Women who lead

May 26, 2024


The women heading Atlanta’s Community Improvement Districts  serve as incredible examples of bold leadership – but how do they lead with the greatest impact?

Croy’s Aimee Turner, PE, PTOE hosted a panel discussion featuring the women leading some of Metro Atlanta’s Community Improvement Districts, or CIDs, to discuss their journeys and advice for those women looking to advance their careers.

Turner said, “Our team at Croy is honored to partner with CIDs in their mission to cultivate safe, well-connected, multi-modal transportation systems. Through our collaboration, we’ve assisted with advancing their vision by delivering innovative solutions and infrastructure projects tailored to meet the unique needs of their communities.”

The panelists giving us a glimpse into how they make this mission possible include:

  • Ann Hanlon, Executive Director, Perimeter CIDs
  • Kim Menefee, Executive Director, Cumberland CID
  • Kristin Winzeler, Deputy Executive Director, True North 400
  • Tracy Styf, Executive Director, Town Center Community

While these women head up important infrastructure projects within their districts with grace and ease, making one’s way to a leadership position is never simple. Below the surface are demonstrations of pure grit and persistence that got them where they needed to be.

Each of these women have played roles in making the transportation, placemaking, and quality of life improvements around Metro Atlanta’s communities a reality. They would not be where they are if not for prioritizing relationship-building, thinking innovatively, and caring for their community.

Shaking hands, learning names. The initiation of each woman’s leadership journey goes all the way back to some of the first hands they ever shook, and they have kept shaking them ever since. Take Kim Menefee’s story as an example. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a journalism degree, Menefee moved to Cobb County and quickly found a way to get involved in her community through a leadership program. Through networking and relationship building, Menefee landed a job at WellStar. In her words, this position provided the opportunity “to be able to expand my career, my learning, and my responsibility.” She credits this role for her success, acknowledging that, “Those are the types of skills and people I got to know who really prepared me to be able to take on a leadership role with the [Cumberland] CID.” Her story only proves that to lead, you need the right people to show you the way. The sooner you build your foundation of relationships, the better.

Actively maintaining these relationships not only keeps your leadership abilities sharp, but it benefits others too. Kristin Winzeler noted that part of her love for her role comes from the relationship she has with the other women working in CIDs. She said, “We all work well together. We’re a community and we get along, and it makes going to work a lot of fun.”

A solid network is just the start. You also need to see the value in maintaining that network, whether that is within your field or outside of it.

Having the courage to change. While all the women may work in the same field now, their career histories could not be more different. Their backgrounds span from advanced history degrees to computer programming, yet somehow, they all ended up in the same place. Accomplishing this career feat was no simple task, but they all share similar sentiments. Their flexibility and willingness to approach the unknown led them to where they are now.

Tracy Styf’s story is a prime example of this. She shared, “I was going to get my Ph.D. in neuropsychology at Vanderbilt. I walked in and the dean said, ‘Do you want to go to school for six more years?’ And I said ‘no,’ so I transitioned quickly into organizational development.” Her journey may have taken a different path, but it led her to find what her passion was and where she wanted to make a difference. She is still putting her degree to use though, adding, “I use [my degree] every day because what I – and each of us – do in our role is think strategically and work relationally.”

The women’s diverse backgrounds and upbringings demonstrate that becoming a leader does not happen on a narrow path. Rather, it is about having the necessary courage to completely re-evaluate one’s potential path. Essentially, having the courage to take a different direction got these women to where they are now, honing their leadership abilities along the way. Ann Hanlon only confirms this sentiment, saying, “It’s funny that I arrived here because this is not what I thought I would be doing at all, but I’m proud that it happened.”

Caring for your community. Another commonality shared by these women in leadership is their inherent desire to head each project with a sense of duty to their community. Styf put this in perspective when speaking about Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, which provides access to trails, bike paths, and greenspace. “We knew we had to find a way for people to access all the great natural resources and amenities in our backyard in a meaningful way. We also wanted to think ahead about how residents and visitors could walk to lunch or take an afternoon run – and that was before walkability was cool!” Underneath Styf’s lightheartedness is a deep understanding of what is important in her community that fosters bright ideas for the present and long-lasting impacts.

This certainly presents its challenges, though. When asked how CIDs balance business wants with community needs, Hanlon responded, “It’s how you come together and give something up in order to accomplish a greater goal.” As she demonstrates, leadership is not defined by the daily tasks of a job, but instead how one enacts a plan to create something great for everyone within their reach. Community care is what allows these women to usher our neighborhoods toward shorter commutes, cleaner streets, and better views. Winzeler summarizes this perfectly: “I genuinely like making the world a better place, and I’m sure a lot of you feel that way too.”

Forging the path to leadership. Hearing the thoughts and stories of these women highlight just a few of the ways to lead in your role, company, or community. While every story is different, they have all launched their success through dedicating efforts to building meaningful relationships, having the courage to switch directions or think big when it is best for their community, and constantly tending to their districts with intention. With all of that said, Hanlon leaves us with a sentimental note for women with a desire to lead, saying, “Not only are we trying to lead with other women, but we’re also trying to create stronger women.” And strong women – and communities – they are creating indeed. 

Renee Richardson serves as a proposal and marketing specialist at Croy. She can be reached at rrichardson@croyeng.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.