Unsung Heroes

Water system operation and maintenance people are some of the nation’s most important and most undervalued professionals. Here’s a chance to recognize them.

In business, it’s the CEO who gets all the credit when a company succeeds — not the sales managers who sell the products, the manufacturing engineers who set up the production lines, or the shop labors who put the products together.

In football, the quarterback and the star running back get the glory — not the offensive linemen who create the passing pocket and bust the holes in the defense. In war, we laud the great generals far more than the thousands of infantry soldiers who do the fighting.

In the water business, well, arguably no one gets much credit, but least of all the frontline workers who make sure clean, safe, good-tasting water gets to our taps every day. You know, people like Dale Stanley, a Class 1 water operator with Dalton (Ga.) Utilities, profiled in this issue of WSO.

What Stanley does isn’t spectacular. He has simply done his job, and done it well, for 28 years. His employer saw fit to nominate him for the 2011 Top Operator Award from the Georgia Association of Water Professionals — and he won. The award, like many others offered by state-level associations, goes annually to a water operator for consistent, outstanding contributions to the drinking water profession.

Why it matters

Such awards are important, and not just because of the recognition and morale boost they give to the few who get to put the plaques on the wall. They’re important because the profession itself needs recognition, and for much more than feel-good reasons.

The real reason awards matter is that providing quality water, and caring for the wells, tanks, pumps, piping and treatment plants that make it possible takes money — more of it than ever as infrastructure ages and regulations get tougher. And the more homeowners and businesses appreciate the people who provide the service — and the value of the service — the more likely they are to go along willingly when rates must be raised to pay for system expansion or improvement.

In these times, when so many people seem to think of tax or rate increases as offensive if not downright un-American, it’s essential to demonstrate the value and necessity of public services. How supportive will community members be if they never stop to think about the infrastructure that brings water to their homes? Or if they undervalue the people who make it all work?

So long, low profile

Now, of course municipal professionals tend to be unassuming people and (a bit paradoxically) proud to be so. The prevailing attitude seems to be, “I do my job, I do it well. That’s enough. My peers notice. If no one else does, so be it.”

That’s fine and honorable — except that the preservation and advancement of water systems depends in part on the public’s appreciation of those people. So maybe it’s time to kiss the low profile goodbye. Maybe it’s time for water systems to be more aggressive about recognizing the top performers in their ranks. One place to do that is right here on the pages of WSO.

Recognition doesn’t need to be limited to announcing major awards. Our “Worth Noting” column is open for mention of all kinds of accomplishments: awards, certifications, promotions, longevity milestones (10, 20 or 30 years of service).

In addition, our “Bright Ideas” column is for telling about successful projects or innovations on the part of your team members. And our “Quality Leaders” features tell stories of operators, plants and entire systems that are performing exceptionally. There’s no need to be shy about trumpeting your organization’s successes.

We know, because we’ve been told often, that people and plant teams who get recognized on these pages come to work with a little extra spring in their step. From there, it’s easy to imagine that someone carrying a brighter attitude around the workplace also walks a little taller around town and maybe talks a little more freely about what he or she does for a living. That’s part of ambassadorship, and it can only help the industry.

Let us know

So, who are your unsung heroes? Let us know about them. We’d love to get more calls and emails from managers and supervisors telling us about the great people on their teams. We’d appreciate notes from the heads of state and regional associations listing the latest winners of major awards. We’d love fill up our “Worth Noting” column each month.

Here, the job falls to the people in leadership positions. Very few in the operating ranks are going to talk to us about themselves — they don’t want to blow their own horn. But there’s nothing wrong with their superiors blowing it for them. So as you read this issue of the magazine, ask: Who on my team really stands out and has valuable insights and information to share? If your whole team fits that description, tell us about that, too.

I look forward to hearing from you. Send me a note to editor@wsomag.com, and I promise to respond. Let’s work together to recognize the people who make water systems tick. By doing so, we’ll pull the industry up in the eyes of the people who pay the bills.


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