Training councillors to become better leaders

Image: Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government.
Image: Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government.

The Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has lessons to offer on how elected representatives can stay well on course.

The role of a councillor has always been a challenging one – balancing council rules, policies and procedures with the expectations of constituents who expect high quality service at a reasonable cost.

Contemporary local elected leaders have new and increasing pressures due to the complex nature of councils and the work they do, plus external factors such as changing local government and planning legislations, finance constraints, governance reviews and reform agendas, among others.

The required skills-set of an elected local leader to effectively deal with these challenges is extensive.

A new course for elected members has been designed to help improve this situation in NSW called the Executive Certificate for Elected Members, and was developed with support from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG).

The program is the first of its kind to be based on the new National Skills Package for Elected Members developed by the federal government, and will allow elected councillors a pathway to vocational and tertiary education.

This means that participants of the Executive Certificate in NSW can access further learning with TAFE NSW and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

The course will be piloted in NSW in November with project partners the Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS:CLG), TAFE NSW, and Local Government NSW (LGNSW).

This is a gain for local communities. ACELG Director Roberta Ryan said:

“The course will help elected members to better understand their legislative responsibilities, and build their skills and capacity to have a positive and well informed impact on council decision-making. This will help ensure local governments have the leadership capability required to meet the needs of the community and to create productive, sustainable and inclusive local places for the future.”

A local representative with up to date skills helps ensure that the best interests and expectations of local communities are met, and can instil greater confidence by citizens in local representation as a vocation. This may attract a more diverse array of local government leaders in the future.

Supporting elected members

The successful function of a council depends on councillors not only having the skills to fully understand issues that impact communities, but a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities within the council and in the context of state legislation.

Councils are increasingly becoming large and complex organisations, in some cases, multi-million dollar businesses with large, diverse communities who expect much more from their council than traditional responsibilities of “roads, rates and rubbish”. Some local governments are also becoming principal providers of government services to local communities on behalf of other tiers of government which adds another layer of complexity to the role of elected members.

Yet councillors sometimes have limited or no relevant experience or training before being called on to make critical decisions on infrastructure projects, budgets or important land use planning – to name a few examples.

The development of the Executive Certificate for Elected Members has been a partnership between the UTS:CLG, TAFE NSW, and LGNSW. The initiative has received financial support from ACELG which was established in 2009 with significant support from the Australian government to help local government achieve consistently high standards in leadership and governance, among other goals.

The partnership between the vocational, tertiary education and local government sector is a ‘first’ in Australian education. Local Government NSW Interim Board member Cr Maria Woods (and Portfolio Manager for councillor training at LGNSW) commented:

“This initiative is a wonderful example of a partnership between local government and education bodies. With some development funding from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, we worked over the past nine months with the UTS Centre for Local Government and TAFE NSW to develop this unique accredited program for elected members, the first of its kind in local government in NSW.”

National perspective

Along with the local government sector, the Australian Government has supported and recognised the need to diversify and strengthen the quality of local government representation and its workforce generally.

In August, federal Minister for Regional Australia, Local Government and Territories, the Hon. Catherine King released Future-Proofing Local Government: National Workforce Strategy 2013-2020, prepared by ACELG and its partner organisation Local Government Managers Australia. This critical document is currently being implemented in local government jurisdictions around Australia.

The development of the Executive Certificate has also been informed by national and international research by ACELG about how local governments can better perform and address the education and professional development needs of people working in local government, and the needs and issues of elected members in particular.

The ACELG Learning in Local Government project has produced six issues papers focusing on key education and professional development issues for Australian local government – including the potential for e-Learning, the development of better learning pathways in key skills shortage areas, and the need to raise the standard of workforce planning within Australian councils. Other nationally focused research papers by ACELG also inform the course such as Australian Mayors: What Can and Should They Do? and, Political Management in Australian Local Government: Exploring Roles and Relationships Between Mayors and CEOs.

As the Executive Certificate is based on the national elected member skill set it can be adapted to other jurisdictions and with other local government associations and registered training organisations.

On completion of the NSW pilot, discussions will commence with other jurisdictions to identify partners interested in rolling out the program nationally.

The Executive Certificate for Elected Members will be run as a pilot program in NSW through November and December 2013.

Further information can be downloaded from

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One thought on “Training councillors to become better leaders

  1. This should be made mandatory for all our elected councillors to empower them to stand up for the community which elected them. To often the GM & Mayor, ( Senior Staff) have made it almost impossible for the elected members to have a say. Our local community in Wellington NSW 2820 is suffering badly as a result.

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