Regional leadership study

In 2012/13, the Public Sector Commission secured ‘Royalties for Regions’ funding for a regional leadership feasibility study. This included a review of the regional employment profile and current regional leadership development offerings, followed by consultation to investigate leaders’ experiences, needs and expectations.

State public sector employment in the regions largely involves service delivery roles across diverse agencies including Education, Health, Corrective Services, Parks and Wildlife, Child Protection and Family Support, Agriculture and Food, Main Roads Western Australia, Housing, and Fire and Emergency Services, plus regional state training providers. This does not include entities listed in Schedule 1 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994 - for example, just under one third of sworn police officers are working regionally. These varied functions, in addition to the geographical sprawl of the state, make service delivery and leadership development critical and complex.

Managers and leaders were invited to focus groups held across the state to explore the current situation and future needs. Consultation showed that:

  • attracting, retaining and developing regional employees and preparing for the future was challenging for many leaders
  • there was strong enthusiasm for new and diverse approaches to leadership development
  • regional leaders and those in metropolitan areas with regional responsibilities must be well supported and connected to promote success.

Five topic areas were discussed in focus groups:

Diagram showing the five topic areas

Factors making regional leadership unique

A key finding was that regional leaders do not require different capabilities to metropolitan leaders. However, there are nuances which make regional leadership unique. Regional leadership is influenced by many factors including regional priorities, population, demographics, infrastructure, culture, environment, regional government presence (Commonwealth, state, local) and resources available to regional leaders.

Across the state, regional leaders:

  • are the face of their agency within the local community
  • are affected by geographic isolation and distance from Perth
  • are subjected to increased occupational safety and health (OSH) considerations such as travel fatigue, isolation and work/life balance
  • need to interpret policy to fit their regional context
  • require greater generalist management skills
  • have more autonomy and often greater responsibility for decisions made than some metropolitan colleagues
  • manage the cultural considerations relevant to their region
  • do not always have access to resources including information technology (IT), mobile reception and people.

I am the only person in the office so when I have to make a difficult decision, I need to ring colleagues to talk it through.

Regional public sector leader

Work/home life is different in the region. When I leave the office, I am still ‘on duty’. People in our community know where I work. A quick trip to the bakery on Saturday morning can turn into a half hour work discussion. We are accountable for agency decisions and have to deal with the public even when they do not like our response.

Regional public sector leader

In addition, regional leaders may:

  • access leadership opportunities earlier in their career
  • have broad and diverse roles, often with significant responsibility
  • experience limited vertical career progression while working regionally
  • have more people to manage than their metropolitan counterparts, often over greater distances
  • manage a workforce of lower classifications.

Regional leaders mentioned the need for a strong breadth of knowledge on all management and leadership principles. The notion of ‘master of all trades’ was widely stated.

As a regional leader in the Pilbara, you need to be adept at managing natural disasters when they occur. It is not just the emergency response needs for the community, there are OSH considerations to keep our staff safe in times of cyclones and floods.

Regional public sector leader

Capabilities for regional leaders and metropolitan leaders with a regional focus

During consultation, leadership skills, attributes and behaviours were often mentioned rather than capabilities. These are summarised in Appendix A. The regional leadership model captures capabilities needed by all leaders regardless of location.

Because of our location, few people apply for advertised roles and even fewer have the experience we need. They are important roles and I need to fill them. I need all the help I can get.

Regional public sector leader

Successful policy delivery in the regions

Leaders stated that policy was successful when it addressed a regional need and had clear purpose and scope. Sound political engagement, senior leadership priority and support from metropolitan managers was critical, as was the engagement of regional staff and community stakeholders. Cultural awareness was vital, together with relevant measures and effective reporting.

It is an advantage being in the country with an MP in the same street, and he certainly knows what we are about and what we are working on. I feel a bit like the agency is ‘on show’ though and the buck stops with me. If I make a mistake, everyone gets to see it. Visibility has its downsides!

Regional public sector leader

Leaders strongly emphasised that policy positions and decision making must occur with a ‘regional lens’. This involves challenging conventional thinking, seeking diverse perspectives, taking an ‘outside-in’ view to strategic planning, having a whole-of-state mindset, managing trade-offs and ambiguity, and collaborating across boundaries.

Strategies for regional leadership development

Regional leaders are looking for more than formal leadership training.

Do not just fly us down to Perth and provide a week long leadership program delivered by ‘experts’. We want to share our knowledge, experience and success stories and learn from agency and regional leaders who understand our business.

Regional public sector leader

Suggestions on ways to best meet the different learning styles, experience levels and expertise include:

  • regional public sector leaders as facilitators
  • regional case studies and other customised content
  • bringing regional and metropolitan leaders together in person or through technology to build relationships, share perspectives and experiences
  • a variety of blended learning options such as forums, webinars, exchanges or projects
  • flexible timing and locations.

Regional leaders face many competing demands, they work and deliver services to thin markets having to do much more with less coupled with the increasing accountability for all services delivered. They demonstrate resourcefulness and resilience, and they build and maintain networks of support and share knowledge and experience.

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Page last updated 23 July 2014