Charleston County Assistant Administrator Jim Armstrong named National Professional Manager of the Year – Transportation APWA
By Charlie Morrison ¦ Community Editor
Charleston County Assistant Administrator Jim Armstrong hasn’t often been afforded the luxury to look in the rear-view mirror of his 25-year career in the County’s Public Works and Transportation Departments. The job of planning the transportation infrastructure for a County with a population growing faster than kudzu doesn’t bear much time for reflection, after all.
A resident of West Ashley who’d grown up on James Island, Armstrong is typically southern in that he’s not the type to toot his own horn when it comes to his work. His colleagues however, along with a number of notable community and municipal leaders tooted it anyway in backing Armstrong’s nomination for a national lifetime achievement award, the American Public Works Association’s (APWA) 2013 “Professional based Manager of the Year – Transportation” award. And though the field was crowded with public works professionals from across the country, in the end Armstrong was named the awardee.
The APWA is a national, education-driven industry organization dedicated to the field of public works. The award “seeks to inspire excellence and dedication by recognizing the outstanding career service achievements of public transportation professionals … (focused on) exceptional leadership and management by an individual through a significant transportation related project or program,” according to the official award criteria, which also stipulates candidates have a minimum of 10 years’ experience in the field.
Armstrong will receive the honor in person at the the 2013 APWA International Public Works Congress & Exposition, dubbed “the Best Show in Public Works,” to be held from August 25-28, in Chicago. And while Armstrong alone will ascend the stage to receive the award, he’s quick to defer to the dozens of colleagues and fellow County staffers he works with as “second to none” as the reason for his being named the 2013 award recipient.
“This award I got isn’t about me, it’s about this wonderful workforce that we have at the County. I believe in my team, I try to empower them, get out of their way and let them do their work,” says Armstrong of his leadership style, before turning his attention to his staff.
“They’re hard working, they’re smart, and they get it done. If they have to stay here 20 hours a day, I don’t have to tell them they need to … they just do it.
“This is what I want to be doing. Before I worked for the County I grew up in the engineering business and it’s what I’ve wanted to do my entire life, this type of work and I just very fortunate to be in the place I am, surrounded by a bunch of great people. We’ve got a County Council that provides us opportunities to make improvements for the citizens … this is my calling, I’m as happy as I can be,” continues Armstrong “It’s been everything that I wanted and it’s been a lot of fun and from day one, I’ve been super busy.
“Before I got this job I didn’t have to go and talk before a lot of elected officials, so I had to learn how to communicate with them and still the guys in the field and things like that,” begins Armstrong. “Our Council is a very quick study. They’re easy to educate on what we try to do and so they really are receptive.
“Of course they’re nine of them, so not everyone’s going to agree on everything, but they do take the time to ask a lot of tough questions that our staff has to answer, educate themselves, and make a decision. I respect and appreciate each and every one of them,” he says.
First hired by Charleston County in 1988, Armstrong was immediately put to the test, and under the most serious of circumstances, serving as a liaison with the S.C. National Guard during recovery from Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Armstrong is probably best known to everyday Charlestonians as the point man for the Charleston County Roadwise program, in charge of implementing County half-cent Transportation Sales Tax-funded projects. On James Island, opinion is divided about the County’s implementation of the Roadwise program. Notable projects that have drawn controversy include the improvements to the intersection of Camp Rd. and Folly Rd. and the widening of Harborview Rd.
On the County’s future and the prospects of continued growth, Armstrong is optimistic about his agency’s ability to handle it. “I think that for the foreseeable future, we’re going to continue to grow and people are going to continue to come here because it’s such a wonder place to live. I think that we’re just going to continue up the ladder for the next 25 years … I’m sure we’ll probably take our lumps along the way, but I see us going straight on up,” he concludes.