Seattle City (spot)Light: Michelle Vargo

Michelle Vargo has embraced a leadership role since joining City Light in 2013. In that time, she has risen to the director level, and she recently graduated from the City of Seattle’s prestigious City Leadership Academy. In her work at City Light, Michelle oversees the transmission and distribution network, stations, technical and support services.

For Michelle, acting as a leader is nothing new; she graduated from West Point with an engineering degree, followed by a five-year stint in the Army and two tours to Iraq where she supervised, planned, assessed and inspected construction projects. Not content to stop learning there, she attended the University of Chicago, where she earned an MBA while working in the industrial gases and engineering industry. In this week’s (spot)Light, Michelle gives her take on leadership.


Director of Transmission and Distribution Network, Stations, Technical & Support Michelle Vargo

I got involved in leadership at a pretty young age, starting in high school. If I wasn’t a president of a student body of some sort, then I was usually a captain of my sports team. From a young age I was interested in learning more.

I had the opportunity to do a lot of studying on leadership while I was at the West Point Academy. Coming out of the academy, I spent five years on active duty, at first leading a platoon of 40 people, then coordinating over 100 construction projects through Iraq, and finally working as the engineering liason for the Pacific Theatre Logistics Command. My whole life I have been learning different ways to effectively lead teams.

I think leadership is very fluid. It looks different depending upon your individual relationships; what effective leadership might look like for one relationship might be different for another. I’ve figured that out over the years.

It really comes down to finding out what motivates people and genuinely being interested in trying to help people meet their potential, do the best they can possible do and meet the goals they have in life.

If you don’t like dealing with people, you won’t like leadership. Knowing yourself and what you really like to do is the best indicator of whether or not you will succeed in your job, leadership role or not.

Some people think others are born leaders, but it is absolutely a skill you can learn and build on. I’m not the same leader I was when I entered the military academy, I’m not the same leader I was when I walked in front of my first platoon, and I’m not the leader I was when I had my first job outside of the military. It’s an evolving skill. Don’t be discouraged if your first try goes horribly and say ‘I’m not cut out for this.’ You can absolutely learn it.