Being a Female Leader in Our Industry


19 Aug 2021



Written By Kate Smith



My personal management style can be summed up in one word: democratic. As Author Mary D. Poole explains it, “Leadership should be more participative than directive, more enabling than performing”.  The democratic style is certainly participative.

Leadership should enable your team to do their job, which is true to my style in that I want to “remove the roadblocks” and allow individuals to get on with their work. Reflecting on my leadership journey, I have worked with many impactful female leaders who have contributed to the formation of my democratic management style.

I moved to Sydney in 2000 after graduating from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts – Production & Design majoring in Stage Management. It was a tough couple of years trying to break into the theatre industry. Eventually I secured work with Sydney Theatre Company and contracted with them throughout 2003 – 2007.

Over these years, I worked with many influential female stage managers. Women who taught me a key foundation of leadership in communicating effectively with all levels of creative and production staff, from directors, actors, mechanists, lighting technicians and creative staff. Being able to tailor your communications with these various groups was an important lesson to learn, to achieve the best outcome from each group in the interest of delivering consistency in performance.

As my network grew, I took additional work on one day events. I absolutely loved it, it made me feel energized, excited and it inspired me to want to go fulltime within the events industry.

That opportunity came when I started work with the City of Sydney Events team as the Production Coordinator in 2007. Working with the City of Sydney was an incredible learning experience for me. My manager taught me so much about delivering outdoor public events including the important skill of stakeholder management.

I recall being intimidated in stakeholder meetings but admired how my manager was seemingly so confident. Through emulating her confidence, I became more comfortable to present in these stakeholder meetings myself, and this contributed towards building trust amongst the project team.

Photo: Paralympics Australia

The proudest moment of my career was with the Australian Paralympic Committee. My role involved collaborating with various apparel partners to design the team uniform for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. I knew absolutely nothing about manufacturing timelines, technical sport requirements or how you place an order months ahead of the final team selection, but I was supported by a wonderful group of experienced sports management women.

These women were incredibly generous with their time, and they trusted to me to get the job completed. For me as a leader, it is important to trust your staff and provide them with kindness by giving your time to them to answer questions and offer guidance and support.

My current role is as Place Manager working on the Sydney Metro Northwest Places program. A very different role, working in the development field, allowing me to diversify outside of events and deliver some tangible long-term outcomes. There are several inspirational female leaders in my workplace who are intelligent, confident and enable collaboration within their respective teams. The organisation is focused on professional development and provides courses specifically targeted towards women.

I was selected to participate in one targeted course, Women in Leadership. The course starts with an analysis of your personal responses to a series of questions. The analysis summarises where your strengths lie and areas for improvement using the Lifestyle Industry Method

Photo: Unsplash

The opportunity to slow down and take a deep dive into understanding all about me has been invaluable. The course has helped me to see what inspires me, what challenges me, what is important to me and how I communicate with others.

It has taught me to self-reflect in challenging situations, stepping outside and looking back in, to see how I’m communicating both verbally and non-verbally. This technique allows you to put things into perspective and helps to get more meaningful and positive outcomes when dealing with a confronting situation.

It has also clearly identified for me what type of leader I am. My management style is defined as democratic leadership. The attributes of this style include:

  • Group members are encouraged to share ideas and opinions, even though the leader retains the final decision,
  • Members of the group feel more engaged in the process,
  • Creativity is encouraged and rewarded.

Source: Leadership Styles by Kendra Cherry

There are several articles available online which highlight the advantages and disadvantages to this leadership style.

Leadership Ahoy concludes the advantages are strong employee engagement, shared goals leading to higher accountability, collaboration creating strong solutions for complex problems, flourishing creativity, and innovation. Whilst the disadvantages conclude that collaborative decision-making is time consuming, team members can lose trust, and resent may creep in to lull productivity.

Photo: Emma Dau

The important lesson to impart is, to be a good leader you have to understand yourself. Through understanding yourself you can ascertain what management style works for you.

There are a number of different styles out there and it’s not a ‘one size fits all’. Throughout your professional career though, like mine, you will find a leader who you admire and want to mimic the characteristics of.

Never be afraid to reach out to someone who inspires you and seek their advice; I have found people are eager to help out.

Headline Photo: Kelly Sikkema

Written by Kate Smith

Kate Smith is an experienced project manager with diverse experiences in both the public and private sector. Currently Kate is working as a place manager for the Sydney Metro Northwest Places program and working on the delivery of public art into a new precinct.


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