Senior executives at the Communications Department are going missing in action when tough decisions need to be made, according to a new review by the federal workplace authority.
Departmental staffers say their bosses dodged tough workplace conversations, failed to confront underperformers and were "inconsistent" enforcing the performance management rules.
Less than half the departments' public servants felt that the senior leadership is of a high quality, according to the capability review from the Australian Public Service Commission.
The department, which underwent a 30 per cent staff reduction in 2014 in a drastic "spill and fill" process, received a generally positive report card from the commission with popular departmental secretary Drew Clarke praised for his leadership and "visibility".
But Mr Clarke's lieutenants in the Department's executive leadership team were not rated so highly by their troops with public servants in the department "cynical" about their effort to tackle poor performers.
"The review team found limited evidence to suggest that staff are any better equipped to have difficult conversations and there is some cynicism among staff that underperformance is adequately addressed," the review team wrote.
"Views were expressed to the review team that some within the ELT have demonstrated conflict-avoidance behaviours.
"Individuals have at times shied away from difficult discussions, including the inconsistent application of performance ratings and failing to 'call out' behaviours that are inconsistent with departmental direction."
The report hints that rifts within the executive team were suspected by rank-and-file departmental staffers and that the executives did not show themselves around the workplace as often as the man at the top, Mr Clarke.
"Staff reported that the executive leadership team lacked visibility and, with some cynicism, expressed concerns about the effectiveness and unity of this team," the APSC reviewers wrote.
The commission's team was also troubled by the findings of the latest Australian Public Service Census, which found Communications employees had a below-average opinion of their senior leadership.
"The APS Census results also highlight these staff perceptions, with only 44 per cent, 8 per cent below the APS average, agreeing that 'the senior leadership is of a high quality'," the review found.
The drastic downsizing of 2014 had resulted in a flatter structure in the department, the review found, and there was optimism among the workforce that the new system might lead to more contact with their bosses.
"While staff are optimistic that the reduction in management layers will help increase staff interactions with the ELT, this will require ongoing monitoring to ensure interactions are embedded," the review states.
In its response to the review, the department acknowledged there had been problems but said work was under way to improve the performance of the ELT and progress had already been made.
"Further work is required to increase their visibility and alignment of leadership behaviours," the review notes.
"The department had previously acknowledged this issue and taken some action to begin addressing team collaboration, behaviour and performance.
"The department recognises that further action is required."