5 Leadership Development Programs for City Leaders

The best athletes and performers put significant time into practice and preparation for their execution. However, most city leaders are expected to execute, execute, execute, without being given time for practice or learning from that execution.

Anybody looking to be a leader in urban planning, urban design, rural planning, city government, and regional planning must practice and learn to improve your decision-making, technical skills, and collaboration ability.
Below are leadership programs that will set you up for success. Hurry and check these out soon before the application deadlines!

Next City Vanguard Conference

“The Vanguard conference is an experiential urban leadership gathering of rising urban leaders working to improve cities across sectors, including urban planning, community development, entrepreneurship, government, transportation, sustainability, design, art, and media.” Click here for more info.

It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment.

-Carl Friedrich Gauss

Leadership NACTO

“Leadership NACTO offers promising leaders in city transportation the opportunity for in-depth, targeted professional development and training, as well as sustained connections with a cohort of other emerging leaders. Throughout the program, the Fellows participate in curated workshops, learn from proven leaders in the field, build meaningful connections with peers in other cities, basing their learning on a personalized 360-review process. ” Click here for more info.

Urban Leaders Fellowship

If you want to focus more on community development, check out the Urban Leaders Fellowship. It’s “a paid summer fellowship for early- to mid-career professionals who are already leaders in their own right and are looking to accelerate their leadership through a seven-week fellowship with a focus on policy and practice. In ten premier cities across the country, fellows work in partnership with other ambitious, mission-driven individuals, organizations, and elected officials with the aim of empowering fellows to bring about real and lasting change in the community in which they work.” Fellows have opportunities to work on policy advancement, community impact, and people development. Click here for more info.

Experience is the key to learning. Reflecting on experience is the key to transformation.


This training is put on by the Institute of Transportation Engineers that focuses on leaders in transportation. ITE is a great organization I’ve been a part of as a planner. It’s an excellent opportunity to interact with our favorite colleagues, transportation engineers. “Participants will explore current issues in transportation; develop and hone leadership competencies; and build the professional network required to excel as leaders…” Click here for more info.

Eno’s Future Leaders Development Conference

If you are in graduate school with a transportation-related discipline, this program is for you! ” Each year, the Eno Future Leaders Development Conference (LDC) gives 20 of the nation’s top graduate students in transportation a first-hand look at how national transportation policies are developed. Students apply to the program early in the year, and those selected as ‘Eno Fellows’ come to Washington, DC for a week in the spring of meetings with federal officials and leaders of business and non-profit organizations. ” Click here for more details.

Leadership in Urban Planning

Leadership in urban planning is critical to developing livable, equitable, and vibrant places for people, yet it’s overlooked in its significance. One of the misconceptions is that leadership is thought to be positions in power such as directors, city officials, and board members.

One of the misconceptions is that leadership is thought to be positions in power.

Yes, these positions have the authority to make decisions on whether housing is built, new transit lines are funded, or where to prioritize resources, but I argue urban planners also make powerful decisions. They decide on which stakeholders they interact with, how they communicate with these positions of power, and how they set their own priorities.

One of my greatest achievements of a entry-level planner was knowing I didn’t have to be in a management position to be a leader. I had as much, or even more, influence on the organizational culture, how decisions were made, and planning sustainable projects. Luckily my current boss saw this in me and promoted me to a senior planner.

The only studies about leadership in planning describe Place Leadership and Place-based leadership. These definitions still seem to be focused on positions of power.

A more comprehensive approach is to instill leadership in our urban planners by providing research on skills, behaviors, and habits of great leaders.

This is what I intend to do with this website: Make the connection of why leadership creates great cities, and how urban planners can integrate leadership skills, behaviors, thinking, and habits into their daily lives.

Here are some posts:

Strategies to Engage in Tough Conversations.

Advice from Jim Chappell

Jedi Mind Tricks for Urban Planning Leaders

For any suggestions, examples, or needs that will help urban planners become leaders please comment below!

Shape your industry, grow yourself

There are various ways to influence your industry and professionally develop your skills, and sometimes it takes working for free. Volunteering provides planning professionals great opportunities to shape the industry and grow themselves.

There are an array of organizations that have plenty of opportunities for professionals to help. To name a few, Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), SPUR (in the Bay Area), American Planning Association (APA), and Association of Environmental Professionals (AEP). These organizations shape how cities and communities are planned and built. They send letters to government officials, develop guidance for professionals, set up workshops, create conferences, have community boards, and puts out news. You can help these organizations do this and help shape their message and meet colleagues and create partnerships. For example, I am researching and documenting mobility hubs role in enhancing sustainability and livability in communities for ITE. I work with top professionals in the transportation industry around the world helping me gain diverse perspectives of my profession and enhance my writing skills.

There is also intrinsic value of volunteering. Volunteering has shown to bring happiness to people’s lives by doing good for the community (that can be a local community, ITE community, or the world). People also feel more socially connected, warding off loneliness and depression. Several studies by United Health Group found that when people volunteer, they feel mentally and physically healthier.

Volunteering for young professionals entering the workforce shows prospective employers they can bring tremendous value to the organization. As a hiring manager, when I see young planners with little to no experience, but with a lot of activities involved in the industry, I know this person is serious about learning and growing and I want to hire them.

So how can you get involved in volunteering activities? Here are some strategies: Continue reading “Shape your industry, grow yourself”