This month we speak with Emma Watkins, Senior Community Ranger - Community Safety, City of Onkaparinga.
Emma speaks about what motivates her to achieve in local government, her recent experience in the Emerging Leaders Program and her thoughts on the recent national Congress.
Hi Emma, thanks for speaking with us.
What’s your current role, and what does it involve?
My current role is Senior Community Ranger - Community Safety at the City of Onkaparinga. I’m based at the Noarlunga office and am responsible for managing any escalated issues, creating and managing strategies, projects and procedures and ensuring our team can effectively meet the needs and expectations of our community.
Our team consists of 11 Community Rangers, two Seniors, a TL and Manager. Our Community Rangers number can increase to 17 throughout summer which is our peak season.
We’re responsible for the effective administration of approximately 13 Acts with around 70 per cent of our work focused on dog management.
Day-to-day my troops are out on the road investigating reports, proactively attending to identified breaches and engaging with the community.
Our team handles approximately 2500 reports each year, spends 1000 hours proactively patrolling our foreshore throughout summer and manages 35,000 registered and 10,000 unregistered dogs, just to name a few!
From time to time I get to go out on the road to assist with some of the more complex matters which I enjoy immensely.
What attracted you to local government, and your current role?
I started my career in local government in a casual beach patrol position for some spare cash while I was studying Paramedic Science full time at Flinders University. I ended up going part time at Uni and part time in local government. In the four years it took to finish my degree I’d completely fallen in love with local government and the Community Safety section at Onkaparinga.
I intended to leave local government to work with SA Ambulance but the pull of local government and leadership was too strong. I was promoted to the position of Senior Community Ranger in December 2015 and I’ve had the opportunity to develop what was a relatively new role at the time into an effective, dynamic and fun career.
What motivates you? What are you most passionate about in local government?
I am a highly motivated person in most areas of my life. You could say I’m a bit of a keen bean. I jump out of bed each day because I love the creativity involved in trying to solve problems and get a real kick out of getting a project going and seeing a positive effect.
I am attracted to the closeness of local government to its communities. It’s easy to see the direct effects of our actions when you are at the coalface. Customers can come to the front counter to discuss any issue which isn’t the case with other tiers of government.
My vision for our team and for me is to create a safe environment in which community members can be empowered to take action to resolve issues. I strongly believe that local government does not have to do everything all the time. We should be providing community members with all the necessary information to increase their confidence and enable them to connect with neighbours to find a mutually agreeable and lawful solution to a problem. This reduces the enforcement action required by us.
We do so much amazing work in this space at the City of Onkaparinga and I’m constantly motivated by the great energy of our team.
Why did you decide to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program?
At the City of Onkaparinga we have a fairly competitive application process for participation in the ELP. I applied last year after talking to previous participants about the program and listening to their stories.
When I applied for the program I had been in a formal leadership role for only a few months and thought it sounded like a fantastic way to obtain some of that foundation leadership knowledge required to effectively lead a successful and motivated team.
I chose to apply for the ELP over other leadership courses because it is so heavily set in the local government environment and I truly believe you can’t understand the beast which is local government leadership unless you are in it.
What were your most important learnings/experiences from that program?
There were two main learnings for me in the ELP.
Firstly I found out, specifically and scientifically, what my weaknesses are and from that I have been able to refine my processes to manage them and find good allies in my team to work around those weaknesses. This has been huge for me in increasing my efficiency and professionalism.
Secondly, the program has given me an enormous catalogue of experiences working with people with very different work styles and personalities and from this, as I encounter new people in my day-to-day work, I’m better able to understand the communication and leadership approach that may be most effective for us both.
Much of the focus of the ELP is on leadership. What did you learn about leadership that you can share with our readers?
I learnt that leadership is not about controlling others, rather it’s about finding out what motivates people and influencing in a way which achieves goals and keeps people satisfied at work. Once people have a clear understanding of what’s required of them and are feeling motivated at work, good things will happen.
How has the ELP helped you in your career?
The ELP afforded me many opportunities to connect with leaders at the City of Onkaparinga and other organisations and has exploded my network across local government. Your network is one of the most important assets you carry with you as a leader.
Have you/do you attend any other LG Professionals, SA events or programs? What has been your experience of them?
Yes, I’m currently studying the Professional Leadership Program with around one month to go. The PLP is far more technical which I am finding to be a more comfortable study structure than the ELP. You learn a concept, practice the concept, receive a mark on your competency and then move on. Although, I do miss the emotional stretch of the ELP and the creativity and networking opportunities.
You won a scholarship to attend the National Congress in Hobart, how did that come about?
Yes, I’ve recently returned from the Local Government Professionals, Australia National Congress and Business Expo in Hobart.
I was fortunate to win the Raymond West Scholarship to attend as an emerging leader. I made an application through LG Professionals, SA and won. I couldn’t believe it! The City of Onkaparinga supported me to attend the Congress which I am incredibly grateful for.
Our Learning and Development team went above and beyond to ensure I got the most out of the experience and I was fortunate to attend with my Director, Ali Hancock and CEO, Mark Dowd which was a great opportunity for me to connect and share ideas with our senior leaders.
What did you think of the Congress? What were the highlights for you? Can you tell us about 2-3 things you took away from that experience that will assist you back in the council?
I thoroughly enjoyed the Congress. It was my first time attending a Congress like this.
Content wise, highlights for me were keynote speakers Holly Ransom and Lt David Morrison. My CEO, Mark Dowd has spoken about Lt Morrison’s ‘leading from the front’ presentation during our recent town hall (all staff meeting), bringing the stories of Lt Morrison’s time as Chief of Army working with Elizabeth Broderick (Sex Discrimination Commissioner at the time). Part of the message was finding the big problem and standing next to it. This message has been ringing around my head, and Mark’s head, since the Congress. It’s about courage, and I feel I am becoming a courageous leader in my workplace.
Holly Ransom does speaking presentations for organisations on strategy, insight and capability and I have recommended her as a fantastic town hall presenter for the City of Onkaparinga. She ignited conversation and excitement throughout all levels of delegates, injecting energy into the Congress.
I have returned to work newly energized and motivated. I found the networking and presentations interesting and valuable to my organisation and to me. I have a fresh outlook on how I, as a young leader, am able to influence and impact my daily interactions. This will be immediately beneficial to my team and organisation. I will share my learnings wherever and with whomever I can and look forward to continuing to develop as a leader in local government.
Finally, how do you spend your leisure time outside of local government?
I am a fairly active person, I love playing social netball, hiking, running, cycling and walking my handsome dog Archibald. I do all of this activity to counter my great passion for food and wine. I often travel to seek new food and wine experiences around SA and the world.