With a career spanning two decades in the social services sector including child protection, out-of-home care, mental health and disability services, Gary Christensen is considered a leader in the field.
In his most recent appointment as the Director of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter- Manning he has earned the respect of staff due to his on the ground experience and is admired by his peers for his collaborative approach and innovative thinking.
Gary recognises the value of collaboration between government and non-government agencies as well as the importance of businesses working with social services agencies to address whole of community issues, such as domestic and family violence, homelessness and mental health issues. Gary is particularly interested in the business community coming together to address men’s health and men’s mental health issues.
- What makes a good leader?
I think what makes a good leader is someone who leads from the front, but also someone who is able to build leaders up within. Here at CatholicCare, I like to make sure we look for talent internally before externally. I think a good leader is someone who collaborates well with their team, someone who looks for opportunities or ideas from every team member regardless of their status or position in the organisation, and someone who can listen to those ideas and put them into practice.
- What do you believe has shaped your leadership style?
I think what shaped my leadership style was perfect experience; I started off at the very grassroots level, at a youth level, and then worked up to team leader, then to middle management, then to senior management and to executive management. I think the experience of that across 25 years has shaped my leadership.
I have worked with good leaders and some not so good leaders. I think experience is one thing; learning off other people, reading, and podcasts. I do a lot of podcasts around what leadership is, how to be a good leader and how to have emotional intelligence.
The experience of working for multiple people across multiple agencies has exposed me to different leadership styles and I’ve taken what’s good out of those and what’s bad out of those and developed my own leadership style.
- What motivates and drives you?
What motivates me is to really make a difference. I really love going to work to a place where I can contribute and make a difference to other people, and that’s our client base. That’s what we support – whether that’s a protection setting, a disability setting, counselling or mental health setting – but it’s also our style; it’s making a difference in the lives of our team, building people up, growing people up, helping them develop and have a work-life balance as well.
- How can organisations become leading businesses?
I think any organisation that wants to become a leading business firstly has to value it’s people. It’s people are the lifeline of the organisation, so put really good systems in place to value your people, make sure you give them a good training, good support, good debriefing.
Secondly, a really good business contributes to something outside of its business, so giving staff an opportunity to contribute to a social service or another community group or a hospital. Not only giving him financials, but giving him opportunities to engage with those business. I think when they are engaged and the company is engaged in giving, that helps them to come to work, motivates them to stay active in the workplace and to think outside of themselves.
- What local businessperson do you find inspiring?
I think Newcastle has a range of people who are inspiring, but one who stands out the most is Phil Gardner from The Wests Group. He does a tremendous job not only running it, but being really community-focused. The addition of the Knights to The Wests Group has helped, but he’s keeping his focus on community and making sure The Wests Group is a part of the community. That makes him stand out from the 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).