Recognising Council high achievers

At the 2002 Local Government Managers Australia National Congress in Sydney, FOCUS invited delegates to nominate an individual and team from their Council who are excelling in their field and promoting the organisation’s corporate goals. In this edition we showcase two more of the competition winners.

Individual Winner – Sandra McLaren, Public Relations Manager, Hobsons Bay City Council, Victoria

Sandra McLaren is the Public Relations Manager at the Victorian seaside Council of Hobsons Bay. Her work within the field of strategic communications for Council is earning her the praises of peers and the community alike.

“Sandra is experienced, worldly and frank,” said Ken McNamara, Hobsons Bay City Council’s Chief Executive Officer and nominator of Sandra McLaren. “She is a great communication strategist and never stops giving advice.”

Sandra began her public relations career working for the EPA in 1986. For the most part, Sandra has worked for Governments but has also undertaken some freelance work. Past projects that she has worked on include the introduction of unleaded petrol to Victoria, the corporatisation of public transport services and, more recently, Government lobbying strategies on various services.

She has been Public Relations Manager at Hobsons Bay for four years and has within her team two members. They are responsible for Council’s communications strategy and customer research program, as well as all public relations activities. Her work, and the work of her team are a vital component to Council’s operations, and crucial to public opinion of Council.

“The public relations/strategic communications function of Council is extremely important in forming a positive public opinion of the great work which the organisation does,” Sandra McLaren said. “You can produce innovative projects and deliver great services but if no one knows about them they can’t have an opinion on how well you’re performing these activities. By promoting a positive media profile and communicating with people in formal and informal ways we can ensure that the community is well briefed and involved in Council activities.”

Ken McNamara said that the Public Relations Department is very successful in working with our media representatives and obtaining sound publicity of Council’s goals and activities.

“Hobsons Bay achieves an extremely high level of positive media coverage, in fact anecdotally we achieve the highest of any other Council in Victoria,” he said. “Sandra’s opinion on communications strategies is sought across the organisation and she has achieved recognition across Melbourne’s western region for her support on regional communications strategies. Council enjoys an extremely positive relationship with our local press through the endeavours of her department.”

Sandra developed a communication strategy for Council that is tested on the community every six months. Testing of the strategy includes formal qualitative research and informal focus group work.

“This virtually means that the community develops its own communications strategy and provides direct input into how Council communications look and feel and what content is included,” said Ken McNamara.“For instance, our community newsletter achieves a 94 per cent awareness rating in our community and is very highly regarded. The community’s awareness of this newsletter is greater than that of our local newspapers, which I think is a real boon.”

Another of Sandra’s main tasks has been the running of Council’s annual research program. By taking work done by the Office of Local Government and Council’s own research, Sandra develops and recommends different communication strategies and marketing ideas to increase awareness of Council services and projects. Sandra also works with other Council Departments in identifying customer satisfaction ratings, and with community members and groups to assist them in their communication activities.

“She has established a reputation as the guru on communications and her colleagues look to her for advice before they publicise a program,” Ken McNamara said.

And what is it about her work that she enjoys most?

“Believe it or not I enjoy the politics, although at times it drives me insane,” Sandra McLaren said. “Generally it adds a new element to the work of communications experts. You are not only dealing with the reality of a product or service and how a market will respond to that product or service, you need to factor in political elements, which, let’s face it, are not always black and white.”

Her dedication and commitment to increasing Council’s interaction and communication with the public is shown, not only through her work, but through the positive feedback that she receives from her work. “She is an excellent sounding board, frank, strong in opinion, and is loyal to the outcome,” Ken McNamara said.

Team Winner – Construction Works Team, Devonport City Council, Tasmania

Don Anderson, Manager of Infrastructure Services at Devonport City Council in Tasmania, is proud of the achievements of the Construction Works Team at Council. Don nominated the Team for achievements in team cooperation and creating an efficient and quality orientated unit focusing on safety. The Construction Works Team was born out of a major shift and reorganisation within Council.

“Council was originally run on a departmental basis with individual departments doing both their own construction and maintenance for their respective disciplines,” Don Anderson said.

The Construction Works Team is a combination of Pipe and Road Construction workers comprising of 15 men, who work together or in groups depending on the project. The Team performs various tasks ranging from kerb and channel replacements to full rehabilitation of road assets, including pavements and drainage structures. It is headed up by the Construction Works Manager, Mick Newall.

“Mick Newall has been a driving force behind the group,” said Don Anderson. His enthusiasm to succeed, to achieve goals that he has set and to communicate these goals to the team has been a great advantage. In addition, he is developing risk assessment pro formas for all jobs to ensure that all personnel are safe in their daily work.”

Mick Newall said that safety is an important issue because of the nature of their work. “We’re working around the city dealing with traffic and pedestrians, protecting ourselves from traffic and the public from our operations,” he said. “Then we have duty of care to each other to make sure we are identifying any risks on site and working safely. Both the skills and the personalities are important to me as work groups are formed because of the importance of working together as a team to keep a safe, productive harmonious worksite.

“The men come from various skills backgrounds including carpentry, the mining industry, machinery operators and other Councils. Some have worked at Council for close to 30 years, some for 10 years and some for the past two years.”

With the formation of the team there were initially some teething problems however, good cooperation and the desire to do well in their work soon came through.

“Prior to the formation of the construction group, there was an attitude of ‘don’t care as we’ll be blamed for any mistakes anyway’,” said Don Anderson.“With the requirements to have a better handle on the costs of jobs, meetings with the workgroups were held to gain their input, then the Leading Hands were involved in developing estimates. Quality criteria were used and independent inspections instigated.”

The standards of accuracy to line and level were tightened and information provided back to the Team on its success in meeting targets.

“I think this is to be the most satisfying part of our job,” said Mick Newall.“Being able to hand over to Council a top quality product for minimal cost, having completed the work without injury to any employees or members of the public, makes the Construction Team a valued part of Council and community. I could not stress enough the importance of teamwork, planning and communications. I think believing in and following these principles can achieve anything.”