Shireen Donaldson is the Manager of Executive Services at Griffith City Council and has been a member of Local Government Professionals Australia, NSW since 2013. Shireen joined us earlier this week to provide insights into her professional journey and offer advice for young professionals in the sector.
Tell us about how you started your career in local government?
Let me take you back to pre-Local Government Act times when Mayors and General Managers sat on the interview panel for Library Assistants! After such an auspicious start, I found the Library was a perfect training ground for excellence in customer service and developing a thirst for learning new skills that have stood me in good stead over the years. After leaving the Library as Systems Librarian to take on IT roles for Council, I had a stint in the private sector and now am Manager of Executive Services, looking after Governance, Compliance, HR, IP & R and Communications. Ironically, I now sit at Council Meetings on the right hand of that very same Mayor who gave me my start so long ago - I keep telling him he only has himself to blame!
What experiences, achievements or milestones have you been most proud of during your time working in the sector?
I have been very privileged to work in a multitude of departments of Council and have a great understanding of all the facets that make up a modern Council. Delivering big projects is always satisfying, especially when you can then see staff or the community benefiting from your efforts. Of course, I have to say one of the proudest moments was leading the Griffith team to win the inaugural Rural Management Challenge run by LG- we had no idea what we were getting into at the time, but we had a blast!
What benefits have you enjoyed from your membership? Have you benefited from participation in any LG Professionals, NSW events or professional development opportunities?
My first exposure to LG Professionals was at the very first intensive Governance for Local Government course. After that, I joined (at first with the free membership!) and found I instantly had a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips and best of all, a network of like-minded professionals all over the state who are more than happy to share their knowledge and advice. Griffith City Council proudly supports the Rural Management Challenge every year and I look forward to mentoring our teams and showing them how much they can benefit from the Challenge. I also have mentored in the Aspiring Leaders program and am amazed at the new talent that is entering Local Government, their enthusiasm is infectious!
From your perspective, what are some of the challenges the local government sector is facing and how do you think the sector should respond?
Of course, one of the biggest challenges facing many Councils is managing succession planning as the workforce ages and ensuring years of valuable knowledge is not lost. Attracting and retaining new talent is also a challenge we grapple with daily, especially as we try to manage that with community expectations of doing more with less. I also am passionate about ensuring women working in Council are encouraged and supported. Acknowledging these issues exist is the first step and I think support networks like LG Professionals are invaluable for providing tools we can use to work our way through.
What is your best piece of advice to young professionals looking to build their career in the sector?
You have to make your own luck, look for the opportunities and don't be scared to put your hand up. This might even mean taking a sideways step sometimes but with the bigger picture in mind.