Developing public leaders of the future

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 16

Sandra Dinneen, chair of the District Councils’ Network (DCN) Chief Executive Group and CEO of South Norfolk District Council, explains how district councils are developing the public sector leaders of the future.

The DCN represents 201 district councils in England at national level – through influencing central government and key stakeholders, as well as through commissioning research, providing support and sharing best practice. 

The DCN is a membership organisation and, as such, our predominant role is ensuring that our members are best placed to shape the national policy agenda, and are equipped to tackle challenges and seize the opportunities of an evolving local government landscape. Part of being ready for this transformation is ensuring that district councils are developing the public sector leaders of the future. 

One way in which the DCN supports its members in this regard is through its annual Staff Development Programme. First launched in 2013 as an idea from one of our councillors, the programme has, to date, supported the development of three cohorts and over 200 district council staff. 

Course conferences 

The programme is run for ambitious officers who are starting out in their local government careers. The four national conferences help equip participants with the knowledge and skills they need in an ever adapting local government sector. The conferences tackle a number of themes over the course of a year, including developing the skills needed for working in a political environment; tools for tackling the financial challenge including budget management skills, commercialisation approaches and early intervention to improve outcomes and save money; and personal development opportunities, for example, on coaching and leadership models. 

Members of the cohort also have a mentor from volunteer district councils. Mentors provide the opportunity for the participants on the programme to reflect on their learning from the national conferences and provide one-to-one support on particular areas of personal development. 

I had the privilege of speaking at a couple of this year’s conferences, and I always find it invigorating to work with people at the start of their local government careers. Given that district councils provide a broad range of services, it’s hardly surprising that participants come from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, and this interplay adds a real spark to proceedings. 

Engaging with DCN 

At the first session back in May 2015, I put out a challenge for people not only to attend the sessions and work with their mentors, but also to engage in some ‘live work’ within the DCN. I know many of the participants found the idea of working directly with chief executives and elected leaders pretty daunting, but those that did step forward did themselves proud.   

At the last conference, we reflected with participants on what they felt had impacted them the most from being part of the Staff Development Programme. They highlighted: 

  • The need to better promote and share the best practice around the positive outcomes we, as district councils, can help to achieve for our residents and businesses
  • Local authorities need to be more proactive at supporting staff at all levels to better understand the bigger picture and the national environment we are working in, in order to shape services accordingly 
  • Understanding politicians and party political dynamics is key. We had some excellent politicians speak to the participants and the political group advisors from the LGA left a lasting impression 

We will be launching the next cohort of the DCN Staff Development Programme over the next couple of months, so watch out for details coming to your district council very soon!

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