Learning to Lead

By Susan Robertson

Courtesy Photos

An illustration rendering of a feasibility study for a marina in Savannah.

Blake Walley completed a feasibility study for a marina in Savannah as his capstone project.

Blake Walley
Blake Walley

Unprecedented growth of the Certified Public Manager (CPM) program’s West Tennessee cohort not only means expanded professional development opportunities for the region’s local government leaders, but in some cases has led to substantial economic impact projects for local communities.

CPM is an in-depth and competency-based leadership development program for managers from state and local government organizations, universities, businesses and industries. In 2017, the Naifeh Center for Effective Leadership was chosen to run the Certified Public Manager program in Tennessee. The year-long program has cohorts in Jackson, Nashville and Knoxville. Since the program started, more than 220 participants in the state have received the CPM designation. Currently, almost 80 people are enrolled in the program.

“The Tennessee Certified Public Manager program has had a record-breaking enrollment period for 2024. Currently, the class is the largest it has ever been and part of that is the growth in West Tennessee,” says Naifeh Center Program Manager Trent Clagg. “After COVID hit, the program had to scale back in West Tennessee, but all of that has changed. Due to the excitement of the program and desire for professional development in the state, our West Tennessee cohort is the largest yet, and we have had to move to a larger room to accommodate the influx in West Tennessee participants. I am excited about the potential economic impact that will be revealed as a result of this larger class.”

Dresden Mayor Mark Maddox completed the program in early 2024 and says it was a wonderful development opportunity for him.

“If you think it’s for you, it is for you,” Maddox says. “You will learn a lot and you will get to apply what you learn. This is a program that trains leaders if they will listen, if they go through the activities and will reflect on their practice. This is an investment in human capital.”

Each of the CPM participants have to complete a capstone project before graduating from the program. With the projects, the participants often find solutions for improving their organizations or local communities. One example is the capstone project of Savannah City Manager Blake Walley.

2024 CPM Program Participants

Jackson: 14

Nashville: 46

Knoxville: 15

Online: 3

For his capstone, Walley conducted a feasibility study to make improvements to and expand an existing city marina. The city had a long-term vision to position itself for potential job growth and recreational opportunities. The feasibility study was the starting point to add a new marina park because of the city’s location on the Tennessee River. The park will include a hotel resort, an amphitheater, public access to the river, a recreational park, sites for restaurants and a large parking lot for recreational vehicles.

“We are in the permitting phase now with TVA,” Walley says. “This will mean the world to Savannah. It gives us a place to put in boats and for boats to get gas along the river.” Walley says the hotel has already broken ground because they already had plans to build in the area.”

Walley says he enrolled in the program because he saw it as an opportunity to grow his leadership skills and saw the potential to help him grow as a city manager.

Steve Sonos was an assistant chief with the Bartlett Police Department, an organization he’d worked with for 20 years. However, he was considering what other growth opportunities he might have with the city. He was attending a city council meeting when he heard there might be an open position at city hall.

“I knew if I was going to move up, I needed to make this move,” Sonos says. “I saw on the ICMA (International City/ County Management Association) site where I could use the CPM (to move into city government). I saw CPM as a way to build my resume and to ascend into a new role.”

Sonos says CPM offered him “a better general knowledge of how city government works and it broadened his leadership knowledge.”

He completed CPM in 2022 and in January 2023, he was named the chief administrative officer for the city of Bartlett.