Public service bosses urged: let's get political

Public service bosses need "political nous" to get to the top as the bureaucracy faces continued upheaval, according to the Commonwealth's workplace authority.

Public service
Public service Photo: Andrew Lee

The advice, from the Australian Public Service Commission, comes as public service bosses are slowly improving their standing with the rank-and-file, with just over half of Commonwealth public servants believing their senior leaders are doing a good job.

The latest employee census shows 52 per cent of Australian Public Service employees agreed the senior leadership in their agency was of a high quality, the same result as 2014 and up from 46 per cent in 2013.

The Public Service Commission, which conducts the annual census, says the latest figures represent a gain for the "senior leadership quality, visibility and communication," of Canberra's mandarins.

But in uncertain times for government departments, that will not be enough to get the next generation of hopefuls into their dream jobs, the Commission warns in its notes accompanying the survey results.


"This environment is characterised by a drive for improved productivity, a drive for improved efficiency and effectiveness and transformational change," the Commission wrote.

"Effective leadership in such an environment requires political nous, strategic thinking, people and interaction skills, anticipating future change and enabling organisations and people to proactively manage change before circumstances force change upon them."

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Just half of the workers who took part in the census agreed their senior leaders were sufficiently "visible" and only 42 per cent believed communication between their department's top bosses and the people they lead was effective.

But again the Commission found cause for optimism, pointing out the figures for these two measures were worse in 2014, at 49 per cent and 41 per cent respectively, and worse still in 2013 when they were at 47 per cent and 38 respectively.

Public servants' confidence in the abilities of their line managers was much higher than their view of the top brass with 80 per cent of the rank-and-file APS and 79 per cent of the middle management EL cohort agreeing they had a "good immediate supervisor".

Sixty-four per cent of the APS workers and 64 per cent of the ELs who took the survey said they felt encouraged to do better at their work by their immediate boss.

But the view was rosier higher up the public service food chain with 87 per cent of the elite Senior Executive Service reporting that their immediate bosses were "good" and 76 per cent of the service's high flyers feeling encouraged.

The Commission noted the disparity in attitudes between the bosses and ordinary workers.

"As previously noted, Senior Executive Service officers typically have a more positive view of most aspects of the workplace when compared to other employees," the notes state.

"Results from the 2015 employee census show that SES have overwhelmingly positive perceptions of their immediate supervisors, with 87% reporting that they have a good immediate supervisor.

"Employees at other levels also report largely positive perceptions of their immediate supervisor and the encouragement they receive from them, however the results are lower than for SES officers."


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