Celebrating Wake County's Black Leaders

Portrait of David Ellis


Serving in the County’s top leadership position, County Manager David Ellis relies on his 25+ years of experience in local government to lead Team Wake during unprecedented circumstances.

Ellis started his tenure with Wake County in February 2015 when he accepted a deputy county manager position. In that role, he oversaw several departments, including Human Services, Community Services and Environmental Services. Following the retirement of Jim Hartmann in October 2017, the Bord of Commissioners unanimously selected Ellis as the new County Manager.

Prior to coming to Wake County, Ellis served as assistant city manager in Charlottesville, Virginia, for three years. He also held positions in Fairfax County, Virginia, including assistant to the county executive, assistant director of Human Services, and manager of the Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the Department of Code Compliance.

Ellis holds a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University and a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University. He also holds the distinction of credentialed manager through the International City/County Management Association. In addition, Ellis successfully completed the Harvard Kennedy School Senior Executives in State and Local Government program in 2017.


What do you see as your greatest accomplishment as an African American leader?
Honestly, it would have to be how well this organization has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Watching staff from different organizations come together and function as one team, with a common goal has been the highlight of my career. It didn’t matter what department people came from or what position people held in the organization, folks were laser focused. In my opinion, Team Wake exemplified public service at its finest.

What is your “secret sauce,” or the leadership principles that have most contributed to your success?
Hire good people and trust them to do their job.

Hire for character—technical skills can be taught, character cannot.

Hire people who have different strengths.

Empower staff to make recommendations and decisions.

How do you continue to grow and develop as a leader, and what are the keys to developing the next generation of leaders in government?
Allow time for personal development.

Receive coaching to continue to improve my leadership and management.

READ, READ, READ – I noticed Jim Hartmann read books constantly, so I try to read a book a month.

Ask for feedback and don’t take it personal.

What is something you wish someone had told you during your career journey?
You need to be prepared for a pandemic, social unrest and economic uncertainty, all in three months.

With the benefit of hindsight, what advice would you give your 13-year-old self? 
I would tell my 13-year-old self to drop French and pick up Spanish!!!

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law” and John Thompson’s “I Came As a Shadow.”