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Leadership in Engagement

At a recent International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) breakfast in WA, three leaders presented their views on leadership in engagement; their insights were too valuable not to be shared more widely. The speakers were:

  • Dr Shayne Silcox, CEO of the City of Melville

  • Anthony Vuleta, CEO of the Town of Victoria Park

  • Catherine Ferrari, General Manager Customer and Community, Water Corporation

This is what I gleaned from their contributions:

Back your staff

Rather than having every decision go through management, this approach is about giving staff the authority to use their expertise and understanding. Dr Silcox called this an empowerment warrant. Which was not just about working with the understanding that staff should trust their judgment but making it clear to them that he will back them, when they do.

Make it a living policy

Having an engagement policy was seen as an important step in having your staff on the same page BUT the policy needs to be lived. This means that it needs to be up for review and that staff are given the chance to practise and apply it. Mr Vuleta has given staff from across the organisation the chance to be trained and get involved in engagement projects. There are people facilitating workshops from across the whole organisation, at the same time not learning an engagement policy exist but how it is lived and breathed in real life.

Make it organisation-wide

While organisations may have a team of people with engagement expertise, engagement is not something that is just for them. Ms Ferrari made the point that different parts of the organisation can begin to think that ‘engagement is their job’ but the fact is, engagement is everybody’s job.

The more your technical/project people have the responsibility and exposure to engagement the better they understand how it works in their context.

Make that case for engagement

What was truly surprising was that all three leaders were genuinely confused that other leaders could not or did not see the inherent value in engagement. It was noted that at times it does take a painful and sometime public failure to trigger that awareness but in the reality of all the management fads to come and go, engagement is one of the only truly NEW and constructive paradigms to be offered to organisations. As such, there is value in backing your staff to build skills and understanding. Not everyone needs to be the ‘expert’ but most people need some understanding. In all these cases these leaders have invested in in-house training and staff development. This was made available not just for communications and engagement staff but for the technical /project people and leadership as well. ​The Town of Victoria Park now have nine people who have completed the IAP2 Certificate of Engagement and 70 people who have done the one day IAP2 Engagement Essentials course, making the language of engagement more widely accessible and understood across the whole organisation. Their councillors have also completed a 2hr ‘Understanding engagement’ workshop

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