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Chief Operating Officer

Position Summary:

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is seeking to recruit a Chief Operating Officer (COO), who will report to the President and Founder. Key responsibilities include day-to-day management of the organization as well as the accomplishment of broader strategic goals as described below.

PPS does not currently have a COO, though it has had one in the past.  PPS believes that with the completion of the updated strategic plan, the time is now right for a new COO to assume a broad leadership role.  There is a strong sense that a new COO can bring needed discipline and focus to the organization, which will help it attain its goals under the new strategic plan.  There is also a belief that a new COO can streamline and improve the effectiveness of PPS operations, including project prioritization, finance and accounting, communications and development.

A successful COO will potentially be in a position to assume a CEO position in the organization in the future, as current senior leadership will transition to new roles over the next 2-3 years.


In mid- 2016. PPS began working on an update to its strategic plan. The goal of the strategic plan is to continue to expand PPS’s role as the central player in the now rapidly growing, global Placemaking movement. The plan builds on our project work, which includes extensive technical assistance on a fee-for-service basis to local communities; programs in transportation, public markets, healthy places, and others (partly funded by foundations and donors); training and conferences; and ongoing advocacy of key Placemaking agendas that provide a framework for transformative community change. Through its new strategic plan, PPS seeks to expand its impact through strategic partnerships with national and international organizations and to more effectively support, cultivate and connect Placemaking organizations, practitioners, and allies – creating networks at city, state, national, and international levels.

The strategic plan is organized in a four-part framework:  Global Placemaking Partnerships (500x), Placemaking Networks (25x), Direct Impact Projects (5x), and Strengthening Office Organization (1x).  The numbers are meant to symbolize the anticipated breadth and reach of each strategy.

The new COO is expected to play a central leadership role in the implementation of the strategic plan.  Though an implementation plan is current under development by PPS staff in collaboration with its strategic plan advisor — likely to be completed by the time the new COO is hired — the new COO will have an opportunity to refine the plan as required, in consultation with current leadership.


Location.  The position will be based in New York City at the current PPS office located at 419 Lafayette Street.  Some travel will be required.

Key Relationships.

  • Reports to: Fred Kent, Founder and President.
  • Frequent interaction with Kathy Madden (Senior Vice President and Co-Founder) and Steve Davies (Co-Founder and Executive Vice President) as well as other members of the senior leadership team. Steve Davies currently oversees office operations and will provide significant support in transitioning these responsibilities to the new COO.
  • Staff project/program teams and team leaders, including teams working to advance different components of the strategic plan (550x/25x/5x/1x)
  • Finance and other operating functions.

Roles and objectives. 

  • The COO’s responsibilities will include oversight of the four main strategic areas (500x, 25x 5x, 1x). He or she will convene the leadership of these groups and provide direction for principal activities, including project prioritization and resource deployment.
  • The COO will be the bridge that connects the staff working in various major program areas within PPS. The COO will also help increase synergy among the various PPS programs and work to deploy PPS staff more effectively and efficiently.
  • The COO will oversee PPS operating functions and departments, including finance & accounting, development/fundraising, communications, human resources and facilities. The COO will work with all operating personnel to develop and reach annual goals and ensure cooperation among teams and departments.  The COO will be expected to identify and make significant operating improvements (e.g., financial analysis, personnel management and evaluation, human resources, etc.)
  • The COO will be responsible for setting annual programmatic goals as well as a budget that includes revenue and cost targets. Revenue management (service pricing, negotiation) will be a key area of improvement.
  • The COO will assist the President and Founder as follows:
    • Board discussions and presentations
    • Management of external relationships
    • Interface with key partnerships (e.g., Brookings Institution)

Critical competencies and attributes.

  • Aptitude for operating in a nonprofit environment:
    • Financial and operational management
    • Staff and stakeholder management
  • Mentally sharp – able to adapt experiences to new environments and challenges; strong, high-level analytical and conceptual thinker
  • A player/coach – someone who can get “in the trenches” and do detailed work but who can also develop and lead a team
  • Able to forge strong interpersonal relationships and interact with PPS colleagues, partners, and stakeholders in a way that inspires confidence
  • Collaborative – inclined to reach out and understand first, then take action
  • Enthusiastic and energetic

Ideal qualifications.

  • 15+ years of experience in nonprofit management; private sector or corporate backgrounds are also welcomed and will be considered
  • Relevant academic credentials preferred
  • Background or strong interest/passion for community-driven, placed-based strategies for urban planning and community revitalization
  • Demonstrated track record in leading and inspiring project or program based teams.
  • Excellent written, oral, and facilitative communication skills
  • Ability to manage or support a fundraising capability

A downloadable version of this description is available here.

Please submit cover letter and resume to:  Nicolas Shearman, Administration Associate, nshearman@pps.org.



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