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!
Director of Neighbourhood Services
Manchester City Council