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Polco News & Knowledge

Meet the 2023 Leadership Trailblazer Award Winner: Valmarie Turner

valmarie tuner 2023 leadership trailblazer award

Valmarie Turner has become the mentor that she once had when she was growing in her own local government career. Her outstanding guidance and support makes her the deserving recipient of the 2023 Leadership Trailblazer Award. 

Valmarie Turner is an accomplished leader and trusted mentor for guidance and problem-solving in local government. Many women recognize her as a person they can count on for advice and support in navigating their roles. Mentorship is essential to the advancement of women in local government leadership positions. Today, only about 30% of city managers are women. 

Turner is a visionary who has cultivated a 30-year passion for public service. She currently serves as the Deputy City Manager for Fairfax, VA, as well as the Southeast Region VP on the ICMA Executive Board. Turner also has extensive experience in affordable housing, community and economic development, social/human services programs, and public improvement projects. Throughout her career, Turner has prioritized the advancement of other women in the profession, too.

For her outstanding service, The League of Women in Government and Polco presented Turner the 2023 Leadership Trailblazer Award at the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) conference in Austin, Texas. The Leadership Trailblazer Award honors an exceptional leader in local government who champions other women as well.  

I spoke with Turner about her professional journey, becoming a mentor, and what advice she has for women who want to advance their careers.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Angelica: As a woman of color, have you personally ever faced barriers along the way in your professional journey? How do you overcome them?

Valmarie: When I became the assistant county administrator [of Loudoun County, VA] and then deputy county administrator, it was a man who opened the door. And when I look at a lot of my references that I typically put on an application, they're men. So we're not in it by ourselves. There are men who truly will open doors, and they don't see a lesser person because we're a woman. 

But I have had some struggles. I've had men in the interview say to me that while I had everything that they were looking for, I just seemed too nice. One asked me, have I ever terminated someone before? Do you think they would ask a man that question?

But any door that I'm supposed to walk in, no one can close that door. So I look at it like that. [When something doesn’t work out], I'm like, okay, what did God just save me from? Because I truly believe that I'm right where I'm supposed to be. 

Angelica: What role has mentorship played in your life, and why do you believe that mentorship is so important?

Valmarie: I was pretty young when I became a director. It was other women who had been directors for some time who reached out to me and said, let's talk. They started giving me guidance on things that I had not faced, but things that I may face. It absolutely changed my trajectory in terms of how I lead. 

My mom passed when I was 25. At every job that I had, there was always an older woman who gravitated toward me and — would not take the place of my mom. Absolutely not — but who would give me little nuggets of wisdom here and there. 

And I remember when I got to a point where I was used to that guidance. At a new job, I would look for that person. And I knew the point when I was that person. It was time for me to start mentoring on that level. And that's exactly what I did. 

Angelica: A lot of us are climbing our own career ladders. What advice do you have for other women in the profession?

Valmarie: It's always about helping someone to get where we are or even surpass us. If there's anything that we can do, we should be able to do that. And I have always had a mindset that we don't do life by ourselves. 

We absolutely should help anyone that we can help, particularly as it relates to women. If there is an opportunity for me to promote a woman, I'm going to promote a woman. We have all of our ducks in a row for the most part, and we are usually very deserving. Very much so.

Angelica: What are some skills that you've seen women bring uniquely to leadership positions? 

Valmarie: If I'm interviewing someone, they have the technical skills. They already have that. But what you want is someone who's well-rounded, who can work with the whole person. Because you'll find when you get into leadership positions, you're dealing with personnel issues. 

You have to be able to motivate, influence, and encourage. In order to empower those who work for you, you have to create an environment where you can do that.

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