By Catherine Norwood
It’s not often a leader can take time out from trying to get things done to reflect on and develop their own leadership skills. But doing so can make their leadership efforts much more effective.
That’s the philosophy underpinning the highly regarded Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP), and an important consideration for the FRDC in sponsoring program participants.
Leaders working in the fisheries and research arenas are negotiating the complex management of publicly owned and shared resources. They are also supporting rural and regional communities, where leadership skills can be less prevalent, but are critical to the long-term sustainability of these communities.
“It is the shared resource that unites us,” says Jo-Anne Ruscoe, who oversees the FRDC’s national people development initiatives. “And it takes good leadership and communication skills to connect the research and extension with policy and community expectations.”
The current ARLP group – cohort 22 – includes two FRDC-sponsored participants: Tim Lester, executive officer of the Council of Rural Research and Development Corporations, and Lowri Pryce, executive officer of OceanWatch Australia.
Tim Lester’s role puts him in a unique position, working across Australia’s 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations as they drive the innovation to improve our primary industries.
OceanWatch has also been highly successful in connecting research, commercial fishers and the general community to improve environmental outcomes and industry practices, and Lowri Pryce has been an integral part of this success.
Tim Lester and Lowri Pryce began their 15-month program in May 2015 with two weeks in the Kimberley, and it officially concludes in September 2016 in Perth.
Tim Lester says it has been personally challenging, while creating space to think about and test different aspects of leadership. “It’s not often that you have the opportunity to take such a large chunk of time to reflect on how you can do things better.”
While the program addresses skills leaders need, such as negotiation, problem solving, presentation and media engagement, he says it also offers insight into the importance of recognising different personal and cultural perspectives.
For him, this has included a much greater awareness of Australia’s traditional owners and their ancient and modern history, as well as current interactions. A session in Indonesia also highlighted sensitivities that need to be addressed for effective international engagement and exchange.
Lowri Pryce says she has found the ARLP to be an amazing and intensive learning experience. “For me the highlight has been the very inspiring group of people doing the program with me.
“Leadership issues are so broad they cross all sectors, but it always comes back to the people and how we work with others.” Lowri Pryce says it has also given her a new appreciation for the role of women in leadership and gender dynamics in leadership.
“I think I’ve benefited from the program already, but the intent is to give you lifelong skills that will help you to continue to grow. There’s not a fixed outcome at the end of the course.”
The FRDC has sponsored another two participants in the ARLP’s 23rd cohort: Alex Ogg, operations manager at the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC), and Helen Jenkins, executive officer of the Australian Prawn Farmers’ Association.
Alex Ogg says he hopes the program will help him to become more effective in his specific role at WAFIC, and more broadly across the fisheries sector.
“There are decisions being made at state, national and international levels that will affect the ability of fishers to continue accessing the resource. It has become a highly competitive resource-sharing environment. I want to be able to connect the dots across different aspects of our sector, and with our many stakeholders.”
Helen Jenkins says she hopes the course will help to expand her thinking and views. “I want to be equipped with skills to navigate a journey of growth for Australia’s prawn farm industry and to be more effective at influencing key decision makers to allow this to happen,” she says.
Applications are already open for the 24th ARLP course, which will run from August 2017 to October 2018. The program is for established leaders and involves six sessions – one online and five residential sessions totalling 54 days, over 15 months. A competitive application process applies and scholarships of $55,000 are provided, with participants contributing $5500 to the cost.
The Australian Rural Leadership Foundation runs several other programs for emerging leaders, including the Australian Agribusiness Leadership Program, TRAIL for emerging leaders, and client-specific programs.