It finally happened. You have been an APS staff member for years, and you finally got the promotion you have been waiting for. You finally made it! OR maybe you weren’t expecting it. Your boss left, and you got asked to act in their role. An opportunity came up, and you got thrown in the deep end.
Now, you have people to manage. You get to make the decisions, set the direction, go to the important meetings, work longer hours. That’s all you need to do, right?!? Wrong. This is the most challenging job you will have, leading other people. It can be overwhelming and confusing when you first start out.
I started managing staff pretty early in my career. I worked for a charity in London where I had three staff and a group of volunteers – a huge team for a 23 year old. I wish I had someone to give me advice about how to be a great leader and shape the type of leader I would become. Instead, I made some pretty big mistakes, had some terrible bosses, and had to pick things up along the way.
If you are new to management and trying to find your way, I wanted to provide some advice to help get you started. I asked some of the best leaders I have worked with across the Commonwealth Government for their one piece of advice (they all struggled to give just one!).
Shannon Kenna, Assistant Secretary Communications at Commonwealth Treasury
My one piece of advice for new leaders is to get to know your team, find out about their backgrounds and what they’ve worked on. Ask them for their views, listen to their advice and make them part of the process. Drawing on the expertise and experience of the people working with you will, in turn, make you a better leader and help the team to feel engaged and part of the bigger picture.
Geoff Purvis-Smith, General Counsel Clean Energy Regulator
Your head may be swimming when you first start leading a team or a challenging project. But it’s always useful to remember that someone had enough faith or confidence in you to put you in that position. So have faith and confidence in yourself (and don’t be afraid to ask for help and feedback).
Jacquie Walton, Assistant Commissioner Enabling and Digital Services, Australian Public Service Commission
My advice as a leader… being adaptive can be your superpower. Listen, listen listen, then act. Being adaptive means, you consider the environment, people, business and adapt as is needed. You are not stuck with what has gone before.
Ross Carter, Former Senior Executive APS now Regulatory Consultant
Be available (to your team).
- Not a platitudinous ‘open door policy’.
- Shoe leather – get out, meet, discuss, engage.
- Most of all listen and ask, be interested.
Lucinda Barry, Chief Executive Officer Organ and Tissue Authority
Surround yourself with the best staff. Communicate clearly to them, so they understand your vision and where the organisation is going. You will need to take them on the journey with you, but sometimes you will have to make the hard decisions. Most importantly, listen and have empathy.
Chris Ramsden, Former Chief Operations Officer now independent consultant
One thing I find new leaders or managers struggle with is the transition to delivering through their team in an environment of support, reward and accountability. A leader’s job is to establish a sense of purpose and vision, inspire, support, mentor and provide guidance to the team while clearing the path of any roadblocks to facilitate the best outcome for their respective organisations. A good manager will understand each team member’s capability, trust in their capability then provide them with the appropriate level of autonomy to use their skills to perform to a high standard.
Peter Drucker, a highly regarded management expert, once compared the role of a leader to the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor will not be expert in playing all the instruments of an orchestra, in fact, they may not be able to play a single instrument. However, they do know how to guide, support, inspire and coordinate the musicians to deliver an outstanding piece of music.
Good luck! It’s a hard job, but also very rewarding. When you see one of your staff thrive or your team deliver a big project together, it will be one of the proudest moments of your life. You will have tough days but rely on those around you to help get through it.
From me, the best advice I can give is:
Be your own leader. You can’t do it the way others do. This isn’t a skill you can copy. You need to learn your own style and be able to adapt it to your staff while remaining true to yourself. Continue to grow and learn, by reading, talking and experiencing new things – it’s the only way you will get better. And you can always be a better leader!