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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Summer 2020

Summer 2020
Issue No:
Vol. 84 No. 2
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

Advancing Workforce Development: Leading a Performance-Based Culture

by Gay Dugan and Christine Kemker

With ever-increasing demands on time and resources, transportation maintenance departments need an efficient and innovative way to invest in their workforce and train their employees to rise to the roles of managers and supervisors. To fill that need, the National Highway Institute (NHI) offers a newly updated course, Maintenance Leadership Academy (MLA) (FHWA-NHI-134063). This intensive training program supports workforce development by delivering a streamlined path to acclimate new managers to maintenance leadership roles, improve organizational decision-making, and support a performance-based maintenance culture.

The MLA will jump-start maintenance supervisors and other rising leaders in their management roles by providing both technical and leadership training to help participants drive innovation on the job. Attendees will learn how to develop and lead a performance-based workplace, embrace a strategic and measurable approach to managing resources, and maximize highway system performance.

Fulfilling demands for both career development and advancing industry knowledge, the MLA teaches effective leadership skills while providing a deeper understanding of various processes, methods, and materials that will maintain and preserve an organization's bridge and highway systems.

Past host and current instructor Greg Duncan says, "At the first session in Tennessee, I saw direct results from district maintenance managers attending the program. Improvements included immediately reevaluating planned pavement preservation needs lists and collaborating with other regional managers for problem solving. Although the training was intense and a huge time commitment, each participant expressed satisfaction knowing that they gained skills they could use to advance maintenance practices for our agency."



Updated for 2020: Streamlined and Targeted

NHI recently updated the MLA with feedback and insight from experts in the field, including the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Infrastructure, the Resource Center, State departments of transportation, and maintenance specialists from the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. The updated MLA has been streamlined to be more leadership focused and relevant to the workforce development needs of State maintenance departments. This includes updating the training's six modules across technical topics while weaving in effective leadership skills.


"By sending staff to the MLA, transportation agencies can expect to accelerate the learning curve for new maintenance managers or supervisors and to broaden the skillset for those with more experience. The workshops were also redesigned to increase participant engagement and reinforce how leading practices presented in the curriculum can be implemented in their home agency."

Greg Duncan, MLA Instructor


Inspiring Leaders

One of the hosts of the updated course, Greg Selstead, explains that a maintenance supervisor's role doesn't just require leadership, it's also about guiding a cultural shift.

"The heart of this update reflects an emphasis on leading a performance-based maintenance culture," says Selstead. "The essence of training our maintenance leaders how to establish this type of culture sets the tone in this first module and is the common thread woven throughout the course."

This shift will benefit the industry, Selstead believes, because a performance-based culture supports achievable agency goals and transparent decisionmaking processes. By incorporating performance data analysis, asset management, and evaluative strategies, the MLA will give participants the skills and information they need to make better decisions for their agencies.

NHI redesigned the MLA to inspire a leadership mindset in addition to providing advanced technical knowledge as a workforce development course. By framing the technical modules around performance-based measures and evaluations, the course teaches participants to lead an effective, data-driven maintenance program. In turn, this structure promotes quality results in all areas of maintenance work.

Academy Structure

One of the unique benefits of the MLA is the flexibility in its structure. The course consists of six modules, combining self-paced lessons (online and paper-based) with instructor-led classroom expertise. The classroom portion can be broken into two or three sessions, if requested. A typical course outline runs 12 weeks from the date of the first web conference orientation through the final day of classroom training. Because of its blended structure, the course can be compressed or spaced out based on the needs of the host State.

To meet the demands of the industry, the streamlined MLA now covers all relevant material in less time:

  • 1-hour orientation web conference
  • Approximately 16.5 hours of independent study (reduced from 32.5 hours)
  • 10.5 days of instructor-led, classroom training (reduced from 12 days)

The lessons focus on relevant and needed skills for current and future supervisors. Many of the lessons are self-paced to enable the participants to work on their own schedules. This condensed structure enables new or inexperienced professionals to come up to speed quickly, reducing time away from their jobs.

The updated MLA includes a revised curriculum with modules on the following topics:

  • Leading a performance-based maintenance culture
  • Pavement and bridge preservation
  • Roadside maintenance and drainage
  • Environmental protection
  • Weather-related operations
  • Traffic and work zone safety

The modules are designed to provide applicable, state-of-the-practice technical knowledge in each subject area. The relationships between the modules are emphasized, enabling participants to apply skills learned in one module to another. This reinforces the effectiveness of a planned, performance-based approach.


NHI's courses are designed to engage adult learners and provide hands-on, experience-driven, active learning opportunities. Participants in a 2016 MLA course in Tennessee get hands on with their learning as they take the classroom outside.


Workforce Development: Who's Ready to Lead?

The MLA is a comprehensive and intensive career development course. It is designed to quickly acclimate new or inexperienced maintenance supervisors, superintendents, and managers to their expanding or evolving roles.

Potential participants should already have at least a basic understanding of maintenance operations at the county, regional, or State level. This includes a familiarity with oversight, quality assurance, handling materials, scheduling, budgeting, and planning. Participants should also have advanced skills in maintenance activities, such as pavement preservation.

With a deep dive into the six subject modules, participants will develop an indepth understanding of the complex decisionmaking processes of their agency, as well as the value of a performance data-driven maintenance culture. Participants will gain an applicable knowledge base of planning, scheduling, quality control, customer service, asset management, pavement and bridge preservation, contract management, and environmental responsibilities.

NHI-Supported Regional Sessions

As part of its 50th anniversary efforts for 2020, NHI pledged its support for regional MLA programs. Through the institute's partnership with FHWA's Office of Infrastructure, supported sessions will continue beyond the current year. NHI plans to host one regional offering each year in locations across the United States.

Though State-hosted MLA sessions can benefit an entire department in one swoop and may be recommended for efficiency, regional collaboration is a frequently pursued option. Sending participants to a regional session offers flexibility in scheduling, enabling agencies to stagger the training of their future leadership.

These regional sessions also offer other benefits, including opportunities to share practices across geographic and political boundaries. Past participants have found regional sessions to be highly effective, as they gained a broader understanding of the material due to the diversity in experiences and ideas exchanged.

How to Host or Attend a Training Course

State and local agencies interested in hosting the MLA can host the course at a discount through 2021. The cost reduction is reflected in the course description on NHI's website.


Collaboration is an important aspect of the MLA. Participants are given the opportunity to learn from each other, broadening their experiences and gaining new ideas to bring back to their agencies.


Interested hosts can submit a Host Request Form or find more information about hosting this course through NHI's website at

Individuals interested in attending a currently scheduled session can also benefit from NHI's discounted pricing. For more information on this course or to register for an MLA session, visit

In addition to providing career development through leadership and technical training, the MLA awards eight continuing education credits upon successful completion.

Continuing Education Credits

NHI invites professionals interested in earning continuing education units or professional development hours to visit to browse the complete digital course catalog, which lists more than 400 courses spanning 18 program areas.

NHI is approved as an Accredited Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). As an IACET Accredited Provider, NHI offers continuing education units for its programs that qualify under the ANSI/IACET Standard.

Gay Dugan is an NHI training program manager.

Christine Kemker is a contractor for NHI.