Mary Lee Hannell (2011)

Candor, communication, and context

Position: Human Resources Director,Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Best known for: Rethinking and redesigning how the Port Authority operates in a new world order. Candor and context: even if people don’t agree with a decision, they can understand why it was made.

Public service career: Hannell began her career with the Port Authority in 1987, serving in managerial positions and as executive advisor to the chief administrative officer. As HR director since 2007, she oversees programs for nearly 7,000 represented and non-represented Port Authority employees, from executive director and department chiefs to toll collectors and general maintenance staff who remove snow at airports.

Biggest challenge: Communicating with a very diverse workforce, most of whom don’t sit at a desk with a computer. Making information easily accessible and understandable, so everyone can understand and appreciate issues and changes occurring across the organization, ultimately enhancing their sense of engagement.

Greatest reward: When people talk about how HR is an employee-centric, open, and transparent environment.

Why public service: “Early in my career, I worked in high-end retail within operations and customer service. While I loved it because it was exciting and constantly changing, at the end of the day, I didn’t feel that what I did made a big difference in peoples’ lives. Working in this agency, in this region, is different. If you’re in the New York-New Jersey area, you will most likely have used a Port Authority facility at some point in your travels. At the end of the day, what we do as an agency really matters to people. If we’ve had a good day, then they’ve had a good day.”