From April to September 2022, IPAA ACT partnered with KPMG for the first iteration of Shaping the Narrative: Senior Executive Conversations to dig deep into what it means to be a high-performing public sector leader in an ever-changing environment. Speakers from the private and public sectors discussed a broad range of topics, from what makes a great public servant now and in 2032, to insights into national security, influencing in an age of misinformation and digital leadership skills.
Today, we present you with some of the key lessons from the discussions with our Senior Executive Conversations experts – including Rebecca Skinner, CEO of Services Australia, Secretary David Fredericks PSM from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Political Journalist Greg Jennett from the ABC, and many more – to guide your leadership journey – now and into the future.
Times have changed – and so have public servants. Skills and attributes are constantly evolving, but when it comes down to it, great public servants need curiosity, bravery, generosity, clarity, and authenticity to succeed in their roles. You should also be able to look ahead, have a vision, and identify problems of the future, our Senior Executive Conversations experts say. This means keeping a firm eye on what Australians expect from the public service.
Over the program, the experts explored the toolbox of skills that leaders need to succeed in an ever-changing environment affected by changing demographics, new technology, increased diversity, geostrategic tensions, speed, and interconnectedness. In this environment, leaders need to be able to do sense-making at speed to shape the narrative and extend their impact.
In a similar vein, public servants need to be courageous in making decisions in the face of imperfect information. This rings true against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the growing challenge that is climate change.
Climate change is a hot topic in the national security space and alongside our increasingly complex geopolitical environment, puts a lot of onus on policymakers to work together to counter a negative looking future. Increasingly, these issues will impact domestic policy and implementation.
Social cohesion through sport, health, travel, work and education are all part of strengthening our national security.
As a consequence, national security is a space that public servants need to understand more urgently than ever. To address this, our Senior Executive Conversations experts say that intelligence advice on lower levels of classification needs to be accessible, digestible, and actionable for policymakers.
Collaboration is also crucial with parties outside government – namely the media, our Senior Executive Conversations experts say. Media can play a key role in shaping an agency’s narrative and building trust with the public. To leverage this power, policymakers need to think critically, build good relationships with journalists and not shy away from engagement with the media. How you do this is crucial – as it can positively or negatively impact your ability to shape the narrative and ensure the whole picture is being reported.
Agencies also mustn’t fall behind the social media game – in an age of misinformation, agencies can build trust and credibility by authentically engaging with a broad demographic.
The future is digital – and public sector leaders need digital skills. Accessibility and inclusion must be core to design, our Senior Executive Conversations experts say. To succeed in an always-on, increasingly connected world, leaders need to be able to prioritise and set boundaries around digital tools, to protect themselves and their teams from burning out.
All in all, digital skills need to enhance human skills, such as communication, articulating ideas, and making meaningful connections. In order to upskill, agencies should consider inviting ‘digital natives’ to reverse mentor key decision makers.
As you make your own leadership journey, expect to change and grow to meet your changing environment. As a leader, you will need to create systems and processes to manage complexity, and create safe spaces for your people to collaborate and learn. Think about your legacy and how you embed integrity and stewardship in your work, our Senior Executive Conversations experts recommend.
To read more about the program and find out when our next Senior Executive Conversations program is on, click here.
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