Apr 3 / Emma Broomfield

Six essential political skills for local councillors

What makes a great elected representative?

This might be a question you are asking yourself if you are contemplating putting your hat in the ring for the one of the upcoming local government elections in Australia. This includes local council elections in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria during 2024. 

To be effective in their role, local councillors first need to know what is required of them (i.e. their job description) and second, they need to have the skills and knowledge to do the job (i.e. the know-how). In this article, we explore what this means and how you can build your self-awareness around whether you have the know-how to do the job well.

The job description

It may come as a surprise to find out that there is no official job description for a local councillor. However, you do occupy a position of civic office which has specific statutory obligations. The specifics will differ in each jurisdiction. This is as close to a job description as you will find and it is critical that you have an in-depth understanding of these statutory roles and responsibilities. 

When we are carrying out induction training for councillors in New South Wales, as a starting point, we point to the roles and responsibilities of a councillor in the Local Government Act 1993. This includes the role as an individual councillor and as part of the governing body. as well as the separate responsibilities of the Mayor. Next, we highlight the principles of local government in the legislation and remind councillors of the oath or affirmation of civic office they took after their election. This is the broad statutory framework in which councillors need to govern with the NSW Office of Local Government Councillor Handbook providing further guidance on this framework.

For other jurisdictions, there will be similar statutory frameworks and if you are elected, it is essential you understand the legal framework in which you are governing on behalf of your community. 

The skills and knowledge needed

The statutory framework provides the bones, but what are the actual skills and knowledge that are needed to succeed in civic office? The list of skills and attributes in the Office of Local Government Induction and Professional Development Guidelines is a useful resource. It outlines five areas and provides a list of detailed skills and personal attributes that are needed for the role of a councillor and also the Mayor in NSW. 

When creating personalised learning plans for councillors as part of our professional training services, we use these Guidelines as the basis of an initial skills audit. We think the Guidelines are a bit light on a couple of areas, so we have added two extra areas about specific knowledge of the relevant legislation as well as self-care in political leadership.

Another useful resource is the Local Government Association of the UK toolkit on Political Skills Framework. This framework identifies six core skills for a councillor. Whilst the legislative framework is different in the UK to Australia, the Framework is helpful for understanding the specific skills required to be a successful councillor.

The Framework acknowledges that councillors by their very nature have strong leadership instincts and there is a need to continuously develop these skills to meet the changing environment. It also recognises that there is ‘no one best way’ to be a councillor. This reflects the reality that each councillor will bring a unique set of knowledge, lived experience, skills and qualifications to the role. Each councillor will also perform their role differently based on their values and way of seeing the world and their community. Importantly, it also recognises that there are universal characteristics of a good and bad councillor.

Local leadership

This refers to a councillor’s skill in engaging with members of the community to understand local needs and help facilitate a vision for the community. It includes building trust and being a role model for good leadership within the community.

Collaborating with others

This refers to a councillor’s skill in building good relationships with others. This includes other councillors, staff, community groups and other stakeholders.

Effective communication

This refers to a councillor’s skill in communicating effectively in a range of different environments with a variety of people using different types of media. It includes the ability to sensitively listen, empathise and express views clearly.

Political understanding

This refers to a councillor’s skill in being able to influence and persuade others, whilst maintaining their own values and integrity. It includes promoting participation in democratic processes and engagement opportunities, and collaborating across the political divide.

Scrutiny and challenge

This refers to a councillor’s role in acting as a “critical friend”, providing challenging but constructive feedback to council staff and being able to critically analyse information and make informed decisions


This refers to a councillor’s role in making decisions and is the more judicial part of the job. This includes understanding legal responsibilities, following policies and Codes of Conduct and making sure council is making progress against its promises. 
For each core skill, the Framework then identifies specific desirable and undesirable behaviours of councillors. These behaviours reflect current community attitudes and expectations about what makes a good councillor and have been compiled after an extensive survey. It would be unrealistic to think that every councillor can excel in every area. But, on balance, excellent councillors should demonstrate far more positive characteristics than negative.

The Framework provides an empowering starting point for aspiring candidates and current councillors to reflect on their skills. Are you curious to see where you stand against this Framework? Complete our complimentary online reflection tool and discover whether you've got the skills to step into political leadership.

Never miss our news.
Subscribe to our newsletter!

Thank you!
Created with