This month we speak with Nat Traeger, Director Community and Corporate, Coorong District Council.
Nat talks about what still motivates her after 30 years at the council and also highlights Coorong's recent recognition though the LG Professionals awards - and what those awards mean to the council staff and the community.
Hi Nat - thanks for speaking with us.
What’s your current role, and what does it involve?
Director Community & Corporate, portfolio includes community development, arts & culture, community health & well-being, libraries, youth, customer service, information management, finance, IT, media & communications, organisational development & governance.
Where were you before? (i.e. what is your work background/career path so far)?
May 2017 will see me celebrate a 30 year career with the Coorong Council, undertaking many of the operational roles contained in my portfolio.
What attracted you to local government, and your current role?
My grandfather was an elected member and the opportunity to obtain a job in the local community was my initial motivation for applying for a role with Council.
What motivates you? What are you most passionate about in local government?
Without doubt community connectivity; I simply love living in and working for the Coorong Council. I am all about innovation, community collaboration, working in teams, vibrant social media engagement and ensuring my sense of humour is relayed to the people I work with and when appropriate, by the way we communicate. In recent times I have been doing a lot of work in raising awareness of suicide prevention and putting measures in place to support a community who was rocked by the loss of six lives in a short space of time.
Coorong District Council was certainly ‘punching above its weight’ at the LG Professionals, SA Excellence Awards – taking home two excellence awards. You received the first place trophy for Innovative Management Initiatives with your fantastic Coorong District Council Accidental Art Gallery project. Can you tell us about this project and why you think the team was so successful in showing innovation?
This project was essentially using an existing asset to create a previously non existent and new strategic direction for Council without having to spend significant money on a bricks and mortar solution. The reason it was accidental was that we didn’t know our community was longing for an outlet to exhibit their art until I was given the responsibility of addressing the bare walls of our new civic centre and put a call out through social media. The response was unexpected and overwhelming!
We used internal resources to install tracking, made minor modifications to enable public access to what was to become our gallery area and established a team of keen (but inexperienced) staff to host our first exhibition. Such was the success, and realising the opportunities arts could provide our predominantly agricultural region, subsequent exhibitions were held, local arts sales boomed and extraordinary positive feedback flooded in from the community.
This transformation of civic space to gallery space revealed that arts and culture was important to the community and to determine just how far-reaching this was, an arts & culture audit was undertaken. The report was integral to making a successful funding submission to Country Arts SA and we now have a full-time professional resource to support the gallery and implement new art projects. Within months the arts lead regional renewal project known as ‘Creating Coonalpyn’ emerged; a suite of community arts projects in a struggling town which includes a flagship project, the silo mural which is now SA’s largest art canvas and turned the town into an iconic tourist destination over night.
You were also involved in the team that won the Excellence in Sustainable Infrastructure and Asset Management award, with the Coorong District Council Unsealed Roads Project. Please tell us a bit more about that project, and how the team worked so well together.
Council has 1,462kms of unsealed road, in fact our entire road network is the same as driving to Sydney and back – so that is a lot of roads to maintain! Through education and upskilling, a change in workplace culture, improved methodology road construction teams have the confidence and knowledge to complete the road program.
The change has created a more consistent and longer wearing road surface, and reduced unsealed road maintenance from $45k to $30k per kilometre. The team worked well together as they were on the same page about understanding current best practice and were open and collaborative in their discussions within the team, with the CEO and other non Infrastructure & Assets sections, such as human resources and finance.
What do you think these awards mean to the Council, your staff and the community?
One of our core strategic values is ‘enjoying work’ and within that core value is ‘joining others in appropriately celebrating individual, team and organisational success’. We like to celebrate in style, through writing stories of our success to share with the media and wider to community. We also have internal reward and recognition policies in place to celebrate the achievements of teams and individuals. We know the community value our success as they share this through feedback on our social media platforms.
An example is this response to media we circulated after these award wins “this is so exciting for the Coorong District Council team……..this is what effort, community collaboration, communication, energy and excitement looks like. You have successfully delivered on projects that benefit the region, not just your council area. Congratulations, you have dispensed with over worked words that offer much and deliver nothing; you are communicating through vibrant social media postings punctuated by humour whilst delivering facts and news.”
Even with all the success, there must be some things that you wish you could improve. What is the key challenge facing your department in the next 12 months – and how do you think you will address it?
We have just undergone an organisational re-structure and I have new areas of organisational development and governance to sink my teeth into. We have a bit of work to do so I am looking forward to working with some new team members in my department and making some headway into the backlog we have specifically in HR, WHS and our governance framework.
The other exciting key challenge is to maximise the potential with the ‘Creating Coonalpyn’ project as we move towards a “Marketing Coonalpyn” phase. We are looking at merchandising agreements, artist retreats and an annual RV Fest event and much, much more.
I will address these challenges and others in my usual way which is through collaboration, communication, innovation and teamwork!
What's next for you? Where do you want to be (career wise) in 5 years?
Despite my 30 years’ experience with Council, I simply have had no time to achieve one single qualification. Now that my daughters are slightly more self-sufficient, I will be looking to undertake some professional development, most likely in the area I am most passionate about which is community development management.
Finally, how do you spend your leisure time outside of local government?
I love coaching junior sports teams, in both basketball and netball. If I am not coaching I am invariably managing a team, so being courtside is something I really enjoy. My daughters both play a wide variety of sport so I enjoy travelling with them and watching them play. We live by the mighty Murray so I love the outdoors in terms of kayaking, fishing and boating. As a family we also enjoy geocaching which is a pastime I can’t recommend highly enough if you like adventure, exploring and seeing places off the beaten track!