In today’s workplace, it is crucial for employees not only to be able to communicate effectively with their peers and subordinates but also to persuade their superiors. Persuading up is a critical skill that enables individuals to influence your senior leaders’ decisions and get their buy-in for ideas, projects, and proposals.
Departments are often under-resourced with Risk/Internal Audit teams being smaller but having a huge responsibility across changing and emerging risks. This session introduces key risk management topics and aligns the teaching with specific risk thoughts within your Department. The session is designed to complement the current risk management practices of the state government and promotes the current risk management team.
“I haven’t met a public servant who doesn’t work hard and get up in the morning to really make a difference”
Ruth Ambler FIPAA, an IPAA SA Member for over 20 years, has been on a career journey across the public sector that has spanned departments and has enabled her to leave her mark on the State.
Ruth’s career in public service began in the Housing Policy space, where at the time, she had been employed in the non-government sector. Being tapped on the shoulder for this new role in the Department of Human Services, she was excited to have the chance to make a more significant impact. While she had been working with organisations that were linked to policy advocacy around housing issues, she saw this as her chance to jump in at the ground level and make a difference from the inside. This step into public service was, of course, only the beginning.
After an election, the Department of Human Services, which at the time included health services, was split into two departments, and this led Ruth into the area of health policy. Here she began a review of the Dental Act and regulations for dentistry in South Australia as General Manager, State Wide Dental Services. In her most recent role, she has returned to the Department of Human Services as Executive Director, Community Investment and Support.
Ruth’s other roles have included:
With experience spanning so many varied roles and departments, we were fascinated with Ruth’s advice and insights. So, let’s get into the questions that Ruth shared her answers to…
What has made you stay in the public sector?
For Ruth, it’s about two things – the astounding variety of the work and the great people she has the opportunity to work with. In her experience, she has yet to meet a public servant who isn’t working hard at what they do and trying to do the right thing for the community. This sense of common purpose and value is a strong point of the sector that is unique, given the scale and scope of the work involved. As Ruth explained, she has been part of many reforms and can see her work’s tangible positive effects.
Ruth highlights that it’s a “pretty good feeling when you can go home at night and feel like you’ve improved an outcome for your citizens”. In the South Australian public service, we are particularly privileged as a smaller state, with a so-called “two degrees of separation”, that chances are the work you do in the sector today will impact somebody you know in the future.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
Working in a political environment, Ruth shared that there are, of course, challenges that come with that. In her view, the media plays a huge role in managing community perception. In today’s world of modern media and vocal interest groups, it can create a challenging and noisy environment for public servants. However, going back to the purpose of the sector, Ruth highlights that we are there to serve the government of the day and that regardless of the priorities or personality of a government, that is what we need to commit ourselves to.
How can we navigate issues of integrity and accountability?
According to Ruth, accountability and transparency are two of the most necessary features of trustworthy public service, and we wholeheartedly agree. Ruth shares that, at times it’s easy to feel bogged down in red tape and procedure, but she reminds us that patience and following those processes is key to maintaining not only personal integrity but also the integrity of the sector – which every public servant plays a part in.
Ruth shares some essential advice to anyone who is grappling with an issue of ethics or integrity, “if something doesn’t seem to you quite right, it’s probably not quite right, and you should seek some advice and always think about how you would feel if it was on the front page of the paper”.
As Ruth notes, these issues are not something to take lightly they REALLY matter, “your reputation is probably your most important possession, and once you’ve lost it, you’ve lost it. So I would just say be incredibly cautious about those sorts of matters”.
What is your advice on navigating a change of government or direction?
Ruth noted that it’s easy to be caught up in the change cycle, but we can help find our footing when we remember that our mission is to serve the government of the day. From Ruth’s experience, she has found that as a leader during those times of change, it’s vital to communicate and bring staff along on that change of direction. Having gone through many changes in government herself, Ruth highlighted that focusing on the opportunities, rather than the challenges or negatives is essential in maintaining a resilient outlook. She noted that, yes, sometimes programs will change or cease, but others will be brought in – she understands that this process can be complex, particularly if you are invested in those – but to always come back to the great opportunities that are out there. As Ruth said previously, we are there to support the government. She shares that it can be “incredibly empowering to think about being part of delivering on an agenda of a new government and all that sort of energy and excitement that comes with that”.
If you would like more advice on dealing with a change in government, you can also watch the video resource here.
What do you love or value most about being in the public sector?
Ruth reflects that the real value and passion she has for her work is in the vast opportunity to find sensible solutions to some of the thorniest problems. Looking to our ‘On the Couch’ interview with Damien Walker, Chief Executive, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, he also shared a similar sentiment – that we are dealing with some of the most difficult problems out there – and in what other space do you get to work with problems and solutions with that kind of scale and impact?
What is your advice to people who are feeling burnt out in their work?
Exploring this question with Ruth, she expressed that there can be high pressure in the public sector that comes along with the complex problems we are dealing with. Ruth encourages us, though, to always come back to that sense of purpose whenever we feel discouraged.
She also urges people to care for their mental well-being by improving their resilience. Personally, Ruth does this through exercise, sleeping well and ensuring that she takes time away from the office occasionally. Throughout her long career, she has found that taking the time for a hard reset, with a holiday or just a break from the normal day-to-day, can provide the time to reset your resilience and be ready to face those challenges and opportunities anew.
What is your advice to those who are new to the public sector?
Ruth highlights that government is complicated and that a wealth of insider knowledge isn’t necessarily written down. Joining the policy network, which is run through the Cabinet Office, is a significant first step for anyone in the sector, particularly those working in policy areas. It will provide vital information on how government works and point you in the right direction to answer your questions.
She also suggests finding a mentor whom you can build an excellent ongoing relationship with. They will be someone you can go to for those questions you may not want to put to your direct line manager.
As her final advice to newcomers in the sector, Ruth also highlights that taking the time to get to know your colleagues is invaluable. For her, this means connecting with others, not just in her department but across the sector. As a long-time member of IPAA SA and a frequent delegate and occasional speaker at IPAA events, Ruth suggests events like those offered by IPAA as a great place to start connecting with others – who knows, and you may even run into Ruth there.
On behalf of the IPAA SA Divisional Council, we would like to thank Ruth for sharing her insights with the IPAA SA Community and for her many positive contributions and commitment to making a difference. If you would like to be involved in a future IPAA SA Insight Article, you can nominate or suggest a topic here.
“I’ve really had a really good career, and my career’s not in management terms; it’s actually as a sociologist and understanding how social systems work”.
How do you sum up 44 years in public service in a half-hour interview? We were certainly challenged with this when we sat down with Anne Bosio, an IPAA SA Personal Member since 1999.
As someone with such vast and varied experience in a range of different roles across 13 different agencies in the public sector, we were fascinated to explore the advice and insights Anne had to share from her long service.
With a background in sociology, a profession almost unheard of 44 years ago, Anne stepped into the public sector very much, unaware that what was originally a working gap year would turn into a career spanning decades. Here she would have the opportunity to help introduce sociological principles and thinking into projects across the sector and work to her values, particularly to make a difference.
Some of Anne’s previous roles have included:
With a little bit of Anne’s diverse career history in mind, let’s get straight into the questions!
What brought you into the public service?
Anne shared that ending up in public service was serendipitous, having no real connection to anyone working there. Having initially studied Economics, she decided to register with the Commonwealth Employment Service and take a break, which brought her into the area of data analysis and processing. Working at the Automatic Data Processing Centre (ADP), the original government computing centre, she also had the opportunity to dip her toes into HR. This “gap year” turned into a 2-year stint at the ADP, where she ran into a friend from university who was looking for somebody to do survey design and use SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences – which is an extensive software package used as the industry standard for researchers to perform complex statistical analysis tasks). This opportunity brought Anne into the Youth Bureau in the then Department of Labour, where they were examining the issues around youth unemployment and homelessness.
Anne’s time at the Youth Bureau would see her focusing on ground-breaking work to understand how many students in years 10, 11 and 12 were working – or looking for work. This study was the first of its kind in Australia and laid the groundwork for gathering data and projections about youth participation in the job market. It also influenced change in ABS reporting on the youth cohort – moving from 19-25 years to 15-25 years. At the time, the study found that 53% of these school students were either working or looking for a job. In contrast, the South Australian participation rate for the 15-19 year old cohort today sits at 60.4%, which is the third highest of the states and higher than the national rate of 58.1% (ABS, October 2022). The study was essential for informing youth policy and investment in the well-being of young people. It identified the need for information on the rights of young people in employment and training, which was the first of its type in Australia.
With your background in sociology, did you find you had the opportunity to use that knowledge in your roles?
Anne reflected that at the time she studied sociology, it was a very different field compared to today in terms of its maturity and recognition as a valid social science. When she was studying in this field, the theoretical base of sociology was evolving; for her, it meant it was not a well-known field at the time. Anne found this particularly challenging as she realised there was a lot of potential for sociology to inform evidence-based policy. At the time, Anne noted that the public sector itself was evolving, experiencing the growing pains of transforming from an operational environment to one more akin to the policy and strategy-focused environment of today. In the 1970s and prior, the government ran many of its own service-based operations, including its own printing agency and Public Buildings Department, which managed public building design and maintenance. Today, many of these operational services are outsourced. “So we were evolving together”, Anne reflected, noting that today’s public service certainly understands the value of sociology.
What has kept you in the sector all this time?
“I still remain very committed to making a difference, and so I suppose I look to support and be a catalyst for change”, Anne explained. Through her experiences, she felt that she has had the privileged opportunity to really make an impact, particularly in the areas of social justice. Being able to work on policy and projects concerning our social systems, such as the traineeship system, the innovation system and major reviews, such as the Justice of the Peace system, meant she was able to get involved in roles that spoke to her values and helped her keep a sense of purpose in her everyday work. Having some excellent managers committed to building effective teams and workplace culture supported her passion and commitment to change.
You have had a lot of involvement with Women’s Issues? What are your reflections there?
“So I was a foundation member in the Women’s Trade Union Network” formed in 1983. With her extensive length of service, Anne has been in the position to see how women’s movements have resounded through the public sector to where we are today. Anne shared that she was privileged to have had the opportunity to work with Anne Levy, who, in addition to being the first woman to preside in any house of parliament in Australia (1975), became the first female Minister for the Status of Women in South Australia. Prior to 1993, this role had been held by the Premier so this was a huge step for women in the state. This was also when the first national strategy on violence against women was launched. Anne reflects that there is still a way to go in addressing these issues. However, she also notes that we now have a “better understanding of some of the underlying dynamics with it. It’s not just physical, it’s emotional, it’s financial, it’s a whole range of things”.
What do you think has been one of the biggest challenges of your career?
As Anne noted, she has been involved in a number of quite ground-breaking areas, and these were not without their challenges. Singling out just one of these, Anne explained her involvement with the award restructuring process. This followed the establishment of the Government Management and Employment Act, 1985 (GME Act) as it had been identified that previous legislation, classifications and awards were no longer fit for purpose. At the time, Anne was in the Department of Employment and TAFE. Over 1,000 people needed to have their roles translated into this new system – but this wasn’t an easy task as “people’s futures, and lives were at stake” regarding their work and financial position. Anne was nominated by the Public Sector Association (PSA) to be a member of the assessment panel reviewing these translations. She acted as the union representative due to her affiliation with the PSA, which had had a key role in negotiating the new GME Act, classifications and awards.
During her time on the panel deciding where people’s classification would fall under this new system, Anne found that the skill of active listening was invaluable. As she noted, the “thing there is to really listen. To support people who had issues and, I think, to care about them”. Sometimes this meant going against the general perspective. Anne shared that it could become a stressful situation, but that in the end, it came back to supporting people and doing the right thing on their behalf.
How did you bring people on board with this large-scale change?
“Well, I suppose the thing there is really talking about the reasons for it”, Anne highlighted; it was about bringing people together, so there was a clear picture of why the change was happening, where it was heading, and how we were going to get there – and of course to make people feel supported throughout that process. As Anne had mentioned previously, “the nature of government was changing too, so it was about encouraging people to realise things couldn’t stay the same”.
What about your work in the Business Climate Directorate? Was that a challenging opportunity for you?
In 1995 the Business Climate Directorate of the Economic Development Authority (EDA) was looking at driving strategy around the state’s economy. The Directorate was involved in significant projects, such as expanding the Adelaide Airport, implementing the 1993 Planning Act and a train to Darwin. Anne was specifically looking at the area of R&D and innovation supporting the development of a competitive economy. The Directorate’s work was based on that of Michael Porter’s, which is one of the most influential business and management concepts of recent times. His work tells us that a nation’s (or state’s) competitiveness is based on the factors that enhance the capacity of its industries to innovate and update and that they remain competitive due to an environment that demands these two factors to stay successful. As part of her work, Anne was tasked to deliver an exhibition at the Riverside building that would showcase South Australian innovation and coincide with the APEC Ministers of Small Business meeting just seven months later. The exhibition ended up being far bigger than planned and culminated in a 4-week range of events that drew people from many walks of life, especially community, business, schools and higher education. These events included a technology trail along North Terrace, which featured the museum, Artlab and universities, and open days at Mawson Lakes and the Waite Research Institute campus. Business conferences and workshops also used the Innovate SA branding in their promotional material. Effective collaboration and communication with internal and external colleagues, advisers and event coordinators was the basis for its success as well as for delivering the South Australian Government’s submission to the Keating Government’s Innovation Statement.
Figure 1- River Torrens with Adelaide Festival Centre in the Background 1995
With all this activity around innovation at the time, we were curious whether Anne could see the impact of these initiatives today. She shared that there were undoubtedly some lasting changes, particularly the establishment of the Office for Science and Technology, leading to roles that we have currently, such as the Chief Scientist. “I think what it did was raise awareness of the need for businesses and universities to work together”, Anne summarised “we’ve got a huge history of innovation, and a lot of it was through necessity” due to our topology and environment. A key aspect highlighted at the Riverside exhibition and South Australian Museum was the 60,000 years of Australian First Nations innovation and technological creativity.
How have you worked successfully through many machinery of government changes?
As Anne shared, a change in the machinery of government can be challenging but can also be very positive. She notes that when the government changes its course, we need to change gear, and from her experience, this change might struggle to be communicated in a way that brings everyone on board.
Anne has a few points of advice for public servants dealing with these changes:
You made a conscious decision to avoid management roles; what led to this decision?
“I suppose the thing is that I’ve always seen myself as really wanting to look at the systemic issues”, Anne reflected. As someone whose interest wasn’t in climbing a career ladder, she sought opportunities to affect change at the foundation level with a hands-on approach. For other public servants, this highlights an essential idea that your career goals don’t have to take you to the highest levels of management to have an impact – you can achieve this throughout your career, and it doesn’t have to wait until you reach executive service. You can be a leader at any level of your organisation. Anne deeply values the people who want to work in their specialist area and make a difference there and emphasises that these are the people we really need in the public service. Listening to the voice of the people delivering services within and on behalf of the South Australian public sector is fundamental to achieving positive workplace culture and social change.
Any advice for people new to the public sector
“Be curious and prepared to be challenged” if you think differently about something based on your expertise, don’t be afraid to speak up. Your manager or chief executive relies on your expertise in your field to provide sound advice since that might not be their specific area of knowledge or experience.
Anne also encourages newcomers to find like-minded people who share their passion. She highlights that making these connections is vital to finding new opportunities and that sometimes you need to approach people directly to get involved in that role or project you want to be in.
Finally, Anne also shares the importance of supporting your colleagues and being open to going to others for support. With many experienced people in the sector, find out who you are comfortable approaching for mentorship or advice.
Anne endorses this sentiment:
“Don’t just chase the dollars. Choose interesting jobs that suit your capabilities or to which you can adapt and extend your capabilities. Be self-aware and curious and get help to address development areas … Stretch yourself up or sideways, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.” Gaetjens’ IPAA valedictory speech in July 2022.
On behalf of the IPAA SA Divisional Council, we would like to thank Anne for sharing her insights with the IPAA SA Community and for her many positive contributions and commitment to making a difference. If you would like to be involved in a future IPAA SA Insight Article, you can nominate or suggest a topic here.
On behalf of our Divisional Council, we are thrilled to announce that Ms. Nerida Saunders, PSM, and Mr. David Brown have been awarded an IPAA National Fellowship.
The award of National Fellow is made annually to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to public service and the Institute of Public Administration Australia, a tradition dating back to 1983. Some further background on this award is available via the IPAA National Website.
At this year’s National Conference, IPAA National President, Professor Renee Leon PSM FIPAA, congratulated the new National Fellows on receiving this prestigious award and thanked them for their contribution and service.
We congratulate and thank Nerida and David, both highly deserving of this award, for their many years of passionate service to South Australia.
Nerida and David have made an extensive impact through their work, and we have shared just a few points from their biography and career highlights below.
Learn more about each National Fellow from other IPAA divisions across Australia here.
Nerida Saunders is a proud Murri Woman from the Kamilaroi Nation, and Executive Director of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Attorney-General’s Department, South Australian Government. Her career spans areas of social justice and child protection, having been the first Aboriginal Executive Director of Children, Youth and Family Services, South Australia.
Nerida has a strong focus on improving the lives of indigenous people. She has been Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Executive Committee (AAEC) since 2020 and worked on developing Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP). As a member of the Premier’s Council for Women, she brings a strong voice for indigenous women, sharing her expertise and insight to ensure women’s interests and needs of women are at the forefront of the South Australian Government’s policies and strategies.
In 2016 Nerida was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in the provision of leadership and advocacy in the area of Aboriginal affairs and reconciliation. Her commitment to social justice, women’s rights and equality and strong advocacy for indigenous rights and reconciliation have positioned her as a passionate role model for the next generation of Aboriginal Leaders in the public sector.
As Chief Executive of the Department for Correctional Services (DCS), South Australia, and member of the Criminal Justice Reform Council, David is driving wide-ranging reform across the system to increase public confidence through improving service delivery and ensuring service is just and fair. He has embedded a culture of learning and improvement to change established thinking and practices through major initiatives including Shaping Corrections as a driver of innovation for DCS through collaboration and improvement.
As Co-Chair, Aboriginal Affairs Executive Committee, David is committed to improving outcomes for indigenous people across the South Australian Criminal Justice System and led the delivery of the DCS Gender Equality and Respect (GET) Action Plan and the DCS Women’s Offender Framework and Action Plan which provided targeted cultural support for Indigenous women and linked to Justice Sector Reform, Justice Reinvestment and large-scale reform supporting women’s safety and equality.
David continues to deliver strong evidence-based policy initiatives across key strategic directions to create a safer and fairer society for all South Australians.