Netting new leadership skills

By Rebecca Jennings

Two weeks roughing it in the Kimberley was a world away from their roles in the fishing industry, but it laid the foundations for a journey Katherine Sarneckis and Kate Brooks will never forget.

Both were FRDC-supported graduates of the most recent round of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP), a 17-month initiative that equips participants with skills to advance and support their industries and communities.

They joined 27 other established leaders from a cross-section of industries, including farming, telecommunication, natural resource management, research, government and community engagement.

As the youngest-ever chief executive officer of the Northern Territory Seafood Council (NTSC), Katherine Sarneckis embraced the opportunity for professional and personal development and exposure to national and international issues affecting rural Australia.

She has been involved in the seafood industry since 2005, after moving from Adelaide to Darwin. By 2008, at just 29 years of age, she was in the top job at the NTSC, which represents 260 license holders in the wild catch, aquaculture, retail and wholesale sectors.

While some experiences were confronting – such as visiting rural India and meeting homeless people in Sydney – Katherine Sarneckis says the ARLP equipped her with leadership strategies she says will benefit her role in the industry.

“The ARLP gave me the confidence to recognise the value of what we are doing in the seafood industry, to step outside our traditional scope and to initiate new projects, such as developing a book to showcase the NT industry. The program also opened my eyes to new links with tourism, the community and other food industries.”

Katherine Sarneckis is already using skills learned from her leadership program to improve seafood networks.

One continuing challenge is understanding her own ability, as a leader, to influence productive engagement with the community and to work with – not against – people.

“The seafood industry has strong science to support our activities, but facts alone are not enough to gain community support. Exposure to other industries through the ARLP made me think about how we can sustainably promote our sector. I am now exploring new opportunities to engage and educate the community.”

Kate Brooks manages the FRDC’s Social Sciences Research Coordination Program, which identifies social and economic issues facing the seafood industry and works with researchers, industry and government to develop and deliver research projects aimed at providing solutions.

She says the ARLP exposed her to a multitude of experiences and ways of viewing the world, working with different people, solving problems and approaching challenges.

“My participation and experiences from the program have further developed my leadership style to be more enquiring, open and embracing of those around me and opportunities that may exist,” Kate Brooks says.

Kate Brooks in the Kimberley as part of her Australian Rural Leadership Program experience.

“I am using skills I developed through the ARLP to work with Australian and international researchers and agencies to improve how we integrate economic and social dimensions into the well-established ecological management practices of industry and government.

“Our ambition is to improve the Australian community’s understanding of how the industry operates and is managed, and their perceptions of the responsible stewardship of Australia’s aquatic and marine resources.”

Katherine Sarneckis and Kate Brooks both credit the ARLP with a better understanding of their own management styles, strategies for effective leadership, and skills such as influencing conversations to achieve positive outcomes.

Kate Brooks says the ARLP has increased her confidence in her roles with the FRDC, the South Australian Fisheries Research Advisory Council and the New South Wales Marine Estate Expert Knowledge Panel.

Katherine Sarneckis is also extending her leadership skills as she embarks on a new challenge as one of 16 NT business ambassadors.

The ARLP does demand a large investment of time (59 contact days including an international trip plus individual study) but it is a learning experience both women wholeheartedly recommend to other established leaders in the industry.

The FRDC has sponsored 35 ARLP participants since 1993, as well as three participants in the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s TRAILblazers program. FRDC projects manager – research Jo-Anne Ruscoe says leadership development is an important investment that leads to improved personal leadership skills and therefore organisational, systemic and societal pay-offs in the longer term.

“The FRDC believes its investment in the ARLP develops people who have a greater appreciation of other rural industries and the opportunity to build partnerships in rural communities.”

Applications for course 22 of the ARLP open in February 2014. 

FRDC Research Code: 2012-400

More information

Australian Rural Leadership Foundation