Elected officials have an enormous breadth of responsibility for things ranging from solid waste disposal to allocating scarce resources to assuring the health, safety, and welfare of their constituents. Most elected officials are experts in a few policy areas but cannot be experts in all areas of responsibility. They rely on people they trust to provide information in areas where they lack expertise.
Elected officials, of course, rely on their immediate staff and on state and federal administrators. While these individuals certainly know a great deal, their responsibilities do not include the direct delivery and supervision of services. As an expert on the direct delivery and supervision of services, your leadership objective is to be a reliable and trustworthy information resource in relation to child protection issues.
The following activities will serve to solidify your relationships with elected officials and to assure the “trusting” relationships necessary for your mutual success.
1. Understand the responsibilities of the elected and administrative stakeholders on your map. Your task is to get them to rely on you and the agency for accurate, timely, and helpful information in your area of expertise. You can only serve in this role if you understand what they do, what information they need, and if you have developed relationships that reliably serve their interests.
2. Understand the legislative process: how bills become law and the budget process used to allocate the scarce resources of government.
3. Understand the administrative rule-making process and at what stages that process can be influenced.
4. Understand that all resources allocated to the public sector come from the political process. There is no other way.
5. Understand the expectations placed on each elected official on your map by his caucus, his constituency, and his personal convictions.
6. Establish ongoing, personal contact with elected and administrative officials at all levels of government. Along with regular contact, for example, consider inviting individual elected officials to spend a day with an agency social worker. This is a potentially powerful way to familiarize the elected official with what the agency does and how complex the work of child protection truly is.
7. Develop a process to ensure that when an official requests information, the right information gets to the right person at the right time. If you cannot be relied upon to respond in a timely manner, you will not be asked the next time. The policy development process can move, stop, and restart quickly. When information is needed, it is needed now.
8. When agency successes are celebrated, always include the appropriate officials. Invite the media to cover the event. Not only does this educate the elected official (and the media) about agency successes, it also gives your valued political stakeholder deserved credit.
9. Always advise the appropriate officials of actual or potential crises. Brief them on the matter so that they can accurately respond to the media. No one likes to be caught by surprise, especially elected officials. The official will likely be asked to respond to the media and must have the correct information to respond accurately.
10. Be considerate of the official’s time. If you cannot convey your information in five to ten minutes or in one to two pages, then rework your presentation until you can. Your presentation should never take more than ten minutes. If the official has questions beyond that, then he is on his time.