Published 05/05/11

The Bryant Institute for Public Leadership: Schooling Skilled Policy Makers

A candidate who faced a tough campaign wins. And there’s a moment -- just after that initial wave of elation -- when fear strikes as he or she realizes: Now I have to do something!

Lori Coakley calls it the OMG moment.

With that moment in mind, Coakley and other Bryant Institute for Public Leadership faculty designed a program of customized training for newly elected mayors and school committee members. Working under the guidance of the Institute's founding director, Gary Sasse, the faculty conducted two inaugural programs for the Institute this winter.

"By working with Bryant’s faculty experts in management, leadership, economics, and other fields, municipal leaders and others can develop and strengthen skills they will need to face pressing issues head-on.” Gary Sasse

In a state facing a budget deficit of more than $330 million, unfunded pension liabilities in the billions, and an unemployment rate of more than 11 percent, Michael A. Roberto, DBA, Trustee Professor of Management, noted, “these elected officials are facing pressing issues. We can help. These are topics we’ve examined and understand. We play it straight. We are non-partisan.”

"This was an intensive weekend that we worked to make as practical and hands-on as possible," noted Coakley, an associate professor of management.  Sasse, Coakley, and Roberto collaborated with Assistant Professor of Political Science Rich Holtzman, Executive in Residence James Segovis, and Assistant Professor of Economics Edinaldo Tebaldi in developing the programs. 

A multi-disciplinary approach for real-world applicability

“We talked about leadership but we also focused on economics, management, and political science,” Roberto said. “We discussed techniques to make sure they are getting a wide range of opinions and ideas and are not just hearing from people agreeing with them.”

Coakley continued, “We offered help in crafting a vision statement that answers the question: what I am going to do now as a public leader? We had these leaders produce a three-, a six-, and a twelve-month plan. And they walked out of the program Sunday night with something they were able to use on Monday morning."

The goal, Sasse said, “is to provide a world-class program for public leadership because the quality of public service and the quality of decisions are directly related to the quality of leadership. By working with Bryant’s faculty experts in management, leadership, economics, and other fields, municipal leaders and others can develop and strengthen skills they will need to face pressing issues head-on.”

The faculty joined the public officials for meals and socializing. "That allowed us to get to know the issues that were really on people's minds, what they were concerned about in unguarded moments,” noted Coakley. “Then, we could address those matters during our work sessions.”

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien said, "I can't tell you enough how helpful the program was to the team. As we worked through many of the issues Pawtucket is faced with, we continuously reflected back to the information provided throughout the program."

The session Sasse and the Bryant faculty experts tailored for newly elected school committee members was so well received, said Tim Duffy, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, “ they went back to their school boards singing its praises.  That’s led to requests for follow up programs that include veteran committee members.”