Guiding new agency directors puts state operations on better footing

Summer Warner (Courtesy photo)

Summer Warner has one of those jobs crucial to state government, but rarely talked about. 

The Nebraska native is at the helm of one of the state’s most important projects: helping new directors get up to speed in the state agencies they’re chosen to lead.

Warner is a workforce planning strategist for Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services, the agency responsible for supporting functions of all other state agencies including human resources, information technology, budget planning, training and much more. 

“This part of my work is my favorite because I get to work with agency directors both new and seasoned,” she said. 

Warner leads the team that implements a new leadership program brought to the state by Department of Corrections’ Colette Peters. Peters is a member of the Correctional Leaders Association, a national group created for agency leaders to boost education and support for policies that improve public safety. 

Peters came to DAS with the idea to create a leaders’ forum like that of her national group. The forum is where new agency directors could talk with veteran directors to understand how the state operates, from the budget process and what legislative session looks like to building a positive agency culture and supporting executive teams. 

Forums for new directors take place as needed. An upcoming session in April is the fourth for Warner and her team. “What ends up coming out of them is not only a network these new directors can rely on, to pick up the phone and call when they have a question, but for our seasoned directors as well to learn new ideas and thoughts with fresh people to bounce ideas off of,” Warner said. “It’s been really successful and mutually beneficial.” 

As part of the new directors forum, DAS Chief Operating Officer Katy Coba will assign “learning partners,” or matching veterans with newcomers so they have someone to turn to for answers or morale support. Warner said learning partners were only expected to meet for six months. Almost all of the relationships formed through the program have lasted well beyond that. 

One of those relationships, Warner said, is the professional friendship between State Parks Director Lisa Sumption and Department of Energy Director Janina Benner. The two were paired when Benner came on board toward the end of 2017. They’re still close. 

Benefits and synergy

Another piece of Warner’s job is to oversee the state’s mentorship program. She enjoys matching mentors and proteges across departments so state employees can understand more about their government than just the office where they work. 

For example, Warner’s team recently paired Health Authority Deputy Director Kris Kautz to mentor Department of Transportation Deputy Surveyor Chris Glantz. While the Health Authority and ODOT might not seem like they have a lot in common, the cross-pollination has a lot of benefits and promotes a synergy that’s been previously unseen across Oregon’s agencies, Warner said. 

Warner said her program’s best benefit gives agency directors and state employees people to turn to when a job isn’t quite so pleasant. As people become more distrustful of government at all levels, Warner sees opportunities to show that “hard-working people” are doing difficult jobs on behalf of the public.

“It makes me sad when you read about all the negativity because there’s some really good, hard-working people in our state government who have the best interest of Oregonians in mind,” Warner said. “That’s not always shown or apparent to people.” 

For Peters, seeing Warner and DAS staff bring her idea to life has been fulfilling. It’s also provided support to new people tapped for leadership positions. “Bringing the model of executive leadership training from the national corrections level to directors of Oregon’s state agencies has been a very fulfilling experience,” she said. “My peers at other agencies are hungry to lead their agencies into the future and provide needed services to all Oregonians. This guidance prepares them for all of the excitement and challenges of leading people, achieving objectives and enriching the lives of Oregonians.”

Contact reporter Sam Stites: [email protected] or 971-255-3480.