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Frank conversations, fresh ideas – three public sector leaders explain why they chose the ANZSOG Deputies Leadership Program

12 July 2023

News and media


Image of ANZSOG Deputies Leadership Program alumni Trudi Mares

New public sector deputies describe the role as the ‘biggest step change’ in their careers with a broader span of accountability and control, tougher problems, and the need to balance long-term stewardship of their agency with responding to political pressures.

The Australia and New Zealand School of Government’s (ANZSOG) Deputies Leadership Program (DLP) is designed to provide a space for reflection and open, honest conversations about the challenges of the role – with people who have been there and understand the pressures.

Image of ANZSOG Deputies Leadership Program alumni Amanda Pickrell
The cohort includes people from all ten jurisdictions of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, providing a supportive group to discuss shared concerns and a network that lasts after the program has finished.

Amanda Pickrell PSM (left) is the Deputy Director General, Intergovernmental Relations and Strategic Priorities, in the West Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC).

This position is her first deputy role, and she chose to be part of the 2022 iteration of the DLP to give her some new perspectives on the challenges.

“There is really no training to be a deputy before you get there, and it was by far the biggest step change I’ve made in my career,” she said.

“The idea that you are responsible for stewardship, culture and whole of agency performance, even if you don’t direct people, workforce planning

and integrity and those big picture issues is where I felt most at sea,” she said.

She said that the highlight of the program had been learning from peers from across Australia and New Zealand that they were going through the same challenges.

“Having an environment where you can actually talk to colleagues who know what you are going through on a day-to-day basis was great.”

Hector Thompson, Deputy Commissioner (International, Support and Programs) at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) said that he been inspired to do the DLP because of a move from the Commonwealth Government’s Treasury Department to the ATO.

“In terms of scale I have moved from managing a team of about 50 people in three sites, to one of around 700 which is spread across 24 sites, and having ten direct reports,” he said.

“At that scale, it’s a question of being more deliberate about your management systems and approaches. You need to rely much more on systems and less on personal contact with staff. You still have to be genuine and authentic and to communicate, but you have to get disciplined about it to make sure you are reaching all parts of your span of control.

Trudi Mares (main image), Deputy Secretary, Greater Sydney, at the NSW Department of Transport, chose the Deputies Leadership Program (DLP) when she moved from a specialist role to a much broader one with greater accountability and political exposure.

“Doing the program made me feel more confident, because I definitely didn’t feel like I was ready at the time I was appointed. I think that the program made me realise the challenges on you are similar no matter where you are, and the burden on you is also very similar.

“It gave me some level of comfort that everyone was not only dealing with the same wicked problems, but also with the same political and even inter-personal challenges.”

Learning from conversations with experts and peers

The DLP’s co-directors are Kathryn Anderson, Partner at Cube Group and former Deputy Secretary in the Victorian Public Service and Martin Stewart-Weeks, Founder and Principal of Public Purpose and former Ministerial Chief of Staff and public servant.

The program focuses on the creation of conversations and spaces for reflection and includes a range of guest presenters who can talk frankly based on their experiences.

The 2023 DLP program includes sessions on integrity, trust, accountability and stewardship, First Nations perspectives, leading for change, and operating at political and administrative interface.

Guest presenters include:

  • Peter Mares and Carl Murphy from the Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership
  • Deborah Glass, Victorian Ombudsman
  • Margaret Crawford, NSW Auditor-General
  • Lil Anderson, CEO of Te Arawhiti
  • Vicky Robertson – Former Secretary for the New Zealand Environment Department and former Deputy Secretary New Zealand Treasury
  • Ian Hamm, former senior Victorian public servant
  • Jim Betts, Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure
  • Mike Kaiser, Director General, Queensland Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning
  • Gordon de Brouwer, new Australian Public Service Commissioner

Past participants agree that the guest presenters – and the frank conversations they have with participants – are what separates the DLP from other leadership programs.

Mr Thompson said the DLP had provided him with greater insight into the role through open and honest conversations with current and former practitioners.

“I really valued the experience of the presenters. There were a number who had been secretaries or who were current secretaries, and that gives you confidence that you were talking to people who knew their stuff,” he said.

“Some of them had undergone a difficult period in their careers and come back, and that gave me confidence that it’s important to do the right thing and stand by your principles even when it is difficult.”

Ms Pickrell said that the guest presenters ‘were awesome, particularly the ones who were able to reflect on how they had done their jobs’.

“But then hearing the reflections of my colleagues and the practical application of the things we were learning was the most useful for me and it was a trigger for me to do some things differently.”

“The first is that, as a deputy, your access to information and context is quite different even to the level directly below you, and I’m conscious I haven’t always taken the time to be clear with my teams about the context they are operating in. So, I’ve started doing more rigorous team meetings where I pass on some of the informal and formal knowledge that I have.”

“It also reminded me that I am the person that sets the tone in my team and made me think more consciously about the cultural element of the job that we do.”

Ms Mares said the DLP had focused on vital current topics – technological change, stewardship and what the sector would look like into the future – as well as the ethical issues deputies face.

“I think what the program does in terms of its structure is give you the strategic focus areas for the role – it’s about risk, integrity, decision-making, political influencing and approach – and it’s good to have that framework to bring yourself back to those priorities when you get dragged into the weeds.”

Ms Mares said DLP was not ‘just another leadership program’ but one that was incredibly worthwhile due to the frank conversations you have with presenters and peers.

“It’s not too academic, so you can just jump in and have a great experience. In terms of time for new deputies it’s a great balance between making space for those conversations and still allowing you to focus on the new job that you are in.”

Ms Pickrell said that the program would be invaluable for a new deputy and would expose them to a cohort of peers from all walks of life, agencies, jurisdictions and backgrounds.

“To get the most benefit out of it you need to go in with your eyes open and with no ego about sharing your own journey and challenges and be willing to have frank conversations about what you are struggling with.”

The 2023 Deputies Leadership Program runs from 18 September – 14 November and consists of three modules, two online and one delivered in-person. Applications are now open and close on 21 August. The program will challenge Deputies in the early stages of their role to explore all aspects of responsibilities specific to this role, stretch their thinking about effective performance and as individuals and a cohort, share insights for impact and influence.