A Day in the Life of a Leader in Local Government - following Matt Prosser, Dorset Council's Chief Executive
Our Director of Public Sector Executive search, Ben Cox, caught up with Matt Prosser to talk through what an average day looks like as a busy Chief Executive of a large unitary authority.
Ben Cox kicks off the conversation, "So Matt, how does your day start?"
Matt Prosser tells us, "I’m awoken by the alarm on my phone and to the sounds of Radio 4. I take 15 minutes to tune in and get up to speed with the national headlines.
Then it’s time to head downstairs and feed our 13-year-old chocolate Labrador, Pippa.
Having made myself and, importantly my wife, a cup of tea, I now take time to review the local headlines. It is important for me to understand if anything has happened locally which may need immediate focus or action during the day ahead. With an already busy diary, any unexpected eventualities need to be carefully planned in."
Ben replies, "I bet that’s always the way! What happens next?"
Matt says, "Then it’s my morning run time. I've set myself a challenge for 2021 to run 1,600 km (1,000 miles) during the year! Most mornings during the week, I’ll run between 6-10 km. On the runs, I’ll either listen to music to help me switch off or use the time to play through the day ahead. It's a good opportunity to think through any new national or local issues that may have arisen.
As a Chief Executive, I place a great deal of emphasis on my own mental strength and resilience, and physical exercise plays a big part in helping me juggle all that and positive well-being. Straight after finishing the run, I scoop up Pippa and take her for a 2 km walk which also acts as my cool-down.
Here she is mid-cool down on the spectacular Dorset coastline."
Ben comments, "A daunting and yet hugely admirable challenge! Tell me about the start of your working day?"
Matt begins describing the start of his working day. "It’s now time for a big bowl of well needed porridge to set me up for the day. I'll often reflect on some advice given to me by another Chief Executive which is, 'to always ensure you have a good breakfast, as you never know when the next opportunity for a meal will arrive'. This is advice that has really stuck with me. Sometimes with back to back meetings, I’ll often realises it's suddenly 2:30pm and I haven’t had a chance to eat!"
"The office (now laptop) is open, and with this I review and deal with any emails that have come in overnight or first thing."
"Scheduled meetings start. No two days are the same for me. However, these meetings will typically consist of a blend of internal meetings, catching up with colleagues or councillors, and external meetings with multi-agency and strategic partners. They include the likes of the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Dorset Police.
In-between these meetings, it is also necessary to respond to emails, tweets and teams’ messages - they come in thick and fast!"
"Time for lunch (if the day has afforded the opportunity). During lockdown 1, this would have been with my three grown-up children as my wife was in lockdown with her elderly Mother. Now in lockdown 3, the children have gone back to their homes/jobs and my wife has returned. In any case, I enjoy this time to catch up and chat about non-work-related issues with the family."
Ben comments, "I’ve found having that bit more time with family in the working day brilliant too. So what happens in a typical afternoon for you, Matt?"
Matt tells us, "It's back into chairing and preparation for pre-planned meetings. Again, these can be a mixture of multi-agency partnership Boards but chairing these meetings makes them more exhausting with 100% focus required. So I know that I can't respond to emails during this time – invariably, they are now starting to build up.
Normally I would be out and about across the county and meeting residents and partners but over the past year, working from home has meant meeting partners, colleagues and businesses online instead – it's not totally the same but it does reduce the commuting time (and the space to think between meetings). Something to reflect on."
Ben says, "My own working days are quite different now, not travelling between councils across the country for meetings means we’ve got more time for delivery and strategy."
Matt replies, "Exactly Ben! So, at about 4:00pm, it’s time to switch thoughts to essential communications that need to be worked on, whether that's with internal staff or through external means.
I place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of communication which has been brought into much greater focus during the past twelve months. It is also a time to try and catch up with my Directors or staff colleagues to address any issues which may need resolving or correspondence which couldn’t be dealt with because of chairing earlier meetings."
"Nearing the end of the day, I have my regular catch up with the Leader. During the first lockdown, these calls were far more formal as the Council responded to the pandemic and there was a need for more of a 'command and control' style approach to the situation. Nowadays, whilst still chatting through important issues, these have also become more informal catch-ups as well and I’m quick to recognise the hugely supportive role my Leader has played in taking the time to check in on my well-being and see that I’m OK."
Ben comments, "That’s a great relationship to have with your Leader. So we must be nearing the end of your formal day now?"
Matt replies, "Indeed we are. The virtual office (my laptop) closes if no evening meetings are on that particular day but I still make myself available for urgent calls.
Time to go for a walk with the family and Pippa before heading back for the evening meal."
"Time for some down-time. For me Ben, this is currently a toss-up between watching Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s, ‘Long Way Up’ (I’m a huge motorbike fanatic for those who didn’t already know) or reading ‘Five Temptations of a Chief Executive’ by Patrick Lencioni - something I like to regularly re-read to ensure I’m not falling into any traps!"
"Dog to bed and it's lights out! How's that for a day's work?"
Thanks to Matt Prosser for taking the time to talk to us, and share his ‘Day in the Life’. At Penna, we’re experts in public sector recruitment, including Chief Executive appointments. Get in touch to speak to us about your talent issues.
Contact Ben Cox, Director of Local Government Executive Search at Penna via email at Ben.email@example.com.