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Leisha DeHart-Davis has been contributing to research at Carolina for 11 years.

 Leisha DeHart-Davis
Photo by Megan Mendenhall


Leisha DeHart-Davis is a UNC-Chapel Hill professor of public administration and government and director of the Local Government Workplaces Initiative within the UNC School of Government.

What brought you to Carolina?

The UNC School of Government has a national reputation for local government research, teaching, and public service. I came to Carolina in 2012 because my work connects theory and practice in a way that is not offered at any other university in the U.S.

My research focuses on organizational behavior in the public sector: how do public employees think, feel, and act, and how do these behaviors affect public service delivery? I became interested in employee experiences after working at several awful workplaces. It struck me that these issues were unnecessary and could be easily fixed.

After getting my doctorate at Georgia Tech, I joined the University of Kansas (KU), whose School of Public Affairs and Administration is highly ranked for local government. As an assistant professor at KU, I needed data for publishing so that I could get tenure and saw an opportunity — surveying local government employees on their workplace experiences. This data served dual purposes. It informed local governments of how they could improve their work climates and provided data for the scholarly work that got me tenure. Fast-forward to when I joined the UNC School of Government — nationally renowned for its local government focus — and was provided an opportunity to continue my scholarly and applied research agenda, empowering me to have a real impact on both practice and scholarship.

How has your role here changed over the years?

I formed the Local Government Workplaces Initiative (LGWI) in 2015, and my role as director has grown. LGWI conducts research to help cities and counties create environments that attract and retain the best and brightest employees. We study city and county workplaces to better understand public sector organizational behavior and to diagnose local government staff dynamics so they can be improved. This engaged research is particularly important because the workplace well-being of local government employees affects their interactions with citizens and the quality of public services.

The data we collect through LGWI informs both my teaching and scholarship. From a teaching perspective, our graduate students and local government professionals learn about creating organizations that will attract and retain talented employees. That data has been used to teach people in various public service roles, including police officers, social workers, public attorneys, public works professionals, local government managers, and public sector human resource professionals.

LGWI data has also been the foundation of my scholarly research. I wrote an award-winning book on effective public sector rules based on the perspectives of local government employees. My journal articles cover an array of topics, from psychological safety to employee silence to workplace incivility. I choose research topics based on their importance to public sector organizations and for the potential to further knowledge of organizational behavior in the public management field.

What’s kept you at Carolina?

The engaged scholarship that is valued by both UNC-Chapel Hill and the school. Few universities reward their faculty for work that contributes scholarly knowledge and addresses real-world problems. The opportunity to do both makes my colleagues at other universities slightly envious.

What contribution are you most proud of?

Being elected a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, a nonprofit chartered by Congress in 1984 to provide expertise on public policy and governance issues.

What is a uniquely Carolina experience you’ve had?

Interacting with the alumni of the school’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. Like all Carolina alumni, our MPA graduates are intensely devoted to the University and School of Government and embody the Tar Heel spirit!

Rooted recognizes long-standing members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community who have aided in the advancement of research by staying at Carolina. They are crucial to the UNC Research enterprise, experts in their fields, and loyal Tar Heels. Know someone we should feature? Nominate a researcher.

Read more Rooted stories here.

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