Providing community confidence during a crisis

During 2008, Victoria’s Local Government Professional’s (LGPro) Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) involved 24 young managers, representing city, regional and rural councils, and from across the various Local Government professions.

Their task was to work on a specific problem and come up with recommendations.

Each year, participants are nominated by their CEO with the final 24 then selected by an LGPro committee.

The topic for the 2008 group was, ‘Providing community confidence during a crisis: What is Local Government’s role?’

Presenting at the recent LGPro annual conference on
19 February, little did the 2008 group imagine when they started this program that they would be presenting their final report as many Queensland and some areas of New South Wales were recovering from extensive flooding, and closer to home in Victoria, many councils and communities were coming to grips with our worst peacetime disaster, the bushfires on
7 February.

The ELP group acknowledged that in a crisis Local Government has traditional roles arising from its statutory responsibilities but, almost by default, Local Government also has the role of leadership within the community.

In a crisis, Local Government must display leadership that in turn inspires confidence within its community.

The ELP group came up with the following four key qualities that are critical for successful leadership during a crisis:

  • prepare in advance of the crisis
  • advocate of behalf of the community to support people during and subsequent to the crisis
  • communicate the information about the crisis with clarity and urgency
  • build trust within the community that Local Government can help to overcome the crisis.

The group developed a case study for the fictitious township of Tranquil Waters located in North East Plains Shire to demonstrate what can go wrong if the four above principles are not followed.

With a population of 5,000 people that swelled to 15,000 in holiday time, the town’s main drawcard, Lake Ibis, after a prolonged drought and low flows saw an increase in salinity levels resulting in a massive fish kill.

The health issues, clean up costs and loss of tourist dollars had far reaching consequences.

This case study demonstrates the importance of preparing for various scenarios, advocating and building networks with a range of stakeholders, being responsive and providing honest communication, trusting your community and, above all ensuring they trust you.

Participants agreed that the leadership journey they have undertaken is as important as solving the problem with which they were presented.

“In light of the recent disasters, more than ever, it is evident that Local Government is best placed to provide support in a crisis,” they concluded.

“We know our community and it expects us to know. We in Local Government must support people first in order to rebuild a community because we are the community.”

Copies of the ELP report can be downloaded at www.lgpro.com