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Professor Ken Smith: How ANZSOG is adapting for the post-COVID era

29 March 2021

News and media


Ken Smith at desk

ANZSOG, like many other organisations, spent much of 2020 adapting what we do to meet the new world of social distancing and online engagement, while ensuring that we worked closely with our government owners to meet their changing needs at a time of great disruption.

This year we are looking forward to being back in the office and building on that hard work and ensuring that we keep our offerings relevant to the challenges the public sector faces as it begins the post-COVID era.

The reliance on government for leadership during the pandemic, and on the public service to design and implement policy and service delivery responses at speed, has highlighted the importance of ANZSOG’s mission to lift the quality of public sector leadership across Australia and New Zealand. I am proud of the many ANZSOG alumni who used the skills they developed with us to be part of this response and will continue to do so as we shift into the post-COVID era.

The world will not ‘snap back’ to a normal state in the short-to-medium term and at ANZSOG we continue to revise how we equip public sector leaders for a changed environment, where the demands to be innovative and creative will only increase.

Our Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) was able to shift to a virtual environment last year, while retaining the emphasis on building a strong network which will be a huge asset to the participating cohort for the rest of their career. We had already begun adapting the EMPA to feature a renewed emphasis on strategic thinking, leadership, innovation and communication skills – combined with its longstanding focus on the foundational concept of public value. All of these skills will be vital for public sector leaders in the post-COVID world. Expressions of interest for our 2022 EMPA are now open.

Our Executive Fellows Program (EFP) led by UNSW’s Professor Catherine Althaus and the UK’s Robyn Ryde, has a strong record of preparing senior public servants to rise to the top of the executive ranks and sharpen their ability to lead in an increasingly complex environment. The EFP will be delivered virtually in 2021 and will consist of three modules spread over May/June, focusing on: Leading Self and Others, Leading the Organisation, and Systems Leadership, with a focus on the changing political and social environment public sector managers are facing. Applications for this year’s EFP are now open.

Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL) returns in 2021 after a highly successful one-off program in 2020, TSL: Leading in a Time of Prolonged Crisis. Professor Paul ‘t Hart and Robbie Macpherson will bring their experience and insights to help emerging public sector leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in volatile and uncertain times. The virtual TSL program will consist of eight modules delivered over two months and provide participants with the opportunity to reflect, learn and grow and help them to carry out their roles with clarity, wisdom and energy. Applications for this year’s TSL are now open.

Our courses, which offer a mix of academic and practitioner expertise, have helped thousands of public sector leaders increase their capability and knowledge. In fact, nearly 200 members of ANZSOG’s alumni have gone on to hold roles as CEOs or Secretaries of government agencies in Australia and New Zealand, providing value to their agencies and the communities they serve. More than 200 more have also gone on to hold roles as Deputy CEOs and Deputy Secretaries.

We also offer a range of masterclasses and short workshops designed to help public sector leaders hone their strategic, practical and critical thinking capabilities. Topics include leadership, strategy, regulation, and communications and engagement. Our faculty include world renowned experts such as Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Professor Malcolm Sparrow, leading programs on managing regulation, enforcement and compliance; and Dr Dana Born, a previous Brigadier and head of the US air-force academy, leading authentic leadership programs.

In addition, we are working more closely than ever with individual jurisdictions and major agencies to develop education and development programs that are designed specifically to address their specific workforce development needs, and which allow a larger number of an organisation’s senior leaders to attend. We are always happy to share our expertise in developing bespoke programs in close consultation with jurisdictions and/or individual agencies.

We are continuing to focus on issues which impact on First Nations and incorporating the knowledge and culture of First Peoples of Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand into our work. We recently held an entirely virtual ‘First Peoples conference ‘Proud Partnerships in Place’ which shared stories of success and brought together First Peoples community leaders and public sector leaders. The conference saw the announcement of two First Peoples Scholarships – one each for Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand – which can be used for the EMPA, EFP or TSL programs. We have also released our first ever First Peoples Strategy, which will guide our strategic focus in this important area of public administration.

Last year we partnered with the Centre for Public Impact to produce the Reimagining Government series of webinars, which explored how governments could shift to an ‘enablement paradigm’ and were used by the OECD to inform discussions at their ‘Governing After Shock’ dialogue. Reimagining Government returns in 2021, and is just one way that ANZSOG is playing its role in debate about how the public sector can change in response to COVID.

This year will be a challenging one, but the public services of Australia and New Zealand are ready for the challenge, and ANZSOG is ready to support them.

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