This month we speak with Trevor Smith, CEO of the District Council of Tumby Bay.
Trevor talks about the importance of taking time out to focus on planning for the future, why ongoing professional development is essential and also highlights the exciting projects in the pipeline for Tumby Bay.
Hi Trevor, thanks for speaking with us.
What’s your current role?
I am currently the Chief Executive Officer at the District Council of Tumby Bay and have been in this role since 2013.
Where were you before? What is your work background/career path so far?
I have been employed as a CEO and in corporate/governance roles in seven local governments across South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria. I have also worked in the Victorian Department of Local Government, mainly on policy development, grants and legislation.
In the local governments that I have worked for there has been a range in population from 700 (Mukinbudin, WA) to 40,000 (Wellington, Vic) and a range in area from 1,500 sq km (Mount Alexander, Vic) to 121,000 sq km (Wyndham East Kimberley, WA).
Working in local government over the past thirty years; and especially in Victoria before, during and after the Jeff Kennett inspired amalgamations; I have concluded that the expression "may you live in interesting times" (an English expression purported to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse) was probably the working title of the first Local Government Act.
What motivates you? What are you most passionate about in local government?
It is rewarding to work with communities and help them achieve their goals. I recently attended the Local Government Professionals Australia congress in Hobart and heard David Morrison quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. In local government the culture of the community is always going to dictate the extent that a council can help them achieve their goals.
I recently spoke at a Tumby Bay Progress Association meeting and told them what a pleasure it was to work with a group of people who want to take ownership of their own initiatives to improve their community.
Small wins, like delivering projects that the community has asked for, can be infinitely more rewarding than building a multi-million dollar piece of infrastructure that might be vital, but it’s just expected to be in place without anyone actually requesting it.
What is the most exciting initiative that your Council is currently involved in?
For sheer potential the proposed port at Cape Hardy, located between Port Neill and Tumby Bay, could be the most exciting and economically significant development in South Australia in recent years. Cape Hardy forms part of the multi-billion dollar Iron Road proposal for an iron-ore mine, railway and export facility.
Importantly the federal government are examining linking the port to the national rail network. With third party access to the port for grain and other bulk exports, and with the potential for container movements, this facility could be an important cog in freight movement patterns in Australia for many years.
From time to time it's important to take time out, reflect on what's important and plan for the future. How do you motivate your team to take time out to work ‘on the business’ or rather just ‘in’ it?
At Tumby Bay I’ve been incredibly lucky to have inherited an executive team who understand the importance of planning for the future as well as fulfilling the daily requirements of running a local government. We all understand the benefits of continually improving our internal processes and in working with our immediate neighbours and with local governments across the Eyre Peninsula.
We are more focussed on incremental improvements than a transitional change. And while the opportunities for extended naval gazing are rare, if the organisational culture is to always be on the lookout for how we can do something better, then change will happen. Opportunities are all around us. Our minds need to be accepting and open to change.
The shock and awe tactics of populist politics (think amalgamations and rate capping) may force rapid change but not all change is beneficial to our communities.
How do you personally take the time to do this? How do you balance the ‘urgent’ vs the ‘important’?
This is where having good people in your team is vital. And it’s not the size of the organisation it’s the quality and the culture. If your employees are given the freedom to undertake their work and take responsibility for their actions, including the odd mistake, it’s amazing how much time that frees up. And you will have a happier and more productive workforce.
Don’t micro-manage. If you’ve delegated a task don’t look over shoulders. But make sure that employees know you are there to provide assistance when needed. And give your employees at least one ‘get out of jail free’ card. Our council recently had a three minute special meeting to correct a ‘typo’ in the rate setting statement. Shit happens – get over it and move on.
How important is taking time out for professional development - from both a personal and organisational point of view?
Professional development is essential. Time and money should be allocated to ensure that employees can keep up to date with industry best practice and legislative changes, and to interact with peers in the sector. Training is an investment – not an expense.
When a CEO tells me that they can’t afford one or two days out of the office – it makes me wonder what happens to their organisation when they go on leave.
On a personal level I’m just finishing an MBA undertaken in my own time. I hope I am always learning, whether formally or sub-consciously. And at the rate I forget things there should be plenty of room in the brain for new stuff.
Do you or your staff members attend any LG Professionals, SA events or programs? What has your experience been of these programs from a CEO perspective?
LG Professionals, SA events are like any training - some programs will appeal and some will not. The National Congress and Business Expo is traditionally always good and, importantly, always looking to improve. That’s also true of the State based events. If you, or your staff, aren’t attending then tell LG Professionals, SA why.
Rural Councils often need to look at innovative solutions due to cost pressures and lower staff numbers. What’s an example of an innovation or innovative thinking that you’ve seen during your time at Tumby Bay?
Since I’ve been at Tumby Bay there has been a focus on shared services with our neighbours. This is an incremental process and to date has only been undertaken on a needs and benefits basis rather than being a philosophical journey.
On a larger scale the Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association and The Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure recently signed a memorandum of understanding to examine the delivery of shared services. This has great potential for all local governments on the Eyre Peninsula to achieve significant savings and improve our capabilities and capacities by working with DPTI; initially on maintenance items but with the potential to extend to more significant works.
Finally, how do you spend your leisure time outside of local government?
Hang on; I just need to google this ‘leisure’ thing.
Dictionary definition: time free from the demands of work or duty, when one can rest; enjoy hobbies or sports, etc.
OK. That would be bowls, actually a lot of bowls including a week at country carnival in Adelaide each year. Fishing - in Tumby Bay that’s practically compulsory. Walking - I try to walk for one hour a day to unwind and think (or stop thinking). Our National Parks are brilliant - spent a few days walking through Wilpena Pound a couple of years ago, doesn’t get more relaxing.
And under the terms of my contract I’m obliged to tell you all to holiday on the Eyre Peninsula. No seriously it’s really good.