The 5 Key Leadership Competencies That Matter in a Public Transit CEO

The 5 Key Leadership Competencies That Matter in a Public Transit CEO

“A Competency is the capability of applying or using knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and personal characteristics to successfully perform critical work tasks, specific functions, or operate in a given role or position.” – Michelle R. Ennis, U.S. Department of Labor

Competency modeling is an analytical approach to talent acquisition and development. It goes beyond merely defining a set of tasks or responsibilities to ask more fundamental questions about what makes employees successful.

What behaviors, traits and skills will create positive results in a given position, company, and industry? Who has been successful in this role before? What behaviors made them successful?

These are questions that should be present throughout every talent search.

Competency modeling turns job descriptions into success profiles that are outcome oriented – not just a list of tasks and technical skills. It gives you strong predictors of performance and results in a better fit between employees, roles, and the organization at large.


Public Transportation Executives


To give you an example, many of our clients are public transit agencies. We’ve done a number of executive searches for them and, in the process, discovered some core leadership competencies that make successful CEOs in the industry:

5 Leadership Competencies that Predict Success for a Public Transit CEO

1. Political Savvy

Public transit CEOs need to navigate not only the internal politics of their agency, but also those of local, county, and state government. Doing so successfully requires a high degree of political savvy.

Transit districts are either chartered by statute as quasi-public corporations or are government agencies. In both cases, politics have a direct impact on their operations. It’s critical that leadership has a clear understanding of the political realities they face, can negotiate with numerous stakeholders, and can cope with the dynamism of democracy.

2. Communications

Good leaders know that getting buy-in from their team is as important as getting it from external stakeholders. Creating a compelling vision and communicating it effectively does both.

That requires using logic, reason, emotion and charisma to sway others and earn their commitment. Leaders with this competency can function as a catalyst for change, address areas that most need improvement, and participate effectively in a complex network of stakeholders.

3. Talent Development

Talent development helps employees stay engaged, productive and committed. Providing on-going feedback, training and a supportive environment enhances each employee’s ability and desire to contribute to the success of the agency.

There’s simply nothing more empowering for employees than giving them the skills and authority to get things done efficiently and effectively. Great leaders recognize that truth and surround themselves with great talent.

4. Technical Savvy

When it comes to efficiently managing an organization, tech savvy is increasingly important. The ability to analyze problems and apply tools to address them is incredibly valuable. Having at least a cursory understanding of technical needs and issues is equally useful in the highly technical task of delivering transit services.

5. Change Skills

Change is an ever-present reality in political entities. Achieving desired outcomes and staying on budget requires leadership that can effectively embrace, manage and reinforce transitions. This competency is very important when it comes to avoiding employee resistance and preventing relapses that might undermine the benefits of the transition.

What competencies do you look for in a leader? What makes your leadership successful? Let us know in the comments below!

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