Keys to Public Works Director’s Success: Get Your Hands Dirty And Put People First

Moses Tejuoso

It’s American Public Works Week, and we’re celebrating public works leaders in solid waste on our blog. Check back for a new profile feature each day!

No matter where he is, Atlanta Public Works Director Moses Tejuoso excels. 

“I’m someone that embraces challenges (and) doesn’t shy away from different opportunities,” he says — especially when he can help people or the planet. 

From his family to his community, Tejuoso works every day to “put the people first.”

A metro Atlanta native, Tejuoso began his career in sustainability with the PGA Tour at the East Lake Golf Club as a member of the Tour Championship Operations Team. There, he implemented some best practices for waste diversion and “really just got the hunger for sustainability and waste diversion and operations,” he says.

From there, he did community engagement for the Learning Garden Operations of the Captain Planet Foundation, and his passion for taking care of the earth grew.

When he joined the City of Atlanta in 2016 as a Community Affairs Coordinator, he says he believes his work with the Foundation helped him stand out. He also did work with the Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission, which orchestrates programming related to putting an end to litter, encouraging recycling and beautifying communities.

“Essentially, a lot of functions that align with my core values,” Tejuoso says.

Dating back to Boy Scouts, Tejuoso says he has always been aware that we should leave places as we found them. But a pivotal moment with his uncle really opened his eyes to human impact on the planet, he says, which made him want to be an even better steward of the environment. 

“It started with the Peachtree Road Race,” he says. “I will never forget it.” After the race, volunteers hand out energy bars, “and I remember tossing the wrapper on the ground,” Tejuoso says.

“My uncle stopped in his tracks and just really put me in my place, and I really respected him. So for him to have that level of, you know, being upset about what I had done, it really just made me think about it a little bit more,” he says.

With the PGA Tour, Tejuoso says his work was really about operating efficiently, making sure the materials that were purchased were sustainable, and the like. The conversation with his uncle about the wrapper helped him connect all the dots. 

As he began his work for the city and the Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission, he continued making those connections, working on recycling initiatives like the Feet on the Street recycling education campaign and managing the Adopt-a-Spot litter-reduction program before being promoted to the role of director. 

“I couldn’t have imagined that I would have been a director within five years of being here,” Tejuoso says. “I think that a lot of my interaction with many different stakeholders, both internal and external, has guided me to this … where I now actually oversee those same departments that I was initially just lending a hand and trying to help.”

Stepping in to help and offer support, even as a volunteer, is an easy way to get involved with your community — and it could potentially lead to other opportunities, too, Tejuoso says.  

“Volunteering, to me, is really a great way to put yourself out there, meet new people, and oftentimes you come across an opportunity.” His work with the Captain Planet Foundation, for example, began with volunteering, and he was later offered a position. 

“I think the same thing here with the City of Atlanta,” Tejuoso says. “When I first came, I didn’t shy away from assisting other divisions and helping out on different projects. I think it really helped to groom me into who I am today, to where I was able to figure out how all the pieces connected.”

Since he began his work with the city, Tejuoso has seen interest grow in the Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission, and behaviors related to recycling and littering have changed. When he first began his work for the city, its Adopt-a-Spot program — a core program for any Keep America Beautiful affiliate — had only two registered cleanup groups.

“Today, I’m proud to say we have over 200 active groups,” Tejuoso says. 

“I really feel like over the time that I’ve been here, we’ve been able to get the word out and just change behavior, using resources from different stakeholders and organizations. … I think that’s been really good.” 

Tejuoso says his is also one of the few communities that runs a mandatory recycling program, so much of the work from his office is to show residents that they “have this opportunity to divert waste from the landfill.” Curbside recycling, paired with other efforts such as the Feet on the Street recycling program, has worked to increase participation from community members while decreasing contamination, Tejuoso says.

But his favorite part about his job is “taking care of people,” he says. “I have the ability to promote from within. We have a lot of employees that have been here for a long time,” Tejuoso says, adding oftentimes, employees haven’t been recognized or given the opportunity to advance.

“My goal in becoming director was to really promote from within (and) give them a shot,” he says. “They’ve been the ones that are on the front lines taking care of us, especially during this pandemic, so just really highlighting the importance of those front-line workers right now, and I think it’s been something that’s gone unnoticed for a while.” 

Moving up through the ranks from his coordinator position has also proved to be advantageous for other employees and the city, too. “Starting off as a coordinator, then going to the manager level, then director level, I feel like I have the keen ability to be able to represent the people, in a sense, and bring their ideas and their concerns to the table,” Tejuoso says.

Through his time with the city, Atlanta has worked through many projects, from adding a bulky item collection scheduling tool in 2018 that helps community members easily request pickups, to exploring routing solutions to help solid waste collection drivers navigate their routes and “back up the work they’re doing in the field.”

Tejuoso and his team are invested in providing high-level services to residents while supporting employees at the same time.  

In the future, Tejuoso says the city plans to add more automated collection trucks to “extend our employees’ quality of life. … That wear and tear does add up, and we want our employees to be able to enjoy their retirement.” 

Even as the director of public works, Tejuoso continues his work with the Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission, helping to gather supplies for volunteers, organizing cleanups, and making sure volunteers have the resources they need.

He really enjoys “getting out there on the ground,” he says. “Any given day, I could have on my steel-toed boots, and then have to have a change of clothes to put on a sports coat to go into a leadership briefing.” 

His resilience and readiness to get the job done are just some of the many reasons we celebrate Tejuoso this week as the American Public Works Association marks its annual National Public Works Week, May 15-21.

Getting out and doing the work is also what Tejuoso suggests for those who are looking to break into the sustainability and solid waste industries. “Just get your hands dirty,” he says. “Collaborate with other people, other like-minded individuals. Never be afraid to lend a hand. You never know where the opportunity might lead you.”

Looking to make a difference? Start small, Tejuoso says — even collecting a grocery bag of trash while walking your dog. Be sure to “recycle those key items that you use daily, whether it be a water bottle  … paper, cardboard, you know — just start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming.”  

Any effort to divert waste helps, Tejuoso says. “That’s what drives me is just knowing that the decisions we make today really do matter,” he says. For instance, paper and cardboard that’s recycled in Atlanta can become a new box in just 48 hours.  

“I have young children… (and) they rely on people like myself right now to actually have an environment that reflects where I would want them to be, as well as the type of industries that they can be a part of – and that they can work in to enact change,” Tejuoso says. 

 In the future, Tejuoso says he can see himself growing into a role such as city manager. “I could definitely see myself elevating to that next level and taking these same learning lessons to continue to impact change and put people first,” Tejuoso says.

“That’s always my thought with any and everything I do. … I can live with myself if I just put the people first and let everything else take care of itself.”

Learn more. If you’re a solid waste leader looking to up your organization’s readiness and resilience, our best-in-class technology solutions can help. Let’s talk!

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