I look back at my career and where I started 24 years ago in Greeley, Colorado. I would often tell my colleagues and co-workers, “If I was the boss, I would do it differently,” or “When I’m in charge, I will change things.” Fast forward 24 years and now I have to live up to my words.
As the Director of Parks and Recreation with the City of Wichita, Kansas, I am often asked how and what I did to get where I am. For certain, there has to be a strong desire to lead, learn and serve.
To fuel my desire to learn about being a director, I attended the NRPA Directors School five years ago. While there, I was exposed to many of the topics I deal with today on a daily basis and I met many experienced and knowledgeable professionals that I could network with and learn from.
As park and recreation professionals we often know what we what to accomplish, but can make a mistake or two that lead us into unintended consequences. Spending time with the experts in the field (including the instructors at the Directors School) you can learn how to avoid those outcomes at the highest levels.
During Year One of Directors School we discussed budget management, Capital Improvement Processes and measures for cost savings. Fast forward five years and I am managing a budget of $22 million and a CIP budget of $50 million. The exposure to the topics and the many examples of how other departments manage their budgets was very helpful. There are many ways of managing finances, therefore it’s wonderful to be exposed to other approaches and take home the best ideas.
During Year Two of the school we discussed, in detail, waivers, liability and indemnification. Fast forward five years and I am reviewing and signing contracts and developing strategies to reduce our costs and exposure to risk. I work with attorneys and have to explain our mission and the desired outcome. That can be a difficult task, but my experience at Directors School gave me the resources and examples to help me successfully handle those situations.
During Year One we discussed performance measures and other data- and measurement-driven topics. Fast forward five years and I now use data regularly in all my reports and refer to data often. Not only that, my City Manager uses ICMA standards and performance measures in my budget needs, my performance evaluation and to gauge priorities. At the Directors School, we discussed NRPA’s PRORAGIS, data from The Trust For Public Land as well as the data other agencies collect. It is a data driven world and learning this at Directors School prepared me for my interview and what I could expect in the role of director.
During Year Two we learned about community engagement and working with elected officials. Fast forward five years and I am communicating with the Mayor, City Council and Parks Board on a daily basis. I attend and conduct many public meetings, so the introduction of the community engagement topic at Directors School was an epiphany for me. The director not only leads the department, but has significant visibility among the community and plays a key role in serving the community.
There are many other examples of topics we covered at Directors School that I encounter in my day-to-day, too many to list. In the ultra-competitive recruitment process, I needed every edge possible. Directors School helped me gain that edge.
It provided me knowledge and tools to use. It showed the hiring City Manager that I was dedicated to the park and recreation industry. It gave me the confidence to share my skills at the highest level.
If it’s your desire to become a park and recreation director, you should be at this school.
Where do you see yourself five years from now in your park and recreation career? Leave a comment below.
Troy Houtman, CPRE is the director of parks and recreation with the City of Wichita Park and Recreation Department. Yes, that is him on the horse.