In conversation with Susan Parsonage: Leadership lessons from Lancaster City Council

Having previously worked at Ealing council, what leadership lessons have you been able to take with you to Lancaster?

  • Strong partnerships across organisations are key to changing outcomes for communities. However, partnership is an easy word to say and can be challenging to implement but when done well the impact can be transformational.
  • Effective solutions to issues are not always the most obvious – important to be open to different approaches, views and perspectives.
  • Prioritise and focus on delivering.
  • Trust is imperative and build trust through words and actions. Active listening can be undervalued, yet it’s vital.
  • Empowering staff is crucial to the success of teams and collaboration.

How do you think public sector leaders can ensure their recruitment strategy is properly aligned with the needs of their organisation?

Important to be clear on the goals and ambitions of the organisation in the short, medium and long term. To understand what skills the organisation currently has and what skill gaps there are in the light of the ambitions. Especially so, given that more councils are moving forward with commercialisation and investment strategies. In the recruitment of staff be clear on what the organisation needs and where the organisation is, on their trajectory, and the values that underpin the ways of working. Moreover, that there is a level of flexibility in an organisation – it’s not always necessary to appoint on a substantive basis, certain specialist skills may only be required for a fixed period and be open to that.

Local authorities are currently going through some challenging times. What qualities and skills do you think local leaders need to ensure their organisations can thrive?

  • Growth and learning mind-set along with flexible and creative thinker
  • Solution focussed and problem solver
  • Think jointly across organisation and administrative boundaries when defining ambitions and finding solutions
  • Resilience and tenacity for the inevitable times of adversity
  • Strategic flexibility to respond to different priorities

 What will be your key priorities for the remainder of the year?

  • Embedding the new Executive Leadership Team and shaping the organisation to deliver on new council plan.
  • Make progress on key regeneration projects to ensure transformation of district e.g. Canal Quarter; Heysham commercial site; Garden Village and Eden North.
  • Continue to make the most of partners such as Lancaster University and Chamber and strategic locations such as Heysham Port.
  • Take further action on tackling inequalities e.g. learn from Poverty Truth Commission and take forward community wealth building.
  • Drive efficiencies; investment and commercialisation strategies to ensure meet funding gaps and reinvestment into services that residents want.
  • Promote narrative and brand for the area, building a strong network and coalition of local ambassadors

Susan Parsonage is the Chief Executive of Lancaster City Council, and will be speaking in more depth about how local authority leadership can be developed to face the challenges of the future, at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 20 November. To register or find out more, please click here.