We spoke to LG Professionals, SA member and Executive Assistant to CEO & Mayor at Mount Barker District Council, Sue Miller on building, managing and protecting her personal brand.
What is your brand and how have you come to establish it to what it is today?
My brand is my reputation and my ability to influence. Protecting it is incredibly important to me. I’ve established it by being informed, consistent, ethical and kind. My brand gives me confidence to act with purpose and be self-directed, especially when I’m under pressure. I believe my brand is built upon value adding for my community and helping my colleagues achieve that outcome, too. I don’t just show up, I show up joyful.
What were the benefits of doing the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) and what has that led to?
The ELP reinforced for me the value of reflection, as it has a strong focus on emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and understanding how underlying assumptions impact on decision making and team processes. I enjoyed working through my Team Management Profile, and articulating my story, including future planning. My CEO supporting my participation, and including me in our Leadership Group (third level managers) despite my not having any direct reports, has given me professional courage, which gives me a more strategic outlook, and in turn strengthens my ability to deliver and execute ideas.
I encourage conversations around the potential EAs have, to influence within council and be agents for change. Having done the ELP in 2015, I recognise EAs are strong in the areas of emotional intelligence and relationship management, and recommend managers give thought to what could be achieved by exposing EAs to leadership training.
I am fortunate to work with managers and colleagues who trust my judgement and give me opportunities to be involved in projects and expand my influence without delegated or positional authority.
Personal brand and the influence it has had on people, the workplace and council
My preferred working style is one of being in the background, but I now appreciate I have a responsibility to my colleagues, community and self to share my experience and knowledge, because I have learnt the most, and developed professionally the most, from others who have done just that with me. In 2014 I established our Administrative Excellence Group (AEG), comprised of PAs to GMs and administrative officers at Mount Barker District Council, to share knowledge and experience. I try to promote via AEG a collaborative, rather than competitive, mindset.
I have in the past done an intervention to the CEO with a PA colleague when we saw that a project had the potential to seriously impact on one of council’s external communication tools. This was risky, but because of my brand, my presence in his office suggested I would not have been there asking for this course of action if it wasn’t important. This reinforced my brand, my capacity for problem solving, the extent of my influence, and the quality of my relationships. I have been able to preserve relationships across council because my brand reinforces that my motivation is to provide a direct community benefit.
In July last year Mount Barker District Council jointly hosted with Adelaide Hills Council a meeting of the Local Government Chief Officers’ Group (comprised of CEOs/GMs in LG from across Australia and New Zealand). Our CEO, Andrew Stuart, asked me to be part of the meeting and share my experience navigating the Mayor/CEO relationship – the duality of the role and the political mindset. Addressing 83 CEOs from across the country was very high risk in terms of reputational damage if I fluffed it, but I took courage from Andrew’s faith in my brand. I figured if I’m going to fail, fail spectacularly! I proposed the LG COG establish a national Executive Assistants group, which was supported. I was honoured and humbled that Mount Barker hosted 53 Executive Assistants from Australia and New Zealand at the inaugural Local Government Chief Officers’ Group Executive Assistants’ Alliance (LG COG EAA) meeting on 12 April, and it will be an annual event.
“My brand is my reputation and my ability to influence. Protecting it is incredibly important to me.”
My legacy. What is yours?
A member of my immediate family has been undergoing treatment for a serious illness, which has generated many discussions around what kind of legacy this person will leave (personally and professionally).
Our AEG is my professional legacy, as is the inaugural LG COG EAA.
Having leaders in our organisation who are willing to educate and coach, guide and encourage EAs and PAs to be involved to a greater level in delivering on their objectives is another. Without this, the level of effective support to colleagues to enable them to deliver measurable community benefit is perhaps diminished, and the real potential of EAs/PAs may not be realised.
Changing mind models around administrative roles I hope will be another legacy. EA networks and administrative roles have the potential to be levers in mitigating silos in councils. Perhaps the unrecognised power of EA networks lies in keeping the boundaries of teams flexible, particularly as our council grows. I hope EAs and managers recognise EAs are well placed to move between silos, translating messages in non-technical language up, down and sideways. You do need specialist areas, but as EAs we are well-positioned to see overlaps, underlaps and issues falling between the cracks.
Inspire and encourage others to think more about their brand
Trust, delegation and communication flows from management, and is often facilitated by EAs/PAs. Working relationships don’t just happen – they take time and investment. Please consider investing in your administrative personnel’s professional development and building their brand. Hopefully they also recognize it’s critical to remaining relevant and building their reputation. In our council, pressure from growth means a higher degree of flexibility and professionalism is required from our AEG.
As EAs we have advisory rather than operational responsibilities; we provide a valuable service to others; it’s difficult to measure our performance in productivity terms and justify expenditure associated with training – generally we are facilitating the productivity of others!
If you have an assistant who you think value-adds, please acknowledge their contribution by being their champion and supporting their professional development, and encouraging involvement in projects – it will ensure credibility and build capacity in council.
If you are inspired by Sue’s story, her commitment and passion towards her role, we encourage you to connect with Sue on LinkedIn.