Photo of David Ellis

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David Ellis

County Manager, Wake County, North Carolina

ICMA Member Since 2004


The Highlight of My Career

One of my first moves as manager was taking our housing division out of human services and expanding it into a department. Within that department, they developed a 20-year plan and thus far, they are two and a half years ahead of where they were supposed to be. With the focus on housing affordability, they were able to do things during the pandemic that without having a housing department we would have never been able to do.

Overcoming Self-Doubt

My background is in social work, so when I had the opportunity to participate in a senior executive internship program in Fairfax County, I had it built up in my mind that I couldn't be a manager because I didn't come up through the finance or budget route that many folks do. While I was working with those people in the program, one of the things I realized was that they all had different backgrounds, but their similarity was their leadership. They were able to provide leadership and galvanize people to focus on common goals. Once I grasped that I realized that I was actually impeding my own ability to move up into a manager position because I had this doubt in the back of my mind. Once I was able to remove that doubt, I was able to really focus and bring my whole authentic self to a manager position.

NFBPA: Mentorship into Leadership

Calvin D. Jamison, Ed.D., current board president of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA), met me many years ago, pulled me aside, and said, “I hear you want to be a manager. I looked at your bio and here the areas that I believe you need to strengthen.” He just did that out of the blue, the first time he had met me, and his advice stuck with me and allowed me to strengthen those areas. In NFBPA, people are really willing to share their expertise and their stories. It’s just a tremendous organization that really needs to be at the forefront, not just during Black History Month, but throughout the year.

Advice to Black Aspiring Local Government Leaders

Develop a career plan and check on it every three years to see where you are and identify what skills or activities you should be working on. Identify mentors who are in positions that you aspire to be in the future, and really sit back for conversations with them to learn from them. Become active in organizations like ICMA and NFBPA; don’t just join them. I was encouraged to get active in ICMA and NFBPA and to this day it’s been one of the best things I’ve done for my career. There are also a number of leadership programs out there, like Leadership ICMA and the Harvard Kennedy School. I really encourage people to consider those opportunities for developing their leadership skills.

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