Navigating the Political Management Relationship for Senior Managers - Places are limited to 25

This one-day workshop for all senior managers reveals the management choices CEs, senior managers - and those aspiring to a senior management career in New Zealand Local Government – have working at “the apex” to lead successful and effective political-management organisations. It outlines how to develop and negotiate effective strategies for success in a political-management career.

  • 12 Jun
  • ‘The West Wing’ - SOLGM Offices, 85 The Terrace, Wellington, Wellington
  • 9.00 am - 5.00 pm
  • $600.00 excl. GST. for members
  • $700.00 excl. GST. for non-members
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Effective working relationships between elected and appointed officials are the basis of effective local governance. Such relationships lead to successful political and managerial careers. Yet - the most important relationship - that between the Mayor and Chief Executive, is one of the least understood.

Who Should Attend:

This programme is for senior manager and will give participants an insight into:

  • What makes for an effective working relationship between the CE and the Mayor. Using excerpts of video conversations between CEOs and Mayors in Australian Local Government we see how successful and effective pairs develop their working relationship. These videos were taken as part of executive development programs for LG Professionals, SOLGM’s sister organisation.
  • What ‘political acumen’ looks like in different circumstances and contexts. Taking local government “Critical incidents” different approaches will be examined, to decide what approaches to take
  • How to respond to the unexpected and to negotiate effective political-management working relationships.

Programme Overview:

On completion of the workshop, participants will be able to:

  • Differentiate between Government, Governance and Governing
  • Appreciate the overlapping spaces – political, management, professional
  • Develop insight into the world of the elected members: reading their political environment
  • Experience ‘Leadership at the Apex’ – the overlapping roles of officers and elected members
  • Learn how to ‘read the political environment’
  • Appreciate the choices we make in ‘carrying out our role’
  • Experience political acumen using the assessment model: ‘owl, fox, donkey, sheep’
  • Recognise and respond to ‘critical incidents’ (through political management case studies)
  • Develop personal strategies for navigating and negotiating the political management overlap


Local Government is a political management system where the overlapping roles and responsibilities of elected members and appointed officers are often in conflict. This is especially so when our system of local government is facing or experiencing major change. How each party negotiates their respective roles, and works together to be an effective team, is an ongoing challenge reflecting genuine local leadership creating the opportunity for local democracy. Senior managers have a key leadership opportunity in this regard, as do elected members.

Through his research and consulting with local governments in the Australia and internationally it is clear John believes that successfully negotiating these overlapping roles is crucial to success as a senior manager and as an elected member in local government.

Workshop objectives:

At the end of the workshop participants will be able to;

  • Contrast the subtleties of the nature of elected member-senior manager working relationships in local government;
  • Determine what needs to happen in their negotiating style for them to get to the type of relationship that enables them to be effective managers and elected members;
  • Develop a wider organisational understanding of the aspirations of their elected councillors such that they can engage with them in a constructive dialogue about how to achieve these outcomes; and
  • Recognise the leadership choices they have to influence the achievement of these outcomes.

Workshop process:

In this highly interactive workshop, including video interviews of CEO and Mayors from Australia, John demonstrates how successful CEOs negotiate with their Mayor over their respective roles and responsibilities. Notwithstanding what the legislation prescribes, this relationship is different in different councils, and is very much a function of the way those individuals who are the CEO and the Mayor see their role and act.

John engages participants in a conversation about what elected member, senior manager working relationships are like now, what the drivers of these relationships are, how effective they are, and if they were to change these relationships what would need to happen in the senior management team for this to occur.

The day is about enhancing leadership as a shared competency. Participants work in small groups, cabaret style. The joint participation of senior management teams will be a distinct advantage for team and individual development. After considering conceptual frameworks on political management relationships participants will analyse video interviews (from Australia) of CEOs and mayors negotiating their respective roles drawing on this material and the knowledge of participants. We will review and refine leadership styles and negotiating strategies participants can use to enhance effective working relations between politicians and managers to create and maintain good local government.

The important question we address is: How can mayors and CEOs develop effective working relationships ensuring good governance towards the provision of relevant, value for money services to their community?


8.30 - 9.00 REGISTRATION

Welcome; tea and coffee

9.00 Welcome and Introductions

Dr John Martin, Fellow, Local Government Managers Australia (Qld), Emeritus Professor, La Trobe University, Victoria

Critical incidents

Tension arises in local government when the respective parties – political and managerial - are “surprised” by an unexpected event. Being “put on the spot” and expected to respond without fully understanding what has happened or appreciating the context in which a decision is being called for quickly creates stress and tension. Such incidents are part of the landscape of local governance. The way in which local government leaders - elected members and senior managers - deal with such incidences determines the calibre of their leadership and management. In this opening session we review the characteristics of such incidents, identify those that we have experienced as a starting point to navigating and negotiating overlapping roles at the apex of local government.

Key Concepts

This session will outline the underlying concepts and ideas that help inform us of the choices we have in political management in local government, including:

  • ‘Leadership at the Apex’ – the overlapping roles of officers and elected members
  • Overlapping spaces – political, managerial, professional
  • ‘Reading’ political environments
  • The choices we make in ‘carrying’ out our role
  • The political-management ‘conversation’: Chatham House and ‘responsible gossip’
  • The world of the elected members: reading their political environment.
  • Political nous: owl, fox, donkey, sheep.

10.00 - 10.20 MORNING TEA

10.20 Political Management: Case Studies

In this session John will review the way managers and elected councillors ‘navigate the overlap’ through video clips of managers and elected politicians discussing their working relationship. The provide an insight rarely seen as to how leaders at the apex work to ensure their respective roles are clear and accountable.

12.00 - 1.00 LUNCH

1.00 Political Management: Making Choices

This session will return to the idea of ‘critical incidents’ encountered in political management. It provides the opportunity for participants to place in context the different choices managers they have in responding to these situations. What would you, as the responsible manager, do in this situation? What is it about the nature of these contexts? Drawing on the experience of workshop participants, John will help them address critical incidents typically encountered in local government management. From this analysis and discussion they will distil the range of responses available to managers.

3.00 - 3.20 AFTERNOON TEA

3.20 Developing political management strategies

This session involves a guided exercise – in which participants practice ‘reading’ and mapping the political landscape in their council.

The costs and benefits

In this session we will review the cost benefit analysis of undertaking a political management analysis of your council. Participants then work with representative case study councils from the workshop to identify criteria by which this assessment is carried out.

Political management across the organization

The final step will be to identify an organisation-wide approach to political management which involves officers and councillors and officers and external partners.

4.15 Concluding remarks

(and accessing available resources)

4.30 Close


  • Dr John Martin

    Professor Latrobe University

    The programme is facilitated by Dr John Martin, Fellow LGMA (Qld), Emeritus Professor from Latrobe University and Adjunct Professor in the Institute of Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra. John has over 35 years of experience working with senior managers and elected members in local government across all Australian states, New Zealand, and internationally for the World Bank, The Asian Development Bank, UNDP and AusAID.