Woman Nulsen, Susan

Consumer Activist

Written by Kate Moore, Australian National University

Susan Nulsen was born in Toronto, Canada in 1950, the second of four children. She completed a Master of Science (Consumer Science) in Canada, before moving to Australia with her husband. Susan worked in the Western Australia Bureau of Consumer Affairs in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in 1982 became a lecturer in consumer studies at the Edith Cowan University. Her daughter was born shortly after she moved to the University.

After a few years she felt that her practical knowledge and skills were getting rusty, and looked for a professional development activity that would help keep her knowledge of consumer protection policy issues current. She became involved with the Consumers Association of WA, and was then elected to the national Committee of the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations (AFCO) (subsequently Consumers Federation of Australia). This brought Susan into contact with people who were passionate about consumer issues and she says that it was those people that kept her going. They were people who were leading the consumer charge. Engrossed in policy they were strong in taking the fight to government.

Susan became chair of AFCO in 1990, a position she held for two terms. In that role she had to bring together the diverse interests of the member groups. It helped a lot, she observed, that she was 'process focused'. AFCO members were concerned about lack of transparency within the organisation and Susan oversaw the development of better internal processes. 'It's about how process can build trust', she says (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/susan-nulsen/). Susan describes her leadership of the organisation as being 'in the background. I would chair a conference, orchestrate their meetings … Maybe it's a different form of leadership, not out the front, getting-the-runs-on-the-boards sort of leadership that the others were doing (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/susan-nulsen/). She sees herself as being 'a facilitator' … you need the orchestrators and the facilitators. Some of the activists could never bring a constituent base with them. You need people to manage behind the scenes, to make things happen and provide some structure' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/susan-nulsen/).

During her career Susan has done lots of professional development, but nothing that has been labelled as leadership training. She is not sure that you can train for leadership 'you have some innate abilities, interests and leanings, and experience adds to it'. She adds that a lot of leadership development depends on self-reflection 'if you have experiences and reflect on them - what worked and didn't work - it enhances what you do in the future' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/susan-nulsen/). Susan sees a difference between male and female leaders, and says that women are probably better facilitators and men are better dictators. 'I don't think it worries men to dictate, but I think it worries women' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/susan-nulsen/). She returned to the WA public service and is now the Licensing and Registration Director in the Consumer Protection Division of the WA Department of Commerce.

Published Resources

Online Resources

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