Dallas City Manager Mary K. Suhm spoke to students, faculty and staff on the challenges and rewards of running one of the largest cities in the nation at President’s Leadership Summit Nov. 12. The program, sponsored by SMU President R. Gerald Turner and the Office of Leadership and Community Involvement, offers students an opportunity to learn from leaders in many fields.
Suhm has risen through the Dallas city ranks during her 30-year career, from serving as a branch library manager to executive assistant director of the Dallas Police Department and first assistant city manager. She was named City Manager in June 2005 and oversees 13,000 employees and manages $2.6 billion in operations. Suhm compared her position to a corporate model, with the Dallas City Council serving as a board. Read more.
What advice do you have for students interested in public service?
Don’t let your current vision of what you “should be, could be, or would be” limit you.
Don’t limit yourself through education or behavior.
Take the jobs no one else wants and learn from them.
Don’t wait for someone to come around to you; you need to be prepared.
If you have a good boss, learn from them.
Don’t ever stop asking “Why?”
This job is about taking risks. You need courage to do it. You need gumption, and a stubborn streak. You have to be passionate about it and love it. You also need to be a listener with an antenna out all the time.
What are your biggest challenges?
The Trinity Project; I???ve been working on it for 15 years. It’s a huge, complex project. Also, growing the tax base by increasing the number of commercial properties in the south side of Dallas.
Last spring I got eight new bosses. I had a major stomachache. It???s been an interesting dynamic in the last six months.
What are some highlights of your career?
The city staff???s management of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita
The development of the International Inland Port. The Port is a huge economic engine.