Leadership critical for council professionals

The Centre for Local Government (CLG) at the University of Technology, Sydney, and the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) are boosting opportunities for council employees across Australia to network, share information and learn from each other. Peer relationships are highly valued by people working in the sector, says Sophi Bruce, program specialist – leadership at CLG. She designed and presents the regular five-day New Perspectives in Local Government Leadership course that is part of the CLG post-graduate suite of qualifications. CLG is a partner in the consortium that joined with the University of Canberra, the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, Local Government Managers Australia and the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia to establish ACELG in 2009. Both centres work to enhance professionalism within local government and build the sector’s capacity and performance. Bruce understands the commitment to community that drives many public sector employees. She moved from a career with the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and ExCeL, the London Exhibition and Convention Centre, to work on leadership and social change projects with the public sector. She has contributed to the design and facilitation of place-based programs offered by the Leadership Centre for Local Government in the UK and delivered programs including Achieving More with Less with the UK’s National School of Government. Bruce describes herself as a soft systems thinking practitioner and regards leadership as a critical skill for council professionals. ‘‘Local government is an enabler and people need to be able to lead within their organisations and their communities,’’ she says. Diversity is one of the strengths of the sector and one of the attractions for people who work in it. ‘‘Years ago people often came into local government looking for a job for life. Now a lot of people move in and out or come in from other sectors. Local government offers many more roles than it once did – such as environmental sustainability and community engagement – and the range of jobs means people can gain broad experience. There are great things going on in some councils where people are offered opportunities to experience working and leading in different areas. ‘‘People want to learn from their peers and gain a theoretical understanding of what they are doing. They are interested in collaborative leadership and horizontal thinking – how they can think across the organisation not just about their own area. People need to be able to look at their unit’s objectives in tandem with the objectives of other parts of the organisation to meet overarching municipal goals.’’ She encourages local government employees to understand and connect with the purpose of the sector which is to improve the lives of communities. ‘‘People who work in the public sector are motivated by doing something for the greater good of society. At local government level you can see improvements really happening. People are often flexible, innovative and strategic with a clear line of sight to outcomes.’’
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Bruce believes the public sector can offer corporate Australia examples of how the creation of public value and well-being can be connected to a productivity agenda. Local government is, she says, a complex work environment where employees and elected representatives need to co-operate in leading the place rather than just focusing on their individual remit or being distracted by personalities.

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