It’s a cliche of civil service that people spend decades in government jobs, retiring in the same office where they started their career. But Heidi Norman — the director of the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation & Performance — came to local gov after years of leadership in the private sector.
Despite having studied political science as an undergrad, Norman told Technical.ly she didn’t picture herself in the position she currently occupies. Still, after nearly five years working for the City, Norman has no regrets about spending most of her time answering to the community instead of clients.
Norman isn’t a Pittsburgh native, she just married one. Before her civic role, she spent a decade specializing in organizational performance improvement, information technology, and organizational development and talent management. In simpler terms: She occupied positions such as senior manager of talent management at Giant Eagle; principal and chief service officer of StaySmarter, a hospitality and ecommerce company; and finally the VP of customer success at Qualaris Healthcare Solutions.
Then, former mayor Bill Peduto recruited her.
“I was really interested to learn that our city government had a department called Innovation & Performance, and that they had a need for someone with my background and skills,” Norman said. “And as I learned more about the position, and what the Peduto administration at the time was trying to accomplish, I became really excited to do my part and to go into civil service. So that’s what I did.”
The department itself is somewhat of a technical jack-of-all-trades in terms of the services it provides.
First she was assistant director of client services, then deputy director, and later the department’s acting director before finally taking on her current permanent role in the department in February 2022. The department itself is somewhat of a technical jack-of-all-trades in terms of the services it provides. Ever needed to call 311? I&P is responsible for fielding your questions. Is another gov department experiencing technical difficulties? I&P provides IT support. Want info about what Pittsburgh is working on? The department oversees the City’s communication channels via websites, social media and a cable channel.
As the I&P’s director, Norman oversees it all. That means managing a typical budget of $20 million, coordinating for a staff of roughly 80 employees, and acting as a liaison between internal and external partners. The department also runs PGH Lab, a City-supported startup incubator that just wrapped its seventh cohort including companies such as Dashcam for your Bike and Farm to Flame Energy. Primarily, Norman said, the department functions to enable other departments to work directly with constituents more than it interacts with them.
The search for companies for PGH Lab’s eighth cohort just began — psst, see the application here — but in the meantime, Norman says the team has made it a priority to address the concerns of past cohort members about desiring more support.
“The startups in the Pittsburgh community would really like to see more financial support for the work that they do when they’re coming in through the Pittsburgh lab,” Norman said. “They would also really like to see a greater effort to work with them on contracting for their products and services, with the departments and authorities that they work with. And I think that we have taken that feedback and are looking into opportunities for how we can be responsive to those stated needs.”
People who come to work in city government, whether that is in communications or organizational performance and innovation, are really dedicated to their communities.
While Norman couldn’t share plans for projects coming from the department in 2023 because any projects executed are contingent on the budget hearings not scheduled to happen until later in the year, she’d like residents to know that the department is hiring. Currently, it’s looking for IT service analysts, administrative aides and a few interns.
“People who come to work in city government, whether that is in communications or organizational performance and innovation, are really dedicated to their communities,” Norman said. “And there is nothing I would love more than to have folks who are out in the community who are interested in these areas and interested in service, taking a look at the opportunities we have available for them to come and join the team.”
After five years and two mayors, the I&P director said what she’s doing now has been the highlight of her career. Although parts of the position were uncharted territory in the beginning, much of her previous experiences working at companies have translated well into local government.
What’s one thing it’s important to know? Government employees are dedicated to their communities and she’d recommend a career in government to anyone.
“If you compare a city government to any other mid-sized organization, we have hundreds of service lines in a wide range of areas,” Norman said. “And the challenges of delivering on those service lines and leading all of those different service lines are the same challenges that a for-profit company has. Where it differs is that the government does this all in service to the public.”Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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