As a nation of sports lovers, working in the business of sport holds great appeal for many Australian executives. But as a sector that is also notoriously competitive, both on and off the field, breaking into and building a leadership career in sport can be difficult.
“From a leadership perspective, the Australian sporting sector has a relatively small employment market at the elite level,” explains Gerard Daniels Partner, Ivan Zuvela. “In simple demand and supply terms, the number of senior roles that are available in sport is small compared to the pool of talent that would perhaps want to work in this sector, so competition for leadership roles can be fierce.”
Here are some of the skills, attributes and approaches that can help you to break into sport from other sectors.
Cultivating the right skill set
Many of the skills and attributes that executives need to be successful in other sectors arealso relevant and highly transferrable for building a career in sport.
Negotiation is an important skill for all sports sector leadership roles. "Whether you are negotiating player contracts and salaries or major sponsorship agreements, sports executives must be able to approach discussions in a way that achieves the best possible outcome for the organisation, and keep important relationships intact,” says Ivan.
Complex communication and stakeholder management
Maintaining effective communication and managing the expectations of all stakeholder groups is another critical skill for effectively performing leadership roles in a sporting environment. “Often there are vast and diverse stakeholders involved in delivering, managing, hosting and funding sporting activities,” says Ivan. “Leaders in this sector must be able to maintain a high standard of communication and positively manage what can be quite complex relationships.”
Operating with integrity in high pressure and high profile environments
Being comfortable operating with integrity and transparency in fast-paced, highly competitive environments positions you well for transitioning into sport. “When poor strategic decisions are made in sectors like mining, energy, financial services and even healthcare, it can have a significant impact on brand reputation and result in lost revenue opportunities,” says Ivan. “The risk and stakes may be lower in sport, but the public scrutiny, stakeholder expectations and demands on executives are just as great. Anyone with proven experience performing under pressure in other sectors will also likely thrive insport.”
Driving performance at all levels
The ability to build a high performance environment is essential for taking on leadership roles within sport. “On-field success helps to determine off-field success, so the qualities and values that sports organisations expect from their players and competitors are equally important at leadership level,” says Ivan. “To instil these qualities in the culture of an organisation, executives must exemplify and lead with these qualities and attributes too.”
Going above and beyond
There is a requirement to work hard in any executive level role, but as sport is a 24/7 environment with games and events often held outside of traditional working hours, there’s more of an expectation that executives will work very hard, and very long hours. ”This alone won’t set you apart from other leaders, but if you’re not willing and able to go above and beyond, you may not get a look in,” says Ivan.
Passion for the sport, or the discipline that you’re moving into, is another important and unique attribute for breaking into the sector. “You don’t have to be a huge fan or supporter, but you do need to have some passion for the sport or the game that you are looking to grow,” says Ivan. “It’s impossible to be effective in performing sporting leadership roles without a little fire in your belly.”
Not getting enough traction? Try coming at sport from a different angle
The Australian sporting sector is much broader than just professional sporting teams. “I always encourage people to aim high, but if there aren’t enough leadership opportunities in the professional sporting environment, it’s worth considering different avenues for breaking into sport,” says Ivan.
There are many different types of organisations that support the sporting sector at national, state and territory level. Here are some examples worth keeping on your radar.
- Advocacy and representative bodies and associations
- Specialist organisations and committees
- Sports commissions
- Sports institutes and academies
- Sporting venue management (i.e. stadiums and large sporting facilities)
- Sports talent management.