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The right time to be a chief executive

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While we’ve all had conversations about the importance of place-shaping over the past few years, it has never been as important as it is now to grasp this concept and start to make a fundamental shift in the way we help shape our places.

Creating prosperous, sustainable and livable places is the key. It is the only answer to the massive financial policy and societal challenges we are facing.

That means understanding what really makes our communities tick - not just getting a feel for what residents are thinking and saying about us, but using sophisticated research and insight to build up robust evidence about how it really is in our streets and neighbourhoods.

Only then can we build the platform of trust we need (but in many places still don’t have) to begin to shift the pressures of demands for our services through behavioural change.

So how do we get there?

This is no time to be timid about change. In Coventry we are developing a radical vision for redefining what a local authority is, what it stands for and how we reshape our relationship with the people we serve and every individual and organisation that has an interest in our city.

This is not easy for any of us, but it is a crucial first step in changing our relationship with residents.

If we are brave enough to let go, we empower others. If we are not always the direct provider of services, we become catalysts for change.

If we don’t pretend to have all the answers all the time, we energise people to come up with some of the answers for themselves.

Above all, this calls for humility in leadership, and that is a big challenge to the many hardworking professionals in local government, some of whom in the past have been able to use the comfort blanket of structures, processes and governance to avoid taking risks or leaps into the unknown.

The challenge is as massive for managers, staff and councillors as it is for chief executives; but it is chief executives who need to lead this organisational change, inspire staff and convince elected members that radical shift is the only way ahead.

Maintaining the status quo in this climate is not going to lead to standstill - it will lead to regression at a time when we must not allow that to happen.

Solace will be debating and making sense of these complex issues at its perfectly timed summit in October in Coventry. This will be no talking shop - although there will be plenty of challenging conversations.

The summit will be a forum for us all to get into the heart of this necessary, but difficult debate as we begin to make the radical shift towards this new model of place leadership.

Who’d be a chief executive? As challenging and uncertain as it is, I cannot think of a better time to be a chief executive in local government.

Martin Reeves is senior vice-president, Solace and chief executive, Coventry City Council

The Solace Summit will be will be the UK’s largest gathering of local authority Chief Executives and senior managers. It will be held in Coventry between 16 and 18 October.

Book your place by emailing events@solace.org.uk or phoning 0845 652 4010.  You can pay over the phone by credit card or request an invoice. FInd out more at http://solacesummit2012.wordpress.com/bookings.

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