Steve McGrath

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Coffs Harbour City Council has a new General Manager coming on board in November. Steve Mcgrath has over 30 years’ experience in local government and is the former NSW manager of Morrison Low consultants. We find out what he’s looking forward to in his new role.

Tell us about your experience in the local government sector.

For 30 years I worked in local government, and approximately 18 of those years were spent as the General Manager of two Councils in New South Wales.

Through those senior management roles with local government, I developed well rounded skills in managing general purpose Council organisations, dealing with the myriad of issues that inevitably come up and also applying management and leadership skills in resolving issues for the organisation.

A couple of years ago I was looking for a change. I’ve always had an approach that in a very senior level there comes a time when the organisation probably needs a fresh face, and there are often times when the individual needs a change as well. So a couple of years ago, after I’d been at Singleton for 8 years, an opportunity presented to take on a consulting role with Morrison Low Consultants.

That has given me the opportunity to apply my skills in a very diverse way, servicing the Council clients that we’ve had. The sort of projects that I’ve been involved in range from operational issues right through to very strategic issues – in particular, looking at the new integrated planning and reporting requirements that have come about as a result of new legislation in New South Wales.

I guess it has kept me in touch with some of the diversity that makes local government what it is, and that’s something that keeps me really interested in local Council organisations.

> What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced so far working in local government?

There’s something that I remember coming across in my very early days when I was reading something for my degree. In the context of local government you can satisfy some of the people some of the time, but you will never satisfy all of the people all of the time. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for local government.

It’s about balancing the various needs and desires and trying to develop solutions that will deliver outcomes for the community as a whole. It’s about recognising that it is impossible in many ways to satisfy absolutely everyone all of the time.

I really do think that’s one of the biggest challenges for local government, not just for senior management, but for staff generally at the organisation and for the Councillors as well.

> What are you going to bring to your new role with the Coffs Harbour City Council?

To put this in context, Coffs Harbour City Council has a very good reputation in the local government sector. No doubt there has been and will continue to be a lot of really good work and good initiatives carried out in the organisation. That has come about by a real team effort of the organisation and really doesn’t rest with one individual.

While I’ve done a lot of reading and looked at things from outside, I guess my early need is to really come to understand the people and the organisation in more detail, and to look at how we can continuously improve on the good work that has already been done.

It’s about a long and intricate process of constantly striving for better outcomes and looking at how we can deliver services effectively and efficiently moving forward and recognising that there are some quite difficult constraints on local governments as far as raising revenue is concerned.

> On a personal level, what are you most looking forward to about the move here?

Considering my consulting role over the last couple of years has kept me extremely busy and stopped me from doing some of the things that I enjoy doing, I’m looking forward to getting a bit more time to do some exercise and recreation.

The beach environment on the Coffs Coast is quite good for that, so that’s number one. I’m also looking forward to taking an opportunity to familiarise myself with the area and to understand what it truly has to offer.

> What are you looking forward to most about the new position?

I’ll mention three things. Number one – the people. In my consulting role, what I’ve come to realise that I’ve really missed about the roles I’ve had previously as a General Manager is that you get that daily interaction with people. Now whether that be with the staff or community, that daily interaction and the diversity that goes with it is so important and so fulfilling.

Number two – I have this philosophy that whether it’s the Councillors or the senior managers or the staff, there is this real opportunity for us to work together effectively to create place.

What I mean by that is how we can create a better environment and a better social fabric for our community so that everyone is able to enjoy the outcomes more effectively moving forward.

The third thing, reflecting on the fact that Coffs has a very solid reputation in the local government sector, is looking at how we can continuously strive to elevate that and take it to the next level and move towards being leaders in the local government sector in New South Wales and Australia.

> Thank you Steve, and welcome to the Coffs Coast.

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