So many senior people in local government have told us how much they rely on the all-round wonderfulness of their executive and personal assistants that we were keen to learn more. We put out a call to hear about those helpers who pile through the work, keep those around them grounded and save their bacon. Here are some of the best accolades we received.
Horowhenua District Council
Natasha is self-motivated, hardworking and intelligent. She is organised and integral to the success of my team. The support that she provides me and the team is invaluable. I trust Natasha. I’m very comfortable around her and can rely on her to deliver especially when we are under pressure. She is customer-focused and an excellent team member. From the first day I started working with Natasha I saw in her a willing partner: someone I can run to when in trouble, lost or when I want an honest opinion and so far she has not let me down. She has provided me with the environment and the comfort zone that allows me to perform and accomplish my tasks.
– Infrastructure Services.
Thames-Coromandel District Council
I often say that Lisa D’Souza is the chief executive at Thames- Coromandel District Council (TCDC). It’s a joke but anyone with an excellent PA like Lisa will know that I’m not too far off the mark. Things that bring me to a bumbling mess like juggling meetings, invites, times, flights, she relishes with delight and ease. I ask her sometimes if she actually likes that stuff. She does – to her it’s problem-solving. Lisa’s insights into the people, problems and issues that flow past the door or arrive in emails are an integral part of my wider advice team. Lisa runs the TCDC ‘Culture Club’ cross-organisation team who bring fun, activities, recognition events and our values through the life of the organisation. An ingredient to her excellence is also taking a personal commitment to growing a great organisation that she and we want to work in.
David Hammond, Chief Executive.
New Plymouth District Council
I wouldn’t be on time anywhere without my executive assistant Sally Flintoff. She’s my additional brain and organiser who keeps me up to speed with who I’m meeting, where I’m meant to be and what I need to take with me – I’d be turning around in circles without her. She also makes sure I eat, bless her – but best of all, Sally laughs at my jokes.
Mayor Andrew Judd.
Westland District Council
If there is one skill that Diane Maitland has in abundance it’s the ability to read minds, says Tanya Winter, chief executive of Westland District Council. Tanya has worked with Diane for just over two years and describes her as having “a fabulous knack of anticipating my every need”.
Diane is executive assistant and provides direct support not only to Tanya, but the whole executive team, and the mayor and councillors.
“You would not believe Diane’s position description,” says Tanya. “While her title is executive assistant, Diane (or Di as she is fondly called by many) also provides democratic support, administers the HR function, and manages the council website, amongst many, many other responsibilities.”
Di started work for Westland County Council just out of school in April 1983. She lived through the amalgamation in 1989 and has worked at the district council ever since. She has supported three chief executives and four mayors in her time.
Tanya says her knowledge of the organisation and the district is invaluable. “Moving to a new district is both exciting and challenging. Having Di supporting me was like having my own Westland Encyclopaedia Britannica. She knows everything and everyone.”
Tanya admits to feeling a bit nervous when she first started at Westland and learnt that Di had been there for almost 30 years. “There were moments before I arrived when I wondered if we would get along, and whether she would like me. It is really important to me to have a good rapport with my EA.”
Tanya was pleasantly surprised. “I have made a lot of change in the past two years, and I have been amazed at not only how receptive Di was to that, but also how many good ideas were lurking inside her, just waiting to get out.”
Tanya believes the secret to her and Di’s good relationship is honesty, good coffee and having a laugh. “No matter how busy we get, we have a ritual on a Friday morning. We take ourselves out of the office, to our favourite café, and we have a coffee and share a scone. We debrief on the week gone, and look ahead to what is coming up. I look forward to that time every week.”
The test of their relationship came when Di took a long break over Christmas. “I nearly phoned her and asked her to come in for a coffee with me. Funnily enough when Di came back I learnt that she’d thought about ringing me too.”
My PA Wendy Thompson-Cole is a real gem. She has a thoroughly professional approach and works diligently to ensure that my role leading a very large planning department is as easy as possible. Wendy stays calm under pressure and makes sure my complex diary runs smoothly. It is not unusual for Wendy to have to deal with competing requests for my time – from politicians, external customers or other parts of the wider council family. She juggles my diary to ensure priorities are dealt with first and does so in a manner which is polite but firm. She has a real passion for sharing her skills and the tools she uses with other PAs across council and I often get really positive comments on how helpful this informal coaching is. We work well together as a team. She’s a top PA.
Penny Pirrit, General Manager,
Plans and Places,
Chief Planning Office.