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New insights, new networks: what you get from ANZSOG’s Deputies Leadership Program

16 May 2024

News and media


Public sector Deputies face broader responsibilities, the pressure of working at the political-administrative interface, and the challenge of making strategic decisions in an increasingly unpredictable environment. 

Stepping up to this level is a big adjustment and ANZSOG’s Deputies Leadership Program (DLP) is designed to challenge and guide early-stage Deputies to be effective and resilient leaders who can build cultures of integrity, trust and collaboration. 

The DLP is co-led by Kathryn Anderson, and Martin Stewart-Weeks, and uses guest practitioners and academics for sessions that encourage frank discussion, under the Chatham House Rule, about the role of the modern Deputy.  

Presenters confirmed for the 2024 iteration include: 

  • Jasmina Joldic, DG, QLD Dept Justice and Attorney-General  
  • Cheryl Leavy, Writer and Consultant  
  • Blair Comley, Secretary, Cth Dept Health & Aged Care 
  • Michael Walsh, DG, Qld Health 
  • Prof Michael Macaulay, Victoria University, Wellington 
  • Mike Kaiser, DG, QLD Dept of Premier & Cabinet 
  • Anne Tiernan, Managing Director, Constellation Impact Advisory 
  • Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership 
  • Paul James, Chief Executive, NZ Ministry for Internal Affairs 
  • Brigid Monagle, Commissioner, VPSC 

Deb Jenkins and David Mackay are graduates from the 2023 program who have benefited from the chance to step back and reflect with their peers and gain insights into how others have performed the role. 

Ms Jenkins is Chief Operating Officer at the Commonwealth Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, where she is leading the corporate and enabling function for a relatively new department responsible for delivering several of the government’s priority agenda items.  

“My challenge is changing the culture of how we operate in my immediate team but right across the department to meet a new way of working and new priorities, and make sure that the things that we are doing are really focused on those longer-term transformational changes, and that there is a coherent narrative that makes sense to people” she said. 

She said that she had enjoyed the Deputies Leadership Program, and that the variety of topics and their relevance to her role was a huge benefit, as was the chance to work with a group that had so many shared challenges. 

“I loved the facilitated leadership. You don’t sit there and have someone lecture you all day, you become a better leader because you engage in conversations with really interesting people who are experiencing the same issues you are from Aotearoa to WA and everywhere in between,” she said. 

“Every participant genuinely was at the deputy secretary level, so you were learning from your peers. The people who were presenting or facilitating, or who were available for us to talk to and listen to, were all really high quality. They spoke from the heart. They didn’t give you the corporate speak, they were very real, very relatable.” 

Mr Mackay is Deputy Secretary for Regions, Cities and Territories in the Federal Infrastructure Department – a role that covers everything from urban policy and program delivery in Australia’s biggest cities through to governance and service delivery on Norfolk Island. 

He said that the Deputies Leadership Program had provided him with a unique opportunity to work with peers from across jurisdictions, and benefit from content that provided a ‘multifaceted view of what is it to be a deputy and what it takes to do the job well’.  

“The range of speakers was great, and there was a group of speakers who I really appreciated hearing from: people who are currently secretaries and who could speak specifically to their expectations of their deputies. 

“The course really helped me to think of the role not as a sort of supercharged executive director, but as a deputy to the secretary and to think always at the whole of organisation level. If I’m going to be an effective deputy, I’ve got to anchor my thinking about that in the whole of organisation system perspective, not the manager of this silo,” he said. 

Leaders cast long shadows

The Deputies Program create a safe and honest space for deputies to reflect on themselves and build an understanding of their own leadership style, and Mr Stewart-Weeks says the program is ‘grounded in Deputies’ own sense of who they are as people, and who they think they are as evolving leaders’. 

He says that resilience, optimism and problem-solving are qualities Deputies need as well as the ability to manage their increased ‘visibility’ across their organisations. 

Mr Mackay said that one the biggest things he gained from the Deputies program was understanding the impact that leaders can have through their behaviour, and the things they choose to prioritise. 

“In the Deputies program we talked about the shadow that you cast as a leader, but also on the positive side understanding what a good decision might look like, that people can understand and take forward independently without needing to be led every step of the way. You can’t be looking over everyone’s shoulder. You’ve got to trust in the systems that you’re putting in place,” he said. 

Ms Jenkins said that one of the insights she had gained from the program was the importance of taking time to slow down and do some ‘slow thinking’ given how many really big and immediate decisions a deputy is required to make each and every day. 

“I came back and worked quite closely with my office on carving out Fridays to be more of a thinking day. Most Fridays are relatively clear or they’re not your average meetings – they are quite strategic or specific meetings and often walking meetings by phone rather than on screen.” 

“I consciously worked on not always making decisions fast when I have the luxury of a little more time, and they are really important decisions requiring deeper thinking or consultation. I’ve actually used the language of: ‘this is not a decision to make today. I hear what you’re saying, but I’m going to need to do some slower thinking on this one’. 

Mr Mackay said that the program had changed the way he thought about being a Deputy and how he approached day-to-day work.  

“Some of the things that we talked about in the program, around how to structure good decision making, or how to think about where you’re putting your time in building relationships, were all good prompts to think about how are you going to do this job in a way that is sustainable long term, and not just sustainable but actually enjoyable. 

“Because if there’s not enjoyment to be had, then you’re just going to feel like you’re on a hamster wheel and you can never catch your breath.” 

Building networks and sharing challenges

Mr Mackay said the Deputies program was a valuable opportunity to build the relationships with peers in similar roles in different systems or jurisdictions and have an ‘instant brains trust that you can then draw on’.” 

“The challenges of the global and regional environments that we are heading into are such that the days are long gone of treating parts of government as if they are separate. As a system we’ve got to do much better about being focused around an issue or an opportunity rather than around an existing organisational structure,” he said. 

Ms Jenkins said that Deputies were a linchpin in the role of connecting across the APS.  

“The big challenge, or maybe it’s an opportunity, for a deputy secretary is leading from the front and making sure you are visibly demonstrating that you are engaging right across the APS and working collaboratively to achieve some pretty incredible outcomes,” she said. 

She said that the Deputies program had given her a strong peer network across not only the APS but with state and territory public sector colleagues as well as those from Aotearoa New Zealand. 

“It’s a network that is so diverse and they are all willing to share experiences. That’s the real gold nugget in an ANZSOG program – knowing that you are not the only person who is trying to do all of the things that deputies need to know and do.” 

The ANZSOG Deputies Leadership Program is co-led by Kathryn Anderson, a former Deputy Secretary in the Victorian Public Service and current partner at Cube Group, who draws on thirty years of public sector experience to help organisations solve complex problems and deliver greater impact, and Martin Stewart-Weeks, ANZSOG Practice Fellow for Digital Government and Leadership, who has worked as a strategic thinker, organisational consultant, policy analyst, facilitator and writer, and draws on over 35 years’ experience spanning government, the “for purpose” or social sector and the corporate sector. 

The 2024 Deputies Leadership Program is delivered via two in-person modules, each lasting 2.5 days, the first in Brisbane from 31 July – 2 August, and the second in Melbourne from 2-4 September. While program material will be provided to participants who wish to dive more deeply into topics covered, the program design recognises Deputies’ time constraints and will not rely on extensive pre-session work. 

More information is available on the Deputies Leadership Program web page. You can also join the program co-directors for an online information session Tuesday 28 May, 5.30-6.00pm AEST (7.30-8.00pm NZT).  

Applications are now open for the 2024 program and close on 23 June