The role of a DSO can be very varied and the same can be said when it comes to individual career paths working in the democracy world.

We will be sharing career profiles, from a number of ADSO members who have had an interesting career to date. If you would like to share your career path and inspire others to see that what we do is far more than administration, please get in contact with


Our first member is Emma Tombs, here is what she has to say:

I’m one of the many, I suspect, who was not laying awake as a child dreaming of working in Democratic Services! Having now  got here, via a combination of choice and circumstance, I can definitely say that I’d recommend it to anyone considering a public service career.

I left school following A’Levels, where a turn as one of Macbeth’s witches was my Theatre Studies highlight, and worked for several years in a large financial services company across a number of roles. These included customer services, which was a baptism by fire, and computing. A subsequent stint at a logistics company confirmed what I’d already started to realise; work had to be about more than just making money for other people. I decided to look at public service roles, focussing on positions where a clear link to helping the community could be seen, and subsequently joined the National Probation Service.

Alongside a team of Probation Officers, my role there was to co-ordinate the service provided to victims of sexual and violent offences, ensuring that they were kept up to date with the progression of offenders’ sentences and were able to make representations if they chose to as release dates approached. This was rewarding and interesting work, that helped me to develop respect for other peoples’ views and personal resilience, whilst working in a highly process-led and structured environment (sounds familiar!).

Working at the Probation Service developed my interest in the criminal justice system, and my next role was with the Ministry of Justice, at the Youth Justice Board. I was located within the Secure Training Centre at Medway, which housed young people and children from the age of 12 upwards who were serving custodial sentences. The operation of the STC had been sub-contracted to a private operator and my role, as Deputy Performance Manager, was to ensure that the educational, rehabilitation and health services provided to the children were in line with those specified in the contract. This was challenging work in a difficult physical environment and I learnt a lot about relationship management and trusting my own judgement.

A change in my partner’s job then brought me back to Essex and, having facilitated a range of meetings in my previous role, I joined Basildon Council as a Meetings Manager. Working at Basildon offered a really good range of experience, including a secondment to the then Fire Authority, and in working within both the Leader and Cabinet and Committee system models of governance. Following a number of restructure-related changes of job titles and a promotion, I was working as a Senior Governance  Officer when my Manager went on maternity leave. I successfully applied to cover her role, which represented my first experience of direct line management. Clearly the planets were aligned as just as this placement ended my current role, Democratic Services Manager, was advertised at Essex County Council.

I’ve now been at ECC for almost two and a half years, and really enjoy (generally..!) the variety of tasks that I’m involved with and working alongside my fabulous team and colleagues. Seeing how people have responded to the challenges presented first by remote working and subsequently the shift back to meetings rooms with the complications still presented by the pandemic has been really inspiring. I am now a regional representative for ADSO and last year completed a degree with the Open University focussing on social sciences. A career in Democratic Services is a great fit for proactive, resilient people who are interested in the world around them and who want to help improve outcomes for their community.

Heather Girling, a DSO at Crawley Borough Council explains her path to Democratic Services here:


I started at Crawley Borough Council in 1997 as Temporary Clerical Trainee in the Borough Treasurer’s Department.  It’s a post that probably would now be termed an Apprentice but back then they didn’t really exist.  My main duties were to provide admin and clerical support to the Business Consultancy Team within the Review and Assurance Division (who dealt with projects, CCT, shortly followed by Best Value, and what would now be seen as transformation work.  I had to achieve level 3 NVQ in Business Administration but subsequently achieved level 4 also.  In my personal life, I studied through distance learning so have been used to completing qualifications and project based work.

In 1999 I took up a new post as Compliance Officer in the same division – with responsibility for carrying out a programme of compliance checks that cover the Council’s major financial and performance procedures.

Following a restructure, I moved into Community Services Division and Directorate as Admin Manager in 2002.  My main duties were:

– to provide administrative support to the Head of Community Services.

– to manage the Administrative Team within the Division.

– to assist in developing quality systems and processes across the various service areas.

– to monitor and compile the quarterly and monthly statistics and relevant analysis where appropriate.

– managed the admin for regular hires for community centres, 3G pitches.

– processed finances/invoices for the division.

– divisional IT guide and Contact Centre liaison rep.

As part of this role I regularly arranged meetings, agendas, took minutes and liaised with a range of stakeholders (internal and external customers, contractors, councillors, partner organisations etc) across different media.

In 2014, following another restructure I moved in Democratic Services in Chief Executives. I believed I had the necessary skills following my years in Community Services to fulfil and develop the role.  My main responsibility is Overview and Scrutiny Commission and Scrutiny Panels.  This involves project and research work which I enjoy and I have responsibility for the corporate management team agendas whilst also assisting with Cabinet Briefing, Cabinet and Full Council (and have also looked after Planning in the past).  The reports coming through to OSC, Panels and Cabinet contain a broad range of topics throughout the council and also involve a mixture of project/research based work.  I’m also IT guide and first contact for councillors IT.

Thank you to everyone who has provided career profiles, it is really interesting to hear about how people first joined the world of Democratic Services and the range of tasks and duties they have.

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