Now you're a councillor

Now you're a councillor

A site for women councillors in Victorian local government

Community leadership in a new environment…

Cr Sandra Wilson was first elected to Hobsons Bay City Council in October 2012 after a long time pondering the possibility of becoming a candidate. She was then re-elected in 2016 for a second term. She has served as Mayor twice in that time. Her community leadership skills have been applied and honed in the political environment of being a councillor.

There were a couple of milestones that led to me standing in 2012. I completed the VLGA’s Building Communities Leadership Program in 2006 and it made me question leadership at a local level, look at the whole election process, and evaluate how those who were elected represented the community. Leading up to the elections in 2012, the Think Women for Local Government Project activities finally pushed me over the line to try my hand at local politics. At the Project launch at the Melbourne Town Hall, it was great to see the diversity of the councillors. They were ordinary people, just like me!

A councillor should be someone of, and for, their community. A modicum of emotional and social intelligence doesn’t go astray, as the role of councillor is such an interface with people, listening to and responding to needs and expectations, and there is a lot of advocacy to other levels of government and agencies on behalf of your community.

Always being open to the learning that is available and constant reflection on experiences also helps guide you to be a good councillor.

Standing for election is daunting and it feels like your relationships change with the people close to you and with those in the wider community. Your motivation and values are frequently questioned, which I believe has something to do with the level of cynicism that has developed about people who aspire to political office.

I have always taken my role in the community very seriously. But standing for election was a different proposition as it belied a level of ambition I wasn’t sure I really possessed and it felt at odds with my values. In the end, I decided to stand because I wanted to make a difference.

I read through all the resources and I took them all in, but I didn’t know how it would work in practice and how I might respond to the challenges. As it turned out, I responded very well, though sometimes you have to dig deep and find your inner strength.

Think Women was an invaluable resource that supported my decision to stand and helped in my campaigning. Sometimes that extra push is necessary to give people the courage to stand up and be counted. Elected representatives are ordinary people who make the most of their self-belief and support to make the difference they really want to make.

I would have been all at sea without the VLGA resource book, A Gender Agenda. It told me what I should be doing “now” and how to get that support team together. These were stories of ordinary women making a difference in their communities. It was a source of practical and accessible information. I also found the Facebook group More Women for Local Government really useful. There was lots of sharing and instant feedback.

Staying true to my values and keeping focused on a positive campaign was paramount in both my campaigns, especially as the political environment can sometimes be combative.

Resilience is a quality that puts you in good stead to deal with any negative campaigning that rears its ugly head. You learn to fine tune as you go along and take on board advice from those more experienced than you.

Four years on council can seem like a long time. However, once you get into the cycle of strategy and policy development, councillor briefings and council meetings, not to mention all the events, community meetings and engagement that you do in the role, time can fly pretty quickly. There are projects that have commenced that you want to see to completion. There is advocacy that needs to continue.

After four years of learning the ropes, and seeking out support when I needed it, it seemed a natural step to continue the learning journey as a councillor for another term and to also support others on their journey.