Skip to Main Content

Diving into the learning pool 

by Jessica Wells, NCLM Communications Associate

After seven productive years as assistant city manager of Winston-Salem, Martha Paige decided to apply for the open position of Morrisville town manager in 2013. Like most everything she does professionally, Paige approached the job opening with gusto.

“It was scary to make that jump, and I feel fortunate that I was the successful candidate, but I worked hard at it,” she says.

Paige joined the City of Winston-Salem in 1999 as finance director of the coliseum/convention center, was promoted to deputy finance officer for the city in 2004, and became assistant city manager in 2006. She earned a Master of Public Administration degree from UNC Greensboro while working full time for the city.

“I had some trepidation about going back to school in my 40s,” Paige said. “But I found the education experience to be so much better the second time around. I have a thirst for knowledge, and, when I leap in, I leap in!”

Continuing Education
Paige graduated from the School of Government’s eight-week Municipal and County Administration program and attended the Public Executive Leadership Academy (PELA), an executive-level training program for public leaders. The City of Winston-Salem is one of a number of jurisdictions that have sent multiple members of their managing teams to PELA over the years. Participation in the program has had some lasting effects.

“PELA was my first experience with a 360 feedback assessment,” Paige said. “It’s still something that I pull out periodically as a ‘gut check’ verification of where I was, where I am, and what I want to make sure I’m paying attention to.”

In 2013, Paige attended a meeting of the newly formed ICMA Task Force on
Women in the Profession, on which she now serves. The task force was formed to evaluate the barriers facing women in the local government profession and develop strategies to remove those barriers.

“That event was eye-opening for me,” Paige said. “What resonated in particular was a session about all the things women say to themselves that take them out of the running for jobs, such as thinking we’re not ready for more or attributing our accomplishments to that of a team. I recognized that I was doing that.”

And she decided to change her mindset going forward. Soon after, Paige heard about the Morrisville town manager opening and decided to apply.

Giving Back and Empowering Others

Paige also serves on the planning team for the UNC School of Government’s inaugural Engaging Women in Public Service manager’s summit to be held in April 2016.

“Engaging Women in Public Service is about empowering and celebrating the good things that women bring to the workplace. Having those different perspectives and insights is exceptionally important as part of a team,” she said. “The things I heard in the initial ICMA Task Force meeting were things I needed to hear. I’ve worked hard, but others have given me opportunities along the way. So if there’s something I can offer to someone else, I just want to be able to do that.”

Big City to Small Town

As an assistant manager in Winston-Salem, Paige oversaw numerous city
operations and also worked on special projects including strategic planning. As the manager in Morrisville, Paige is working in areas she previously knew little about.

“I’ve been taking a deep dive into the learning pool and stretching my skills,” she said.

She has found that much of her existing knowledge has been useful, but “just because you’ve gone from big to small, skills don’t necessarily transfer directly – small takes its own set of unique skills.”

One of those is being the person who makes the final decision on matters that impact the town.

“I had a lot of authority in Winston-Salem,” she said, “but I always had [manager Lee Garrity] guiding our direction.”

Paige said the best thing about being manager is knowing every employee in the town. Winston- Salem employs 2,300 staff members; Morrisville has 165.

“I love knowing their names, something about them, being able to sit and have a conversation that’s not always just about the work,” she said. “Here, we have a lot more opportunity for teamwork and collaboration—we have to collaborate more in a smaller community—and we’re working together toward what’s right for the town.”