South African born Helga Smit is the Director for CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning. Prior to taking up this position Helga lived and worked in the Middle East for five years, where she held various senior management positions in human resources for the private sector.
Helga has used all areas of her life to shape her into the leader she is today ‚Äì work, family and culture. She is passionate about people challenging the status quo, as she believes it provides opportunities to find smarter ways of doing things and avoid staleness.
- What do you believe has shaped your leadership style?
Being a woman from South Africa, where Afrikaans was my native tongue, I have been fortunate to have worked and lived in several countries. I held senior positions in Dubai at a time where being a woman in business was often challenging. I learnt to adapt in a country that is dominated by men in the workforce, and I worked hard to prove my worth in those positions. The decision to move to Australia is something I am thankful for everyday. This country has brought me and my family many wonderful opportunities.
As a sole parent, raising my three beautiful children has moulded the leader I am, the way I manage the people I work with, and the way I live my life. My children are my inspiration and being a positive role model for them is something I am very conscious of. My children give me the motivation and inspiration to be the best that I can be.
- How do you encourage creative thinking and leadership within your organisation?
I believe that giving people the opportunity to provide input on decision making and sharing ideas are the key to CatholicCare’s success, especially in a sector of change currently. Challenging the status quo provides opportunities to find smarter ways of doing things and avoid staleness. My focus is to create job owners, not job occupants!
- What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
Coming from a human resources and training background has provided me with a good understanding of the value of staff development and growth. This is usually the area that gets neglected, especially during financially challenging times. Invest in your people and they will walk with you into the future.
What is one action or task you ensure you incorporate into your diary each week?
I send out an email every Wednesday to all staff which has become known as ‘Helga’s Wednesday Wisdom’. Working in the social services sector can be emotional and complex at times, so I carefully select a quotation, image or saying that captures the sentiment of the week. I do this in the hope that it encourages the CatholicCare team to reflect on the good work they have done and continue to do on a daily basis. I have received feedback from many team members thanking me for this, as it might have just been what they needed for that day, assisted with what is happening for them personally or is something they can use in their service delivery.
- What local businessperson do you find inspiring?
I am amazed by the determination and energy of Jodie Harrison MP. Jodie is the Member for Charlestown, which is a full time career in itself, but also holds the position as Mayor for Lake Macquarie City Council, is a board member for several organisations and is raising two children. I look to her as a woman that is passionate about serving the community and draw inspiration from her on the days that are harder than others.
CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning has operated for over 50 years and provides services in counselling, foster care, disability care, youth services, relationship education and refugee support.
The expansion of the organisation to rural communities such as Gloucester takes the number of office locations to eight (Gloucester, Taree, Cardiff, Mayfield, Muswellbrook, Forster, Singleton and Maitland).