During her years at a local state high school in Tasmania, Anita Yan thought she’d complete a university degree and then join the diplomatic corps. Born in Hong Kong, Anita was fascinated by Japan and Japanese culture and she was also interested in the rapidly evolving Information Technology world.
Combining these two areas of interest, she studied Computing, majoring in Information Systems and Japanese, at the University of Tasmania.
But rather than going down the diplomacy path, Anita has carved out a successful career in public service with much of her time spent in the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, now the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania.
In 2018, while she was Information and Program Manager at the Department, Anita enrolled in ANZSOG’s Towards Strategic Leadership program.
“The course was promoted by the State Service Management Office in Tasmania. It looked interesting and I chatted with someone from this department who was very complimentary about ANZSOG and the program. He said it was very worthwhile,” says Anita.
“I’d already had a taste of the private sector – it wasn’t for me – and I was keen to seek opportunities towards a senior executive management role in government. The course was pitched at aspiring leaders, which is where I was then. I felt I needed more qualifications and accreditation to support my career development goals.”
Since then, Anita has become Director of Strategy at the Department where she is developing the agency’s five-year strategic plan.
“We don’t have a strategic plan at the moment and over the years, the department has collected quite a few functions and we want to find a single purpose that we can align with – we need to articulate a shared purpose, vision and our priorities for the next five years,” says Anita.
“We’ve released the strategic plan on a page. My role now is to work with divisions to develop the initiatives and measures required to deliver on those priorities.”
Anita has worked outside government – she had a couple of short contract roles in Japan and in an IT consulting firm – but she has always returned to public service.
“It has been exciting because I’ve worked across different business areas so there is always something new to learn and I like that variety. And now working with the Executive directly and seeing our senior leaders at work has been a rewarding experience as well,” says Anita.
One of the proudest achievements in her career so far has been in the past two years, as COVID-19 brought unimagined changes and challenges to the world. Anita spent nine months seconded to Biosecurity Tasmania, leading the travel application assessment team.
“That process was a whole new concept. I was involved in recruiting the team, bedding down a system to manage travel application assessments day-to-day, coming up with policies and procedures and working closely with police and people from across government. Every traveller coming to Tasmania needed to have a registration or approval,” says Anita.
“Being part of that team was a very valuable experience. It was a challenging role and outside my comfort zone but I’m extremely proud to have played a part in keeping Tasmania safe.”
A number of subjects within the Towards Strategic Leadership program broadened Anita’s knowledge and insight about working effectively within government and responding to complex challenges like COVID-19.
“One thing that sticks with me was the hands-on participation in a unit where we were given what was described as a ‘wicked problem’ and we had to work in teams to develop our thoughts on how to tackle it. It was a complex issue and we had to come up with a team presentation to deliver the next day,” says Anita.
“It was daunting at that point but I’ve been in those situations since then, especially with the pandemic response – an issue comes up and there is not always a clear right or wrong answer, but you have to make a decision and carry it out quickly.
“There was also a component around the definition of strategic leadership and what that means when you lead change. The instructor drew a diagram that illustrated how we’ve got our comfort zone but, as a strategic leader, you need to work outside that zone. The instructor outlined the responsibilities of a strategic leader to be able to question the status quo and seek improvements, but also to be empathetic and supportive of staff to recognise when people are moving towards the danger zone as change happens.”
Anita sees a long-term future working with the public service. Working with the senior executive in the strategy space has given her a potential launch pad into other roles within government at some point.
“I have an interest in technology and in the innovation that technology can bring. My interest is how technology can transform organisations and service delivery. It’s a very exciting space,” she says.
“The things we do every day in public service make a difference within our organisation and in the general community. It sounds corny but it comes down to making a difference. When I leave the office at the end of the day, I’d like to think I have made a positive impact to the community.”
Find out more about ANZSOG’s Foundation Programs
A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.
A program that challenges senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting.
A unique program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the ability to reflect and learn continuously.