Local Government Lawyer Insight December 2018 LocalGovernmentLawyer 16 The Senior Solicitor gave me a final word of warning, "If you accept this job, you'll get more responsibility than you've bargained for." A month later I started my first job as Assistant Solicitor in Hart District Council's six-person legal team. It was then that he gave me the news, "I'm leaving in two days. This is all yours." There were challenges from the start. Although I was now the only solicitor, there were experienced legal staff within the team. They did not take kindly to having their correspondence checked and signed off by someone barely three months' qualified. There were also issues with other department heads. The Senior Solicitor had barely been on speaking terms with the Director of Planning. And he had no time at all for the Planning Enforcement Officer, a former army-major whom he detested. But over the following weeks I was able to repair those relationships and win the trust of my staff. So it was with some sadness that seven months later I had to hand over the reins to Charles Herbert, Hart's newly appointed Senior Solicitor. But I wouldn't have traded the experience for the world. That was in 1977. It was another 30 years before I was able to enjoy an equivalent level of responsibility. I stayed as Hart District Council's Assistant Solicitor for another two years until making a sideways shift to the Borough of Basingstoke and Deane, to be part of a bigger legal team. I was soon upgraded to Senior Assistant Solicitor but still had no management responsibility. Then I moved out of local government altogether. In 1984 I took a job at Unilever House to specialise in commercial conveyancing. Gaining that expertise enabled me to head the conveyancing function of a fledgling law firm occupying fifth floor offices in Gloucester Road, SW7. It worked exclusively for NHS clients and was owned by one Brian Capstick. Over the next four years I saw the firm grow. But matters came full circle when, in January 2000, I was appointed to a senior solicitor role with the London Borough of Sutton. My management breakthrough came in August 2007, when I was appointed leader of Sutton's eight-person Property, Contracts and Planning team. It was a post which I held for the next six years. More than money For me, management was the chance to make a difference in the way public services are delivered. It was certainly not about the money. The pay differentials were so miniscule as to be barely noticeable. And that was before tax and other stoppages. But it gave me the chance to put my own ideas into action instead of playing second fiddle to someone else's ideas. For anyone stepping into management for the first time, my advice is to think about your management priorities. Are they outward focussed? Are they about productivity, meeting client expectations and hitting targets? If not, what are they about? Many years ago, I attended a team- leaders' meeting. Out of the several team leaders present, I was the only one meeting his own operational targets. But the person chairing that meeting not impressed. "Charles. The only reason you are hitting your targets is that you are not doing enough management" He was very much a manager 's manager. His life was one of appraisals, management team meetings, one-to-ones; staff meetings; flip charts and bonding games. With so much going on, he had little time for operational work, let alone leadership. Of course such administrative tasks have to be done. They are part of the public sector manager's job. But what is the point of administrative box-ticking if the team itself is not delivering? Real management is about leadership. It is something which has to be earned. To provide effective leadership, one has to know the job. Not like the graduate chief constable who has never worked the streets. In my own case I was not only the team leader, I was also the most experienced conveyancer. Anyone who asked me a question would always get a constructive answer. Being in control also meant that I could try to do things differently. Does a scheduled two-hour team meeting really need to last two hours? All inte rnal meetings have a hidden organisational cost because they take staff away from the work which they are paid to do. Yes - the essential business has to be addressed during the course of the meeting. But there should be no scope for it to be side tracked. As the person chairing the meeting, only you have power to drive the agenda and prevent that from happening. Your staff will thank you. Leader or manager True leadership is not about telling staff how to do their jobs. Nor does it Hesitant about taking on management responsibilities? V. Charles Ward explains how it gave a real boost to his career, and gives some pointers for those taking their first steps. A chance to make a difference