What Does It Take to Better Demonstrate Value as a Clerk?

Lena Eisenstein

Clerks play a major role in all aspects of a municipal government. They are often the main point of contact for citizens that have questions about the community. After all, as the historian of the community, they know the ins and outs better than almost anyone else at their organization.

Yet so many Clerks we talk to don't feel confident in a leadership role, driving change or having their voice heard. Because the day-to-day activities of a Clerk can vary, often times the public, council members and other staff are unclear about a Clerk's role in local government.

It's for this reason that being assertive, and having the ability to clearly communicate their role is crucial.

Two extraordinary Clerks, Sherry Mashburn and Joann Tilton, recently joined us for an online training session.

Sherry is a fourth-generation public service employee who has worked as a City Secretary since 1999. She is currently the City Secretary at College Station, Texas. Through her career, she has acted as Treasurer, Vice President, President-elect and President at the TMCA (Texas Municipal Clerks Association). She has also served on numerous IIMC (International Institute of Municipal Clerks) and TMCA (The Texas Municipal Clerks Association) committees.

Joann has been a Municipal Clerk at the City of Manteca, California for over 32 years. She has served on the Board of Directors of the CEPO (Continuing Education for Public Officials), and is a graduate of the Training of Trainers Program. An active member of the City Clerks Association of California (CCAC), Joan is a past-president and in 2007 was named City Clerk of the Year. She's also a former IIMC Region Director and in 2008 received the distinguished IIMC Quill Award.

It was great to hear their advice on how Clerks can play a major role in their organization. Read on for 5 ways Clerks can put this into practice today.

1. Knowledge is Power

Clerks are among the first professions in local government: simultaneously the historians of the community and often the hub of it too. For an in-depth history of the Clerk's role, the IIMC's History of a Clerk is a must-read. This history alone helps explain the importance of the Clerk in a nutshell. They are, after all, the go-to person for co-workers and the community.

As Sherry Mashburn puts it, a Clerk is renowned for being a trustworthy source. They get the credit where credit's due when something goes well. And equally when things go wrong, they take responsibility. It's key to remember this. Clerks have a leadership role from the offset should they want or need it.

2. Use Agendas and Minutes to Showcase Your Professionalism

Agendas and minutes are not just a key component of any municipality. They're also a Clerk's ticket for showcasing their professionalism, through something the public, council and staff know them best for.

Uncluttered, well-structured agendas and minutes are instant markers of high organizational skills.

3. Have an 'Elevator Speech'

It's often helpful for Clerks to be ready to describe what they do for the public and staff members in a few lines. Writing this down on paper, including things such as what Clerks are responsible for on a daily basis as well as more generally, can give people a clearer idea of this. This exercise also serves as a reminder of how much they achieve on a daily basis, which might otherwise be taken for granted.

Sherry points out that unless people really realize what Clerks do, they're never going to know if they'll need their services. It is therefore vital that Clerks express their capabilities clearly. They must communicate more than just a 'laundry list' of their education and training, but identify the person's goals first. Then demonstrate how they can achieve them using their vision, experience, values, and strengths.

4. Be confident

This point is universal. Yet, it is so much easier to say than it is to put into practice ' particularly when, as Joann Tilton points out, Clerks often run into individuals who will shake their confidence in some area of what they do. If this is the case, Joann recommends finding out what resources are available to them in way of support groups. This could range from County and Regional to those in the local area.On a day-to-day basis, Sherry says: 'Don't worry about what other people think about you. Pay attention to people; look them in the eye. Show engaged body language. Walk tall. Dress the part. Most of all, be present. And don't be afraid to speak your mind.'

5. What type of leader are you?

What do you imagine when you think of a leader? What qualities do you attribute to them?  

Are you a Servant Leader? Are you caring? Do you prioritize encouraging, supporting and enabling co-workers to reach their full potential? According to Sherry, this is the most common leadership style amongst Clerks.

Are you a Charismatic Leader? You inspire passion. Inspire others to action. Raise team morale. You are innovative. You don't see failure as impeding progress. You respect the ideas of others.

Are you a Rule Follower? You're the sole decision maker. You're excellent in situations of great urgency, when there's no time to discuss what to do next.

Are you Laissez-Faire? You're laid-back. You trust that your co-workers are on the same page, so you know what's going on but don't feel the need to be readily involved in everything.

Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, and there is no right or wrong leadership style. No matter which leadership style a clerk embodies, an overall awareness of one's strengths and weaknesses is crucial to communicating and leading with confidence.

To discover more on these leadership strategies, watch the recording of our recent online training session: Strategies to Better Demonstrate Your Value as a Clerk. Here, Sherry and Joann share their tips on how Clerks can gain confidence and authority at their municipality.

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Lena Eisenstein
Lena Eisenstein is a former Manager at Diligent. Her expertise in mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits, school boards and local governments, centers on how technology and modern governance best practices empower leaders at these organizations to serve their communities with efficiency and purpose.