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“We have to change” – how the EFP helped Nev Nichols adapt to uncertainty

16 August 2022

News and media


EFP Alumni Nev Nichols

Nev Nichols has always had a passion for making public transport more reliable and better for passengers, but says that the job has got more complex for him, and other public servants, in recent years. 

Nev is the Executive Director of Engineering and Maintenance at Sydney Trains and in 2021 undertook ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program (EFP), which he says gave him a new understanding of how to lead in uncertain times. 

“The calibre of the people who were participating, and who you were learning alongside were impressive, but the leadership practitioners and academics that you learnt from were really world-class,” he said. 

“The pace that it was rolled out at was right – you had a lot of opportunities to reflect on what you had been talking about and to explore ideas.  It was clear what we wanted to achieve, and we had a very supportive peer group.” 

Mr Nichols says the EFP had helped him to understand the unpredictable environment he was working in, and the need for public services to change. 

“I think you have a natural instinct for dealing with uncertainty and one of the keys things I learned were some ways of dealing with that ‘VUCA’ (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment. Being able to stop and reflect on those frameworks was reassuring and very empowering,” he said. 

“The EFP forced me to focus on complexity and uncertainty. The academics and others showed real vulnerability and real honesty about what they knew and what their fears and worries were. I’ve tried to reflect that in my environment and use it to work through processes and decisions together in an honest fashion,” he said. 

He said that his career had always been about ‘building things or maintaining assets, and I now need to translate that into options for customers’. 

“One of the challenges the public service faces at the moment is translating the traditional style of leadership and management into a changing world. I’ve noticed that even over the last five years, customer expectations and the needs of people are very fluid and changing fast. 

“Their needs are also interconnected and the public service needs to think in different ways to make things seamless for customers. 

“We have to change”