Advising elected officials: Be humble. Be informed. Be thick-skinned. Be concise. Be helpful.

Evaluation Lab News

Posted: Mar 20, 2023 - 12:00am

Senior Policy Advisor for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Scott Darnell, shared his experience serving in the administration of New Mexico Governor, Susana Martinez. Mr. Darnell was an advisor to the former governor and he shared what he learned in that position and five tips on how the policy students can be a successful advisor to an elected official.

Be humble. Be informed. Be thick-skinned. Be concise. Be helpful.

Be humble. Advisors need to recognize, first and foremost, that their role is to serve the elected official, and not to promote their own ideas and agenda. An advisor should never take advantage of their position for personal gain, nor should they offer advice on a whim, since a stray idea could be adopted. It’s also important to admit when you don’t know something, rather than taking a guess. Say that you do not know and then to go find the answer. 

Be informed. As an advisor, you may be tasked with knowing everything about one subject or knowing as much as you can about all subjects, so staying informed is key. It’s also important to be knowledgeable about opposing points of view. Understanding the problem and the context, as well as you understand the possible interventions, is crucial in ensuring the decision maker can make an informed decision.

Be thick-skinned. Working for an elected official comes with a lot of scrutiny. People will always disagree with decisions being made in the government but it is important not to internalize the negativity nor to take it personally. In addition, your advice will not always be heeded by the decision maker, and you need to be ok with that.

Be concise. Things happen fast in this high information, fast paced sphere.  If you cannot explain the issue in 2 minutes or in 2 pages, you aren’t doing your job.

Be helpful.  If an elected official asks for a recommendation, have an informed response. You need to have considered all the options and be able to provide the best path forward, even if there may be controversy.

MPP students appreciated learning about what it’s really like to serve as a policy advisor.