Jennifer Liptak’s impressive career in county government began in 1998 when she worked for District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. Today, in the post she’s held since 2012 as Chief of Staff to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Jennifer is charged with helping implement a countywide vision.
From Riverlife and the Pittsburgh Film Office, to the International Women’s Forum and Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Jennifer is highly active on numerous boards and authorities. Born and raised in Spring Hill, Jennifer lives with her family in Glenshaw, where’s she’s involved as a community volunteer and coach.
Best part of your job?
I get a seat at the table. By that I don’t mean I just get to sit, listen or just take notes at meetings. I participate, I speak, I challenge, and help develop and drive the agenda. Knowing that County Executive Fitzgerald has the respect and confidence in me to represent him and help implement his vision is a responsibility I take very seriously.
By our count, you’re on nearly a dozen boards and committees. How do you find the time?
I have been with the county for 20 years. This institutional knowledge allows me to navigate tough county issues a lot quicker than most would. That knowledge also translates to many of the activities of the boards and committees on which I serve. Understanding the needs and visions of outside agencies helps me better recognize the synergies that could exist with either county government or one of the other boards and committees on which I serve. This is important enough to me that finding the time becomes a priority.
Any advice for other women looking to find some kind of life/work balance?
There were times at the beginning of my career when I would get frustrated, or feel the need to be all things to everyone in my life. I remind myself daily that this gift of life that I have been given should not be taken for granted. I will work hard not because of motivation from outside factors, but because of the greater purpose I feel deep within my person to help create a better society for all. That is my center, my core, my balance.
I found my balance by breaking free of the concept that I had to do everything for, and be everything to, everyone in my life. I am part of many teams (family, work, community, etc.) and through teamwork I am able to maintain balance and feel I can be a more productive member of society.
What are some of the best perks of being chief of staff?
I got to meet President Clinton, Vice President Biden, President Obama and Senator Clinton. Not just once, but a few times each. For someone like me, who has spent her career serving the public and working for elected officials, those were really amazing moments in my career.
What are you most proud of in Allegheny County?
The cooperation and team-centric way we operate. We strive to over-communicate with our team as well as stakeholders. The best form of government is one that respects and appreciates that sometimes the best results/solutions come from the merger of opposing positions.
What is your biggest challenge?
I move so quickly from topic/issue, that it takes a lot of effort to stay on top of current issues or anticipate emerging issues. Some people shy away from a challenge, I tend to take them on with earnest.
Rich Fitzgerald has said that you’re the one running the county. Could you see yourself as county executive one day or do you have any plans to run for an office?
First, that is a compliment that I truly am humbled by, as I tend to work more towards a purpose than self-promotion. I have spent my entire career working in government, and more specifically working closely with elected officials. If there comes a time within my career path where an opportunity for me to serve in an elected capacity presents itself, I would consider it. But, for now, I enjoy my work and the team I am a part of, and have no plans to leave. My work here is not yet done.
What does Allegheny County have that other counties don’t?
Allegheny County has the second and third largest job centers in the state. We have arts, culture, championship-winning sports teams, trail systems, and higher educational institutions that are top-rated in the country. We have world-class hospitals and are a booming region for autonomous vehicles, advanced robotics and the tech industry. We are a proud, yet sometimes humble, people who believe in working hard and being good neighbors.
When I think more broadly about our Southwestern Pennsylvania region, the borders of our county fade in my eyes. The success of our Allegheny County core is one that should be shared with our southwestern Pennsylvania region because many of our neighbors from our surrounding counties work, recreate, etc., here in Allegheny County. Essentially, at the end of the day, we are all Pittsburghers.
What is your favorite creative outlet?
I have a real passion for photography. I was inspired by my grandfather who always had a camera in hand throughout his life. I studied photography in high school, was a photography editor for my college newspaper, and have a collection of old cameras that were given to me by my grandfather that I deeply cherish. I enjoy capturing the story of my life, especially the lives of my children, through photography.
Who is the last person you texted (and what was it about)?
My husband to coordinate who is picking our son up from pre-school and who is taking our daughter to and picking her up from her soccer and volleyball practices.
What book is on your nightstand or in your e-reader right now?
“Don’t Call Me Boss: David L. Lawrence Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Mayor” by Michael P. Weber. Rich lent it to me and I have been slowly reading it because my son is beginning to read now so reading with or to him is more of a focus.
How many hours a week do you work?
Working in public service, and specifically as a Chief of Staff to a County Executive who represents nearly 1.3 million people, my day does not end as it does for most. I answer the phone, read and return emails, prepare for upcoming meetings and programs, and think about/work through solutions to problems all the time. Of course, I get time off to refresh and be with my husband and children; but, if there is an issue, it doesn’t matter if I am in the office or not. I am part of a team that will help solve it, no matter when it occurs.
It’s time to unwind. Where do you head?
I unwind by exercising. I enjoy running, biking, an occasional boot camp, or just walking outside. It helps me think through problems and organize my thoughts for the day.
What upcoming events are you excited to attend?
In June, I am attending the Young American Leaders Program at Harvard Business School. Representing our region, along with other community leaders, is an honor. I look forward to not only telling the story of our great region, but listening and learning from some of my peers from around the country.
I look forward to watching my daughter and her team play in the upcoming YMS Epic Soccer Tournament in Yardley, Pa., and visiting Bucks County to experience the happenings in that region.
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