Careers Advice: Enhancing local authority development management careers

Written by: Jonathan Sherlock
Published On: 16 Jul 2018

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Development management in a local authority is an exciting and fast-moving industry, particularly working in a growing area, or with large numbers of major strategic projects.

The career path of planners in this environment should be enjoyable and rewarding, as well as providing appropriate stretch and challenge. Local authorities can aid and support their planners by recognising areas for improvement and changing how they operate accordingly.

In particular, there is a key role for managers and heads of service in developing and retaining talent and in creating a suitable working environment for all staff to develop professionally.

Consider the team structure

Managers should facilitate high-quality peer support and mentoring, and the team structure should reflect this. Build the team around a ‘buddy system’ rather than the type/complexity of work or geographic area. At Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC), teams have been built around the sharing of knowledge, focusing on development rather than pigeon-holed to task or location.

Ensure delegated authority and competencies are in place

It is crucial that an appropriate level of delegation is given to planners at every level, from junior to principal, allowing them to act according to their experience and competency.  A competency matrix that allows management to track how a planner’s professional progression is very useful, as is a workbook to allow staff to record their progress against the standards set by the organisation.  It is also vital that management and senior officers spend time building a strong professional relationship with members, one built on trust and respect.

Start a graduate scheme

There is no better way of injecting enthusiasm and passion into a service area that a graduate scheme. In 2017 AVDC brought in four graduates into development management, with one appointed as a planner and another appointed as a planning policy officer before the end of their placement. We also expect the remaining two to secure roles within the organisation and we have seen a significant number of applications for the 2018 intake.

Consider the culture and environment created by the management and leadership team

Collectively set a mission statement that includes shared values and an ambitious vision through consultation with the whole team. We brainstormed as a team to produce a definitive description of our purpose, vision and values. These are revisited each week when we highlight team members who have demonstrated these in their work.

On-boarding new staff

When bringing new staff into the team, it's good practice to ensure they are aware of the type of team and organisation they are joining well before they first set foot in the building on their first day. It's sensible to share the values and vision of the team prior to the first day, and have them come in to meet other team members and begin the build an effective relationship with their manager. Even simple practices such as ensuring the IT and HR inductions go smoothly can make a huge difference to how valued new planners feel.

Invest in technology

There are lots of exciting technological developments in the planning industry currently, and it is crucial that planning managers embrace advancements in this area. This can include simple changes like making use of tablets for mobile working, large scale software upgrades to archaic planning systems and engaging in the emerging technology marketplace, such as augmented/virtual reality, automation and artificial intelligence. Managers within planning teams need to facilitate effective use and development of technology to improve the working environment for planners.

Recognise and celebrate success

One of the most important aspects to team management in the often challenging world of local government planning is to recognise and celebrate success. This can be as simple as highlighting a particular contribution of a team member, circulating a weekly report of positive involvement of the team in wider activities, or engaging with national awards events. Ultimately, managers should make staff feel that they are part of a successful team doing vital work to create amazing places for people to live.

Jonathan Sherlock is manager - built environment at Aylesbury Vale District Council