What does it mean to have an embedded Program Manager in each BHC site?
Building Healthy Communities’ (BHC’s) 14 Program Managers are where “the rubber meets the road” in regards to TCE staff leadership in each site. Program Managers are directly accountable to the communities where they are located. Each Program Manager’s grantmaking is grounded in the site’s action plans and goals for community health improvements, created and amended through community processes.
BHC Program Managers are the TCE staff with the most knowledge about the status of local efforts, the history of how the effort has evolved, and are viewed by leaders in the site as, “The Endowment.” They are in regular and frequent contact with the residents and other leaders they are partnering with, both through formal channels such as the Hub and steering committees, and informally by participating in community events, meetings to lay out strategies for change, and numerous workgroups.
As the first point of contact for our partners, the Program Managers are the primary messenger of TCE’s vision and strategies. Program Managers consistently infuse TCE’s values and approach, such as the Drivers of Change, within local processes and strategies and strive for a high degree of trust with their place partners. Their role includes:
- Partner: Work with site leaders in a mutual, give-and-take, step-up/step-back process. The Program Manager balances pushing site leaders to try new things with stepping back. In full recognition of the power imbalance, the Program Manager must make room for feedback on her/his or TCE’s management of BHC.
- Relationship Builder/Networker: In the context of place-based work, there is a heightened premium on building and maintaining productive relationships in and across places and with multiple stakeholders that have varying levels of authority in the community, from residents and youth to elected officials. The Program Manager also acts as a broker of relationships in the community and has the unique power to engage those who would not otherwise interact. Transformative change requires a change in the relational pattern in a community.
- Strategist: In order to be effective in supporting catalytic change, the Program Manager has a sophisticated understanding of the places, including relevant historical and political contexts. The Program Manager is savvy in terms of the loci of power in the community and region, how that power is wielded and to whose benefit. The Program Manager brings to knowledge to supporting transformative change, not for reinforcing dynamics that have led to the exclusion of traditionally marginalized communities. The Program Manager uses her/his own position of power strategically and with accountability to the communities.
- Connector/Mediator: The Program Managers connects people to each other, information, technical assistance and other resources, and opportunities. The Program Manager also connects sites to TCE’s regional and statewide partners and lifts up the local priorities to inform TCE’s statewide agenda. The Program Manager also mediates the exchange of information, opportunities, and requirements between TCE and the sites so as to avoid overwhelming the site partners as much as possible.
- Leveraging: The Program Manager leverages economic and other resources to advance community plans. The Program Manager understands what resources have historically flowed into the places and what resources could be tapped to advance the current agenda. This role requires Program Managers to foster direct relationships with other public and private funders, while also supporting partners on the ground in developing or deepening those relationships themselves.
- Knowledge Leader: The Program Manager has a sufficient command of the relevant content and strategy as it relates to the BHC plan in order to provide appropriate guidance to the sites as they develop and implement the community plans. The Program Manager has a strong working knowledge of each of the ten outcomes and can use this knowledge to inform site activities. When the Program Manager does not have command of a topic, she/he does know how to connect the partners to relevant experts and technical assistance providers.
- Conflict Engager: Moments of conflict emerge in which site leaders disagree, groups clash, and/or efforts fall apart. The Program Manager brings a balanced perspective to the conflict and can lift up what change is needed to move forward. At times, the Program Manager uses her/his power to make hard decisions, such as defunding an uncollaborative organization, or pushing partners to practice the Drivers of Change. At other times, the Program Manager may “take the heat” in order for a process to move forward. In conflict situations, the Program Manager understands and acknowledges her/his own personal and institutional limits and boundaries.
- Advocate: The Program Manager advocates on behalf of the site at the local, regional, state, and national levels, while always careful not to lobby. The Program Manager also advocates for her/his sites within TCE to ensure progress is communicated and needs are met. The Program Manager strives to maintain objectivity, particularly when something is not going well within a site, so as to make strong and sound funding decisions.
- Grantmaker: The Program Manager is the primary grantmaker for the work in the site and is proactive in cultivated funding requests that align with BHC’s values and approach, like the Drivers of Change, and with the site’s action plan. The Program Manager assesses proposed projects’ strengths, degree of alignment, risks and weaknesses and makes recommendations that reflect the best use of limited funds. The Program Manager actively monitors progress toward goals and outcomes. Each Program Manager’s portfolio is created to best optimize community-driven priorities while working synergistically with regional and state-level grantmaking.