I have had at least six careers and one of these was in local government. I worked for an Inner London Borough where I had a positive, enjoyable experience. It was a corporate role and from time to time I had reason or need to work with and engage with elected members.
This was frustrating at times because the elected members were volunteers and not always around, were sometimes replaced by their party, and were not always "qualified or up to date" with the issues of the day, or current approaches to leadership development, training or managing strategic change, for example.
On the other hand, when working as an officer of the Council and a public servant, the support of elected members was very important because they are the (rightful) decision makers. I learned much of how to work with Councillors by doing my job and realising early on the need for building a good relationship. I had a good induction but no attention was paid then, or in consequent development opportunities, to the fact I was working in a political environment, however.
At the moment I am finding that local authorities have identified the need to develop and train their staff to work in a political environment and for managers especially, who need to develop political skills, understand Member/Officer Protocols (just that they exist in some cases!) and work out how they are going to develop relationship building and influencing skills.
So I am providing "Working in a Political Environment" training programmes, alongside a similar bite size workshop activity "Political Skills for Staff and/or Managers" as part of my in house training portfolio. The aims are:
• To understand what working in a political environment involves
• To understand the political structure at the Council and how decisions are made
• To understand the respective roles and responsibilities of Councillors, the Cabinet, officers and Committees
• To establish the needs and values of Elected Members, their motivations and the implications
I have worked with some different local authorities so far - county, unitary, borough, district, including one shared Council - and have built up some good insights, experiences and examples I share and weave into the learning. Feedback has shown that my programme involves the priority areas to be explored, and for Managers, to also provide training in influencing skills and strategies. As with all my training, everything is based on real life working examples and time is spent in review and action planning to make sure learning is taken away and put in to practice back at work.
I am always open to tweaking and amending this programme to suit the local authority and specific needs, and inject interest, fun and energy into what would otherwise be a dry subject.