This month we speak with Steve Wooley, Corporate Services Manager / Deputy CEO Wudinna District Council.
A recent graduate of both the Professional Leadership Program, (PLP) and the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), Steve explains how involvement with these programs have benefitted his daily work and career and also outlines the challenges facing Wudinna compared to Metro Councils.
Hi Steve, thanks for talking with us.
What’s your current role, and what does it involve?
Corporate Services Manager / Deputy CEO Wudinna District Council.
Main tasks include oversight of a small administration team (5) covering Finance, Governance, Risk Management, Customer Service, Policies, Procedures etc plus support and relief of CEO during his leave.
Where were you before and what attracted you to your current role?
Deputy CEO Elliston District Council for 2 years and prior to that Team Leader Legislative Compliance Team Whyalla City Council.
I moved into Senior Management because I saw an opportunity to develop my career and bring a different perspective to the Deputy CEO role, most of whom seem to rise via the purely admin stream.
Legislative compliance at the ‘top end’ is becoming increasingly vital as transparency in decision making is demanded by ratepayers, the media and governments.
What is the most satisfying thing about working in Local Government?
The diversity of day to day tasks and the experiences that flow from that.
Although you may have a day or week’s work plan established, something unexpected always crops up and often requires you to re-prioritise the plan & allocate time & resources you may not have.
It is satisfying to meet the challenge of the unexpected and still complete the planned tasks, perhaps using skills you didn’t know you had.
Speaking about your current role - What are the key challenges ahead for Corporate Services at Wudinna?
Local Government generally is being forced to do more and more with less and less resources and flowing from that is the need employ qualified and experienced staff to ‘do the job’.
Wudinna carries exactly the same levels of legislative responsibility as Adelaide City Council, but we have to work with extremely limited financial & human resources.
We simply cannot offer the salary packages paid by metro or large rural councils and not every-one appreciates the lifestyle of a remote country town, so attracting & retaining qualified staff can be troublesome.
We do employ staff on reduced hours or part time arrangements, and our current employees do a magnificent job given the restrictions they face.
We have implemented resources sharing with neighbouring Councils but the salary & vehicle costs of a 600km return journey often negate any efficiencies or savings.
Council amalgamations are often offered as the solution but here, the tyranny of distance prevents such concepts being truly successful over the long term.
How do you think the challenges differ between Metro and Country Councils?
I am not sure they do, metro councils may be able to offer better salary packages and access to a different lifestyle to ours, but they also risk high staff turn-over and are perhaps under more intense direct pressure from rate-payers, the media and politicians to do more with less.
They certainly seem to attract more scandals and enquiries into decisions and actions than we do.
Rural people seem to be happy with verbal responses to queries about Council’s actions whereas metro dwellers appear to ‘go formal’ with Freedom of Information Act applications or reports to ICAC or the Ombudsman from the start.
You are a recent graduate of both the Professional Leadership Program, (PLP) and the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP).
How do you think you have benefitted from getting involved with these programs? Would you recommend the programs to other Local Government professionals?
The ELP & PLP are have been of tremendous benefit to my role from both an operational and networking perspective.
Certainly the theory lessons of the PLP have given me greater insight into handling day to day issues from a different perspective, while enhancing my knowledge in the financial arena.
The ELP was very stimulating and challenging. From day 1 we were encouraged to see the program as one of self-development and self-analysis leading to better self-confidence that enhances better decision making.
I would thoroughly recommend either or both courses for anyone who wishes to make a career for themselves in Local Government regardless of their age or level of employment.
The formal learning component of both ELP & PLP is a valuable asset while the networking skills and individual bonds that were created via both programs will remain with me for life.
Personally, what’s the longer term plan – where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Sitting on the boat, catching King George Whiting at a secret spot off the West Coast of the Eyre Peninsula is the dream.
Reality will probably see me working perhaps 2 -3 or more days per week.
If I get the balance right, I can continue to contribute to the work force while enjoying some of the luxuries I have worked for since 1972.
Do you have an embarrassing "Local Government moment?"
Far too many to list here. In 15 years you are bound to make a few mistakes, if you don’t learn from them, you won’t succeed. Once is a mistake, twice is a habit.
How do you spend your leisure time outside of Local Government?
Well, if it has spark plugs, I’m probably driving or riding it.
I am a dedicated ‘petrol head’ with a collection of classic cars and motorbikes, plus an under used race car.
I fish from my own boats, and try to squeeze a bit of camping in around using all the toys.
The lawn bowls bug bit me 2 years back and I worry that it will take over as it is a wonderful atmosphere to indulge in fine wine and whisky appreciation sessions.