What does an Engagement Officer actually do?
Monday 27th of March 2017
Our vice chair, Caritas Charles writes with candor about what a Engagement staff gets up to day by day.
I felt inspired to write this after returning from the Tpas Engaging Communities Conference. For 2 days over 140 engagement/involvement staff met in Nottingham to exchange ideas hear about the latest techniques in customer engagement and find out about the housing policy landscape. But most important of all to be in an environment with people who do the same job as you and get where you are coming from. One quote from a new engagement staff member really struck home to me “I have never worked in a job where I meet so many people yet feel so alone”
Its true many people in our field work either individually or maybe with 2 or 3 others. We find ourselves placed in a variety of different depts. from corporate services to support or frontline neighbourhood housing. But with a few noticeable exceptions we really aren’t part of these structures. We sit on the periphery in a role either shrouded in mystery or derided by some of our colleagues as the “tea and biscuits brigade.
So it made me think, what is an engagement/involvement staff member. What are the skills and characteristics needed to be effective in that role. Well listed below is what I think it takes, it’s just my thoughts and its not a definitive list please feel free to disagree.
You have to be able to tread a fine line between tenants and the housing provider, between different depts within your organisation and external partners. Tenants may see you as their channel to communicate with their landlord and your landlord will see you as the staff member responsible for delivering the engagement strategy. In reality you’re both but believe me sometimes that’s no easy task.
You have to have boundless energy and enthuasm to sell the benefits of tenant involvement. This skill will be required not only to communicate the benefits to tenants but to staff as well.
A strong belief that there is no such thing as failure is crucial in delivering effective engagement. You must be prepared for some of your ideas to not be as successful as others. You need to be able to pick yourself up when only 3 people come along to your activity and think “how can I do it differently and get 30 or 300 !.
Engagement / involvement can sometimes involve you either giving information that staff or tenants might not want to hear or asking for things from an already overstretched and under resourced provider. The ability to understand and navigate the political minefield of your environment is crucial.
Know a bit about everything
I’m not an ASB officer or a director finance but a good engagement/involvement officer should be someone who knows just enough about the subject to get by, I refer to it as being a bit like the GP of your organisation.
Many people ask me what’s your average working week and I find it very difficult to answer here’s a list of some things I have done in the last year.
- Written an engagement strategy
- Drafted a submission to a government review
- Run a focus group
- Judged a competition
- Moved tables
- Photographed a plastic skeleton (don’t ask !)
- Brought a large quantity of sandwiches
- Been out filming
- Had lunch with a vicar
- Washed up a ton of cups, saucers and plates
- And yes made lots of tea !
Try putting all that into a job description.
And finally Passionate
One consultant I once worked with referred to tenant involvement as being a “career cul-de sac” he said no one ever got to be a chief exec from an involvement role (that’s not true there are a few). It tends to be a job people fall into from other things (I was a housing manager previously). One thing I find we all have in common though is our passion. The energy and enthuasm you get when your in a room full of engagement officers is infectious we love the work we do and aren’t afraid to show it.
Looking back on those 2 days in Nottingham I feel energised and hopeful knowing I’m not alone, we are out their every day enabling voices to be heard you’ll notice us we are the ones at the back of the room with a smile on our faces and a teapot in one hand.