This month we spoke with Karen Rokicinski, Director Corporate and Customer Service of City of Victor Harbor, about her role, professional development journey and the exciting things happening at City of Victor Harbor.
We’ve been following your career journey for over a decade now- can you tell us where you started in local government and where you are today?
I started in local government in 2004 as an Environmental Health Officer with Alexandrina Council, who took me on before I’d even graduated from university. 15 years later, I am now with City of Victor Harbor as Director Corporate and Customer Service.
Wow - and how did you get there?
I have been most fortunate to have had opportunities to take a number of small upwards and sideways steps into different roles throughout my career so far. After a few years as Environmental Health Officer with Alexandrina Council, I was promoted to the role of Team Leader Environmental Health. Then a few years later after a small internal restructure, I was successful in my application for the role of Manager Health, Environment & Regulatory Services. Whilst in that role, I put my hand up to undertake a number of small secondment roles in other portfolio areas (including within the engineering, infrastructure and open spaces areas) and was given the chance to act in a number of different General Manager positions. Then following the resignation of the CEO in 2016, I was afforded the opportunity to step into an interim role as General Manager Engineering and Environment whilst the organisation recruited a new CEO and underwent a restructure. Shortly after the organisation restructure was complete and the position finished up, I moved to neighbouring council, City of Victor Harbor, taking up the role of Director Corporate and Customer Service, and that’s where I am now. In amongst it all, I also did further study and professional development including a Master of Business Administration.
You’ve been to lots of our conferences over the years. What role did professional development and networking play and what advice can you give to those considering applying for a role?
Professional development has played a crucial role in my career journey. In particular, experiences in my early career which included the Local Government Management Challenge and the Emerging Leaders Program, helped me to develop my people leadership skills after starting out my career in a technical role. These programs, as well as formal study, have prepared me for each next step. I think it’s really important to continue learning across your entire career through specific programs as well as through your network of peers. There’s so much we can learn from the experiences of others, and taking the time to listen and consider advice is a pivotal part of our personal and professional growth. Finding a suitable mentor for where you are at in your career journey is also important and can provide you with an objective view as to where you need to invest further in your skills and experiences. Attending conferences and seminars is also important to keep us motivated, inspire us with new ideas and ensure that we continue learning.
For those considering applying for a role, being a regular face in local government events and programs, and getting involved will ensure that you are considered to be someone who is committed to and invests in the sector. This, coupled with your skills and experience, will help others to understand what you can bring to any new role that you are applying for. Consider finding a suitable mentor or coach to help develop parts of yourself that will help you be ready for the next stage in your career - listen to, and actively implement their strategies and advice.
There are lots of exciting things happening at the City of Victor Harbor- what are you most excited about?
It definitely is an exciting time to be working at City of Victor Harbor and there are many things that I am looking forward to being a part of over the coming months and years. In particular, seeing the outcomes of a number of key developments within the Victor Harbor town centre and foreshore – a new causeway to Granite Island, further development of an arts and culture precinct, as well as the next stages of the Main Street upgrade project, to name only a few. Within the organisation, we are embedding a strong customer focus in all that we do and finding ways to improve the services that we provide to our community. It’s been exciting reflecting on the ways we deliver our services and improving our processes, including through better use of technology, to make them more efficient and provide value for our customers.
Finally, how do you integrate work with your life? Any advice?
It requires discipline and careful planning to make sure you can fit in everything that you need to and want to get done. My advice is to make a realistic plan which includes both your work and your personal needs (being sure you have made sufficient time for the things and people you love!). Review your plan regularly and communicate your plan so that others know how they fit into it. Then be strict with yourself about sticking to the plan. When you commit to something, give of yourself completely and be present in the time and space that you give to it. Of course you sometimes have to be prepared to flex, but this is generally a good formula for me. Oh, and listen to your body - it will tell you if you’re overdoing things and then it’s important to adjust your plan so that your work and life are sustainable.