Understanding Owner, Manager and Operator Roles

Systems typically function at their best when all stakeholders, including board members, owners, managers, operators and even customers, have clearly defined roles. Everyone is able to perform at their best when they know what is expected of them. Of course roles will vary from one community to the next depending upon the management model employed and the type of stakeholders groups present there. The table below will give you an idea of the roles and responsibilities attributed to the most common water system stakeholder groups. The resources following the table will offer more in depth information on the role of each stakeholder group in supporting a typical community water system.

Customer Role

​The customers’ role is typically to contribute financially to the system through their monthly bill and maintain the portion of the system where the pipeline connects to their home. It is important to define in exactly where along the system that the customer’s responsibility kicks in so that confusion about who should make certain repairs can be avoided. In some communities this may be at the point where their service connection branches off from the main line or at the point where the pipeline connects to or enters their home. The customer’s responsibilities should be outlined in the ordinances that govern your system.

Operator Role

The following resources can help us define the role of the operator:

The following resource offers information for operators on the role of decision-makers and offers suggestions on how to effectively communicate with those in the decision-maker role:

Leadership (Management & Council/Board Member) Role

​The roles of leadership are often divided into two categories: the managerial role, which would include tasks such as plant staff supervision, billing and record-keeping and the decision maker role, which would include tasks such as setting strategic plans, making major financial decisions and approving upgrades.

The managerial role is enacted by the water utility itself in some communities and by a tribal or city council in others. The decision maker role is typically enacted by a utility board or tribal or city council as well. The board or council responsible for making decisions should include members of all stakeholder groups, including customers.

The following resources can help to further clarify the role of the utility manager:

The following guide describes the responsibilities of water system owners that may apply to both managers and decision-makers:

The Rural Community Assistance Partnership has created the following guide for decision makers. This thorough guide provides information on water and wastewater basics, regulatory compliance and decision-maker duties and responsibilities.

The New England Water Works Association has put together three online training modules for decision-makers: