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Spotlighting our crowned Rising Stars and Corporate Directors of the Year

Every June, the Local Government sector comes together to recognise the work of over one million Local Government Officers and over twenty thousand Elected Representatives through the MJ Awards. The awards are not just a celebration of success stories. They are also an opportunity for Local Government officers to showcase their achievements, learn from their peers, and advance their careers. Up and coming talent and experienced leaders are all encouraged to enter and receive the ultimate recognition for contributions to the public sector.


Penna's Rachael Morris took the opportunity to talk to some of the past winners of the Rising Star award and the Corporate Director of the Year award to understand what winning the award meant to them and their careers. To win the award, Local Government professionals are nominated, often by their teams or whole organisations, and are then judged by a panel during the secondary submission and interview process, before they are found to be crowned the winner.

Talking with our winners, the theme of 'why and purpose' was clearly something they all figured out very early on in their careers. Their passion for what they do was infectious, and when the calls ended there was a real lift in the mood, with their minds racing at what they could achieve next. Hopefully this article gets readers inspired about their own next steps.

It is no surprise that some of the Rising Stars and Corporate Directors of the Year have already progressed in their careers since winning their respective award. In fact, 60% of the Rising Stars have been promoted and 50% of Corporate Directors of the Year have progressed to Chief roles. So, it seems winning the award is beneficial for career development prospects.

These 'best in class' stars were crowned as some of the finest in the sector, and their secrets to success need to be shared, bottled, and re-sold. All winners were very humble with their win, remarking that they didn't think they had done anything overly special, and that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. They each reflected on how the strength of others had made them successful, making these winners real team players!

The Rising Star award is open to anyone who has worked in local government for less than five years. Rising Star winners Katie and Grace both said that they had great mentoring from their managers, crediting much of their success to this. Being given the time and investment from a manager in the early stages of their work has not only paid off for their own achievements, but also the achievements of the teams that they either lead or work with, as they are passing the positive leadership and mentoring approach on to others. Katie also mentioned she had some coaching from an external source who was helpful in getting her to think differently.

Rising Star Mark said that having care and passion about what you do and knowing the impact that has is so important for a career in public life. To get ahead, Mark talked about contacts and networks being the key to success, and "not being afraid to document your achievements in a portfolio, so you can reflect and look back on them". Support from others was also a definite theme throughout the conversations. Theresa, one of our Corporate Directors of the Year gave an analogy of 'riding the Tiger' but she's not alone on that journey, her team are there front and centre. When celebrating the award, she did this with both her professional and personal family, explaining that "it wasn’t my award, it was our award".

Having personally been part of a Rising Star talent programme with the PPMA (when I was in Local Government), I understand first-hand how great the programmes are, how they make you and your teams feel, and how you bring so much learning back into the workplace solely from the people you meet through doing these programmes. They also allow you to free your mind about the next step and start to open up windows of possibilities within your developmental thinking.

Further to this, I wanted to explore whether the next steps of those I spoke to were crystallised before they had been crowned winners, and this was met with a resounding no. They hadn’t necessarily been thinking about the next step, but winning their category made them think it was possible, and gave them a boost to start to think about the next step in their career and what they might need to do to get there. Anna, one of the Corporate Directors of the Year said that it gave her confidence to seriously think about becoming a Chief Executive, a role she had not really thought about progressing in to. Remarkably, with the support of an experienced mentor, Anna is now successfully making waves in a Chief Executive role.

All winners were asked what advice they would give to other people in similar positions, either at the start of their career or to those climbing the ranks. Soundbites included: to have faith in your own abilities, ignore that imposter living rent-free in your mind, trust in others, trust the process of learning, use strengths around you and learn to communicate clearly at all times. The Corporate Directors said that it was important to place accountability in others, and to not think that you are responsible for everything, a key message that many people making the shift from Service lead to Strategic lead sometimes struggle to put into practice. Rising Star Lizzie shared a real nugget, advising people to "be willing to take calculated risks, and be willing to fail - then learn from it". The statement was so powerful as it speaks to our fundamental flaw as humans. None of us like failure, but the best learning comes from our failures and mistakes.

Reflecting on the conversations that I had with this incredible cohort of talented, inspirational, and gifted people, I think that the talent recognition awards are critically important in crowning some of the best people in Local Government. They give people the opportunity to nominate their hard-working colleagues that deserve recognition for their leadership and their commitment to doing the very best they can. It is clear that the winners I spoke with have been empowered to think big, and it's been a real pleasure to bring their stories to life in this article.

At Penna, we are an active and key sponsor of the LGC, MJ and PPMA awards. We strongly believe in supporting Local Government talent, and work to develop future leaders through our Penna Aspirant Chief Executive programme. We are excited to see who are crowned as 2024’s winners.

Rachael Morris is lead for HR/OD at Penna and a Senior Consultant in the Executive Search team.

X: @RachMorris21

LinkedIn: Rachael Morris ACIPD

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