The size of a public works organization can vary from a small two-member team to one with over 4,000 employees. In the U.S., public works agencies can be found serving the public throughout 3,144 counties (2014), 19,492 municipal governments (2007) and 16,519 townships (U.S. Census, 2014) all varying in size, scope, budget, and hierarchy. Examining the size of an organization, in coordination with the skills and attributes of leadership, enables positions such as the Director of Public Works (DPW) to achieve success and better lead an organization.
The reality of leadership is that a director may be optimal at one size of organization and find themselves marginal at another. When determining the differences between the management of a large organization versus those of a smaller agency, significant factors include the span of control, management skill sets, and situational leadership.
Span of control is defined as the number of people a manager can supervise effectively. Factors of non-complex work such as often recurring activities, clearly defined objectives, formulated control rules, low risk work, and the strong abilities of subordinates to get along with others all allow for a wider span of control. In work settings where complex effort work such as high variable activities, high risk tasksefforts, and high political scrutiny exists, a narrower span of control would better suit most agencies.
Management skill sets are another important factor to consider when defining leadership structure. Using a well-known theory from Kattz (1955) which was again outlined by Northouse (2012), larger organizations often require leadership to focus primarily on human skills and conceptual skills, while smaller organizations require a greater technical focus. As an example, a smaller public works agency may have less highly specialized workers and as a result, the DPW may be responsible for advising on these issues.
Situational leadership is a management theory that can be applied partially based on the skill sets of employees. It is common for larger organizations to retain highly skilled employees for longer employment times while smaller agencies may require a DPW to apply his technical, conceptual, and human knowledge often wearing many hats throughout the course of his work.
All of these factors and more should be considered when evaluating the organizational size and structure of an agency.
For a complete and in depth at leadership and organizational size please read our article which can be found here.