Leadership Excellence: Sonia Hunter’s impactful journey in transforming Resthaven’s workforce

Sonia Hunter

South Australian aged care provider Resthaven nominated Sonia Hunter for the 2023 Future of Ageing Awards in the Emerging Leader category. Ms Hunter was awarded Highly Commended for her work in shaping Resthaven’s workforce and organisational culture over the past three years during a time of extreme upheaval and challenges associated with the global pandemic and industry-wide reform.

Sonia Hunter joined Resthaven on September 20, 2021, as Project Lead People & Culture, beginning her impactful journey in the aged care sector. Sonia has made significant contributions in less than three years, particularly in the face of challenges such as the Royal Commission, a global pandemic, and ongoing government reforms.

Contributions at Resthaven:

  1. Strategic Workforce Plan (SWP) Development: Sonia played a pivotal role in crafting Resthaven’s SWP for 2022-2025. This comprehensive plan encompassed over 20 initiatives and 59 individual actions.
  2. Promotion to Manager Workforce Strategy: Recognising Sonia’s capabilities, she was promoted to Manager Workforce Strategy on May 11, 2022. In this role, she oversees the execution of the SWP, providing regular updates to the Executive and Board.
  3. Employee Value Proposition (EVP) Project: Sonia led the EVP project, collaborating with external consultants to develop materials enhancing employee attraction and engagement. The outcomes were incorporated into revised job advertisements and launched during the Recruitment and Onboarding project in August 2023.
  4. Leadership Development Programs: Sonia was instrumental in implementing Leadership Development Programs, conducting 36 training sessions with 539 participants. Her efforts extended to sourcing a partner for a Cultural Intelligence program, contributing to Resthaven’s commitment to leadership and cultural engagement.
  5. Resthaven Team Talent Showcase: As the lead for this unique professional development event, Sonia coordinated with external consultants, fostering collaboration, understanding, and staff retention. The program showcased participants’ talent and experience in handling workplace challenges. This initiative was also recognised in the 2023 Future of Ageing Awards…Read more.
  6. Operational Responsibility Expansion: On January 18, 2023, Sonia assumed additional operational responsibility for the Recruitment team during the implementation of a new Recruitment and Onboarding system. This demonstrated her adaptability and leadership in managing a team of eight, who recruit over 100 staff each month.

“Quietly challenges, safe to fail environment and combines strategy with ops = best leadership actions”

2023 Future of Ageing Awards judge


A key part of the judging criteria for the Emerging Leader award is based on two x testimonials, both from someone internal and external to the organisation. Weight is given to the external reference and the seniority of the person providing it.

See below for a summary of the actual testimonials provided.

From Manager: Darren Birbeck, Chief Executive Officer, Resthaven

In the past two years, Sonia Hunter has played a vital role in Resthaven’s Strategic Workforce Plan, focusing on growing and developing the workforce. Responsible for the Inspiring People Leadership Development programs and the inaugural Team Talent Showcase, Sonia exhibited an exceptional ‘can-do’ attitude, strategic insight, and outstanding planning skills. Collaborating seamlessly with executives and external consultants, she successfully delivered these major projects on time and within budget. Sonia’s ability to challenge ideas positively, coupled with her selfless teamwork, was instrumental in the development of the strategic plan and the Team Talent Showcase. Despite a significant workload, she facilitated sessions with Resthaven’s leadership team, participated in the Future Leaders Program, and stepped up to lead the Recruitment team amid personnel changes. Her exceptional expertise and commitment were fundamental to Resthaven’s outstanding achievements.

External testimonial: Taryn Sexton, Principal of Top Branch Consulting, collaborated with Sonia Hunter on the Resthaven Team Talent Showcase, which was referred to as a ‘safe-to-fail’ experiment by Resthaven’s CEO. With 16 years as a not-for-profit CEO, Taryn commends Sonia’s rare leadership ability, balancing strategy and sustainable operational delivery. Sonia displayed courage in developing the innovative program, showcasing deep knowledge of business and employee capabilities. Taryn notes Sonia’s excellent work ethic, commitment, and positive demeanour even under pressure. Sonia’s intrinsic understanding of connecting strategy and operational outcomes, coupled with her caring nature, sets her apart as a remarkable leader.

“I feel honoured and humbled to have received the nomination, let alone to be highly commended in this award. I sincerely thank CEO Darren Birbeck for this opportunity, as well as the People and Culture team. In particular, I would like to thank Sylvia Powell for her continued support and belief in me”

Sonia Hunter

Sonia Hunter has emerged as a dynamic leader, making significant strides in shaping Resthaven’s workforce and organisational culture over the past three years. Her achievements reflect not only professional expertise but also a commitment to fostering a positive and thriving workplace.


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