Geoff Burton
Business Planning and Performance Manager
City of Sydney

Tell us about how you started your career in local government?

The year was 1982, I was in Year 12 and really had no clear idea what I wanted to do after the HSC. I had completed a work experience week as a health and building inspector and also at the NSW Computing Bureau. I saw a position vacant for a clerk in the Parks and Recreation Department at the City of Sydney. I thought I would do that for a while until I worked out what I wanted to do. Some might say I am still trying to work out what I want to do!

After a few years, I decided to take on the Town Clerks Certificate at Mitchell College at Bathurst and ended up with a Bachelor of Business with a major in Local Government.

What is the key to longevity in the sector?

For me, I have been in the sector for over thirty five years and when I first started most people made a career out of working in one council, with some people staying in the same department and even a few doing the same role!

I have been fortunate enough to work in different departments and roles on many varied projects. There have been opportunities that aligned with my own career goals such as presenting at conferences in the USA and Japan. They were challenging but also rewarding too. When I was offered those opportunities, it usually meant I had to devote my own time and learn new skills. I don’t’ think you can do that successfully with just a “nine to five” mindset. In my role, I am always learning something new, and that helps keep the interest up.

What benefits have you enjoyed from your membership? Have you benefited from participation in any LG Professionals, NSW events or professional development opportunities?

LG Professionals provides a number of opportunities to learn and network. They provide an opportunity to per over your peers “fence” and see how they operate in their council. I have enjoyed being a mentor as part of the Aspiring Leaders program and as an observer at the Management Challenge. These opportunities always provide a time to reflect on your skills and approaches and learn from others. This year we entered 2 teams in the Management Challenge, a first for the City of Sydney. It was rewarding to watch the participants network and learn amongst themselves as we all shared the highs and lows that makes the “Management Challenge” a challenge!

What piece of advice do you want to share with others entering the sector?

With local government there are always new challenges and new opportunities to be involved in. I would advise those starting out to be involved in those challenges, even if it means an extra few hours of your own time to get it done.

If you want to progress in your local government career and do well, you need your core technical skills plus a blend of personal skills and throw in values like respect, courage and trust. A little bit of humour never goes astray. If I was starting over again, I would focus more on building networks and relationships within the organisation and across the sector. LinkedIn is fantastic but you need to speak to people to make a real connection and difference I feel.

What do you wish that others knew about the work of council, that they are unaware of?

From the outside looking in, many people don’t realise the breadth of services and the level of professional expertise required to manage the daily and long term demands of modern communities. There are very few organisations that operate more than 100 different services to a very engaged community demanding for better and more services within a fairly strict legislative and dynamic political environment. There are a lot of dedicated staff who care about the community that regularly go above and beyond, to deliver for their community, and I think this is underplayed a lot.

What do you wish would change about the way government works?


We sometimes suffer from only seeing the world from our own perspective and not the wider picture. Whether it is from your own team, unit, department or council, we are “many tribes in one nation. With so many “moving parts” in the entire local government sector, it is inevitable a certain level of “friction” is created, when self-interest takes over and slows down a process or diverts energy away from the real problem and this can lead to a sub-optimal outcome.
I wish there was a magic wand that would remind everyone every day why they come to work, work collaboratively and smarter. Just think of the challenges we could solve then!