with 400 employees.

By that point in his career, he knew the key players in both departments. “I was blessed to inherit a very capable staff,” says Dawson.

Having independent managers also is a great advantage in succession planning.

“The department is a living, breathing organization and change is the only constant thing,” says Dawson. “Our goal is to prepare managers for the next level. The way I view it, their success is my success.”

—Drahos ( is a freelance writer in Sagamore Hills, Ohio, and former editor of Government Product News.