“I’d say whatever situation you walk into, you have to establish yourself and be true to yourself. And come up with ideas and a leadership style or management style that you’re comfortable with.
“And making sure that as you’re trying to make changes, you’re talking to the staff, talking to the board, talking to the public about what those changes are and why you’re doing them,” Parker says.
I asked Parker how much communication is needed before it becomes too much and he said it wasn’t a perfect science, that continual assessment is needed to know how much is too much.
“I don’t want to inundate very busy people with factoids of information that really aren’t relevant to what they need to do to be effective board members. So what I try to do is send them up the information that they need to make good decisions, to make good policy decisions about the agency because it is my responsibility to run the day-to-day operation.
“But I do want their input on those things that have significant consequences with them, so I want to make sure they are comfortable with the direction we are going in. Sometimes that requires special board meetings. Sometimes that just requires picking up the phone and talking for a couple of minutes quickly about a particular issue. Sometimes it’s just shooting off a fast email,” Parker says.
Parker says that one key to communication for public transit is not just conveying the information, but how it is conveyed.
“One of the things I try to make sure I do is when I go out to talk to board members I try to have as much information as I can as quickly as I can so that I can quickly calm their fears about any particular ongoing problem.
“So [knock on wood], for example, thankfully we haven’t had any situation like this, but if we had a hostage situation I would want to try to get information to [the board] quickly but more importantly get the correct information to them so we’re not creating a bigger problem.
“So as the situation becomes more controlled, I make sure they have the information they need so that they can then disseminate it to other people as well,” Parker says.
The key to establishing lines of communication, Parker says, is understanding what elements of information the board and the public find most important and getting those items to them.
According to Parker, hierarchy is also part of establishing these lines of communication, especially during a crisis so the agency knows who needs to be contacted and what information they need to know in the event a situation occurs.
Coming into a new agency as he did with San Antonio in 2009, Parker understands that the staff doesn’t know him at all and that establishing communication as a manager and getting his staff to know he has their best interests at heart is very important as well — especially in the current economic environment.
“Everybody is nervous; they want to make sure the new guy isn’t going to come in and just start slashing all the jobs and getting rid of all of them and taking all of their benefits away and so forth,” Parker says.
“Part of what I tried to do in that regard was to have lots of meetings at different times of the day, different places, where employees could just come in and ask whatever is on their mind. And try to have a lot of free time with them to calm those fears if you will.
“Because that is like anybody else when you’ve got a family and responsibilities, you want to make sure your job and the things you’ve done in the past will be rewarded as well as having some opportunities, new opportunities begin to take shape.”
When it comes to managing, Parker likes to give his people the resources and freedoms needed to do their jobs well and step back out of their way.
He says he is a big believer in the scientific method of problem solving, “gathering information, understanding what the problem is, coming up with some alternatives, picking an alternative, sticking with it, and then again making course corrections as necessary, debriefing in the end to make sure things went the way they should have and if they didn’t what could we do next time to do better.