November 2018 Spotlight Professional

Sylvana Niehuser, Parks Operation &Maintenance Manager, City of Olympia

Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.   

As the Parks Operation and Maintenance Manager, I oversee the planning, coordination and supervision of various services and programs to ensure the efficient operation of Olympia’s park facilities, including permanent and seasonal staffing, customer service, repair, maintenance and oversight of the Park Stewardship program which includes both the Volunteer in Parks program and Park Ranger program. I also oversee project development, asset management, and the maintenance and operations budget.

How long have you been with your present agency? 

I’ve been with the City of Olympia since 2004 and in parks for the last 10 years of my career. 

Background experience and previous careers?

After college, I started my career with the City of Olympia in the Police Department which led to working with victims of domestic violence. This is where I discovered my passion for serving the public and being a part of something that is bettering my community. 

What were some of your first jobs, and what did you learn from them?

My very first job was Denny’s. I was a hostess and I learned very quickly about what a difference good customer service makes. Even when you can’t satisfy someone’s request, you can still make their experience positive.

Why are you passionate about the parks and recreation field?

Parks and Recreation are essential to a thriving community. They enrich lives, connect individuals with nature, build community and give people a sense of place. Ultimately this profession aligns with my values of protecting the natural environment and enriching my community.

What has been your biggest professional challenge? 

My biggest professional challenge was stepping out of the role of field staff and into the role of supervisor. I love doing the work on the ground but had to remind myself that I have limited capacity and ultimately I wanted my staff to own the work, so I needed to step back. Initially, I felt like I wasn’t supporting them when I did this, but I quickly learned as a supervisor you mostly support your staff behind the scenes. Once I did this, I got to watch them take the program to the next level and it was very fulfilling

What’s the best advice you can give to someone starting out in the field of parks and recreation? 

Learn who you can look up to, tap into the Parks and Recreation networks and open your mind! Once I reached out and engaged with other professionals, I gained a lot of resources, broadened my network and my career really took off. 

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