Local government leaders fear talent gap

A survey of more than 100 CEOs has identified a looming gap in the leadership talent pool as an emerging challenge for local government.

Claire McCartin

The 2022 Local Government CEO Index released by workplace consultants Davidson last week says there’s growing anecdotal evidence that “late-stage pandemic fatigue” is taking its toll on many leaders.

Of the 110 CEOs surveyed, 92 per cent said they believe the talent gap will worsen over the next twelve months.

“Local government CEOs were already doing it tough going into the pandemic,” Davidson Senior Partner Adam Meadows told Government News.

“Coming out of the pandemic they’ve had people working from home, they’ve had employee pressures,  they’ve had political pressures. They’ve had a lot to deal with and you have to ask whether burnout was a key part of that.”

Key talent trends for local government:

  • Attracting and retaining talent is likely the highest overall priority for LGAs due to the tight labour market
  • Individuals in demand are those with the knowledge and expertise to work in complex and localised environments
  • Leaders understand that their organisation’s maturity can be fast-tracked if they can leverage the skills and experience developed in other sectors

*source: 2022 Local Government CEO Index

Challenging role

Davidson’s Managing Partner for Search and Advisory Clare McCartin has recruited for CEO roles across a range of sectors.

She says the position of local government is, in her opinion, often the hardest and most complex.

“From a governance perspective, working for democratically elected councillors can be a challenge,” she told Government News.

“While there are incredibly high functioning councillor groups … unfortunately some councils have publicly become so dysfunctional that administrators have been appointed to protect the staff and governance of the organisation. 

“Unfortunately, this has led many skilled executives to make the decision to move to different public sector entities with skills-based boards, such as education, health and regulators.”

Talent leakage

On top of this is the fact that other sectors are beginning to recognise the wide skillsets of local government leaders, leading to a “talent leakage”, Ms Mcartin says.

“It’s no longer a secret that the sector has unique and precious talent and others are starting to see this and poach these talent pools,” she says.

Unlike the private sector, local government has significant financial constraints, which means councils can’t just throw money at executive salaries.

“We have heard leaders in local government say that their ability to recruit is being hampered by an inability to compete with the salaries on offer and an avalanche of other benefits and opportunities in the commercial sector,” says Davidson’s local government search specialist Seamus Scanlon.

“There is a perception that local government has offered employees a strong sense of purpose, job security and flexibility (all great things), but for a below market compensation compared to other sectors.

“Talented professionals have many options in the current market.”

The role of the Chief Executive Officer in local government is a demanding balancing act of expectations of the key stakeholders of elected members, staff and community. This is currently heightened under current economic conditions, including rapid rising costs, staff and skills shortages and increased workloads

Alexandrina CEO Nigel Morris

The index focused on six themes:  financial stability, community engagement, risk and governance, operational excellence and employee wellbeing and  technology.

It also found that financial sustainability for councils is improving as they move out of covid, and confirms the emergence of climate change as a strategic imperative, with  74 per cent of CEOs rating climate change as important.

 Ms McCartin said the results and comments from the survey suggest that local government is on the precipice of significant and unprecedented change.

“The findings tell us that there is an appetite – a hunger – for change, for creating high performance places of work committed to the wellbeing of staff while transforming the customer experience.”

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at editorial@governmentnews.com.au.  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required