For veteran public servant Chris Workman, learning from peers across different agencies was at the heart of the CPM experience.
Growing up the son of a director of public works in Northern California, you could say public service is in Chris Workman’s blood.
His 20+ year career in public transportation engineering started straight out of college. Initially interested in working with a consulting firm, Chris took the firm's advice to get some experience with the Department of Transportation first. He never looked back at the private sector once he did, though.
“I always felt like I was probably more of a public sector type of person - to give back to the community and do what I could. The more I helped and mentored developers, I really started enjoying it.”
Chris quickly moved up the ranks at Department of Transportation (DOT) before joining the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) eight years ago. In his current role as Engineering Manager, he oversees all the engineers in the agency, conducts workshops throughout the state, and works closely with the Board Members. It allows him to work at a higher, more complex level where he is in the exciting position to “provide expertise to pretty much everybody”. The work is fairly similar at its core, Chris says, but with 300 or 400 projects in play instead of 10.
Walking the Walk
So, what brought Chris to an extensive program like the Certified Public Manager after so many years of managing and leading others? It was a combination of wanting to model what he asks of his engineers and continuing to develop his own skills.
“I really push on my employees to continue in education. It’s part of their evaluation. And my director kind of told me the same thing. He’s like, ‘You have a couple of different certifications in addition to your license. What else do you want to do?’”
While his director encouraged him to look into project management certification, the CPM’s focus on leadership and management felt more immediate. Chris had taken the required supervisor’s training when he was first promoted to team leader in the early 2000s. Leadership had become a core part of his work since then, but he hadn’t engaged in any additional leadership training. Chris recognized that the CPM® was an opportunity to refresh his skills and explore “new ways to deal with some of the new challenges” he’s encountered.
Reflections on the Program
As he describes it, the CPM® program allowed Chris to do exactly that – hone existing skills, explore new ideas, and try them out with his team. “I wasn’t sure if I’d deal with pushback, like ‘Hey, you’re just doing it because of the class!’ They really seemed to enjoy it, though! And so that was kind of neat to learn more about my team that way.”
It wasn’t just the content that Chris found impactful, but the people he was exploring the content with. The CPM® was the first time he had engaged this way with a group of public servants working in different types of organizations and different roles. Chris comes back to the impact of this aspect of the program again and again, comparing it to traditional workplace training:
“I really enjoyed a lot of the training at DOT but we were all DOT employees in a class. I really enjoyed [the CPM] where you have a very different group and hearing from everybody else – what problems they’re dealing with and how they dealt with them.”
In his public sector career thusfar, Chris has worked on physical projects he’ll be able to drive over for the rest of his life and more “political” work of educating and advising commissioners, city administrators, and others. He’s seen the opportunities and challenges of management change and shift. And that’s exactly why he believes he made the right choice to pursue the CPM®:
“Quite frankly, I think they should require State employees to do [the CPM]. You have that initial requirement and then nothing. I think there should be because some of us that are in [state service] for so long have different jobs. You don’t get to practice as much and I think it’s important to hone those skills.”
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