David Simmonds was 15 when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa – an eye disease that, for many, leads to blindness. That diagnosis certainly hasn’t stopped David from carving out a varied and interesting career and, if anything, it has given him even greater insight for his current role.
As Director, Transport Accessibility & Inclusion for the Department of Transport in Victoria, David’s role is to enable the Department to provide public transport options that can be used by everyone – from those with mild to severe physical disabilities to the elderly and parents with prams. Removing discrimination in Victoria’s public transport system lies at the heart of his mission.
“As someone who identifies as having a disability myself, it’s great to contribute to the improvement of our transport network and to help make transport more accessible for people in the community. We talk to operators about how they can provide a transport network that doesn’t discriminate,” says David.
Since he took on his role in April 2020, there have been a series of highlights, such as the establishment of the Accessible Transport Advisory Committee and the appointment of a Chief Accessibility Advocate to take an overview of the whole of transport portfolio to ensure accessibility is delivered.
“We’ve secured in excess of $5 million of funding for accessibility initiatives – from carrying out research to consulting with people with disabilities to understand the barriers on our transport network to improving accessibility in bus stops,” says David.
David joined the public service in February 2018 and has focused on the public transport area but he has had a diverse working life that has included an electrical apprenticeship, finance broking and roles with Ambulance Victoria and Guide Dogs Victoria.
“I left school in Year 10 and started my electrical apprenticeship in NSW. I worked for a major power company and it was a great period of my life. I climbed telegraph poles and worked on transformers and substations. It instilled in me a sense of logic and logical fault finding which has stayed with me and been very useful,” says David.
But the company decided to trim its workforce and at the end of his apprenticeship, David found himself looking for work. A friend who knew his ability with numbers, suggested David contact a finance broker who was looking for a trainee and so began a period of his career focused on finance and account management. The role took him to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and David gradually took on more and more senior positions.
During this time, his eyesight deteriorated and he made the painful decision to hang up his car keys.
“That was a difficult moment. I’d loved motorbikes and cars since I was a child and I loved spending the weekends driving around the Adelaide Hills but my peripheral vision was affected and that decision to stop driving had to be made,” he says.
David believes in the philosophy of lifelong learning and after leaving school in his teens, he decided to return to study later in life and completed an MBA. More recently, in early 2021, he returned to school once more and completed ANZSOG’s Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL) program.
“Having worked outside of government, I have to say I hadn’t heard of ANZSOG until my Executive Director nominated me for the course. But I looked into the program and was very interested because I have a growth mindset. I’m one of those people who doesn’t want to get to my twilight years and think I could have done so much more. I don’t want to leave anything in the tank,” he says.
“I think the only way you can become the best version of yourself is to continually improve yourself and enhance your knowledge.”
David says the ten-week ANZSOG program provided good insights from facilitators who were ‘wise individuals.’
“And one of the key sources of learning was through the discussions held with other participants and the leadership challenges. We broke into groups and one group member threw up a leadership challenge that they were facing and we were able to listen to their issue, work through that with them and come up with some suggestions,” says David.
“Because the participants came from diverse areas and careers within government and from different geographic locations and cultures, there was a lot to learn from each other.”
As he continues his vision to ensure the public transport system in Victoria remains inclusive and accessible, David keeps in mind the two key things he took away from the TSL program.
“I listen more deeply to what is being communicated and I’m a better critic of myself,” he says.
“I find my work very rewarding because we are helping vulnerable people to have access to our transport network. I work with passionate staff, I’m very happy in my role and I have a lot more to give.”
Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)
A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.
Executive Fellows Program (EFP)
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.
Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL)
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.