Top execs key to strategic hiring for local government

By Melissa Coade

Tuesday June 14, 2022

local government
There are certain skills local government leaders need to succeed in a landscape characterised by needing to do more with less. (Simon Salivanchok/Adobe)

According to a former NSW public servant, there are certain skills local government leaders need to succeed in a landscape characterised by needing to do more with less, which is putting experienced executives in hot demand.

Kym Fletcher, a former lawyer and NSW EPA regulation & audit director, believes the need for experienced executive talent at the local government level has never been greater. 

Now working as a partner at leadership advisory firm NGS Global in Sydney, Fletcher told The Mandarin the trend to amalgamate local councils in NSW and Victoria over the last few decades means many local government entities face all the challenges of large, complex organisations.

“Australian local government entities are increasingly complex organisations that need ever-more capable leaders and executives,” Fletcher said.

“Success in the sector requires a unique mix of political mettle, dexterity and application.”

Australia’s local government sector employs about 191,000 people, Fletcher said, responsible for LGAs anywhere from 1.5km2 to larger areas comparable to the size of Egypt or Pakistan at 380,000 km2.

Following a trend of LGA amalgamation in the 1990s, she noted individual councils now serve an ‘extremely wide variety of constituents’ and have increased the number of services to citizens.

“This presents new organisational leadership challenges with regards to prioritisation of funding, operational execution, inclusive governance, organisational agility, digitisation, and project management,” Fletcher said. 

 “Accordingly, councils need to attract top executive talent with particular skill sets to help steer these larger and more diverse organisations into the next chapter.”

In response to the demand for senior executive talent among Australia’s 537 councils, Fletcher said hiring departments had become more sophisticated. 

Recruiters are looking for people to place in these roles with a wide range of core professional skills including critical thinking, problem solving and team collaboration. Exceptional stakeholder engagement and an ‘astute political antenna’ were also well regarded, Fletcher added. 

“Many state government executives regard local government as a genuine alternative place of employment, particularly for those who see roles in councils as an opportunity to contribute to communities more directly at a micro level,” Fletcher said. 

“State government appointees to senior local government roles often tell us they enjoy the different challenges and the level of complexity that occurs at the local government level.”

Hiring from the pool of talent in state government workforces for local council leadership was another trend worth noting; and a more popular choice than candidates who were transitioning from the corporate world. 

“Whilst council CEOs and general managers and hiring departments are always keen to encounter executives with deep experience in local government, they are also searching for talent from an ever-widening variety of sources,” Fletcher said.

“There is an increased level of movement between the private sector and local government, although the adjustment to public sector environments for corporate individuals can be a little challenging, due to the different kind of authorising structures and the political layer above the executive.

“State government entities are another obvious talent pool for sourcing top leaders and executives, and there is currently much more porosity between these two levels of government,” she added. 


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