What Does Place-Based Leadership Mean to Me?

What Does Place-Based Leadership Mean to Me?

Having lived in Manchester all my life, I love the character and diversity of the city. The city is made up of lots of different ‘places’. It has historically been at the forefront of new ideas, seen a lot of change and responded; demonstrating the city’s capacity to try new things.

Working for Manchester City Council, for the last 28 years in a number of roles across the organisation, has provided me with significant insight into what is important to residents, including children, young people and our staff and partners. Given this experience, I recognise the cyclical nature of public services whilst acknowledging that there is a right time and a right place for everything. Although, in Manchester there are times when we have led the way and done things ahead of our time!

I think there are a number of qualities that are important for successful place-based leadership. The emphasis is about understanding a place and what will ultimately benefit residents based on what matters to them, rather than being service driven. To fully understand a place we need to allow the time for staff to genuinely engage and listen to residents and the local members who represent the local areas. The ‘Our Manchester’ strategy designed in true partnership with residents and provides an excellent opportunity in Manchester to do just that.

A place-based approach recognises that one size doesn’t fit all and that services need to be flexible and responsive to the bespoke needs of different places. As a leader, you need the flexibility to dip in at a number of levels, from influencing and shaping the front line using an on-the-ground perspective of an area, to its relationship with the city-wide, bigger picture of how the whole place operates.

Leaders are not the sole custodians of good ideas. Your role is to cultivate and enable ideas from generations across the organisation and allow the testing of innovative approaches.

On reflection, if I could give myself one piece of advice early in my career, it would be not to restrict ideas by thinking too rigidly about the future. Things don’t necessarily turn out as you imagine – they change and develop and if you constrain your thinking to what you know, you reduce your ability to innovate and respond to change. Places change quickly and we have to be able to adapt to this. Some things that we are working on now, we would not have thought possible 5 years ago!

Fiona Worrall
Director of Neighbourhood Services
Manchester City Council 

There’s No Place Like Home

We thrilled to introduce the first in a series of blogs providing personal perspectives on what place-based leadership means. Leading from place is often talked about within  Leading GM as a shared goal to transform our places and communities from within. Engagement & Organisational Development Manager for Bolton at Home, Paula Whylie, shares her thoughts on what it means to lead from place.

There’s no place like home

I often get asked by colleagues “what is this #LeadingGM thing all about?” They are interested in why it’s seen as a different type of leadership programme and why it’s something Bolton at Home are keen to get involved in. I usually start by sharing the programme’s ambitions around leadership expectations.


Numbers 2 and 3 are sometimes followed by a quizzical look. This doesn’t surprise me, as it’s not language we use on a regular basis, it feels and sounds unfamiliar to most people. I’ve given some thought as to what ‘place’ means to me and considered if it fits with what we are trying to achieve within GM. I also invite you to share your thoughts.

The first thing that pops into my mind is ‘there’s no place like home’ which leads me to ‘home is where the heart is’. Think about when you are away from home. Even when it’s through choice, let’s say on holiday or working away, there usually comes a point when you start to yearn for familiar sights, sounds and smells around you and you may feel as though something is pulling you back. It could be friends, loved ones, or even in the case of my kids, Warburton’s bread. The fact that we don’t live in a house made of bread (ginger or otherwise), I suppose illustrates my thoughts around home being about place and belonging.

So what does leading from place mean?

Well for me, it’s still all about the heart. By this I mean it’s getting to the heart of how we can work with our communities to really understand what matters most, and what enables, or disables our communities to thrive. If you’ve ever watched ‘Marooned’ with Ed Stafford (adventurist and survivalist), you’ll know that his mission is to see if he is able to survive, or thrive in inhospitable and extreme environments. Worryingly, this concept is the mirrored reality within some of our GM communities. Only for some is it a much grimmer picture and we have to add another dimension to that: take a step back and acknowledge that for some, just surviving sounds like utopia.

Leading from place means thinking and working outside in, rather than the previously well intentioned inside out, which saw multiple organisations and sectors working within GM, sitting in numerous strategy meetings to solve the same problems in a much less connected way. Working outside in, supports the leading from place expectation. It supports cross sector working by focusing first on community needs and then using their combined experience, knowledge and resources to make smarter decisions which engage and empower people living in our communities. In this context, the place is seen as belonging to the people living there.

There’s no place like home.

Paula Whylie

Engagement & Organisational Development Manager
Business Unit
Bolton at Home