The courage and creativity allowed to grow among public servants in the pressure of the COVID-19 crisis will be a "crucial quality" for the federal bureaucracy moving into a post-pandemic world, a senior public service leader has said.
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources secretary David Fredericks said there had been a "permission environment" fostering creativity as the bureaucracy put "all hands to the pump" during the crisis.
"An essential ingredient for the public service going forward is going to be an open mindedness, a curiosity, and the courage that comes with maximising that," he said.
Mr Fredericks, speaking in the Institute of Public Administration Australia's Work with Purpose podcast on Monday, said there was a need to think differently about risk.
"The calculus needs to push in favour of a greater tolerance of risk, both for the organisation and for the people within it, through all ranks on an understanding that where a risk doesn't come off, it's not a failure, it's something to learn from," he said.
A "permission environment" was also needed to let public servants collaborate across different departments on policy issues, Mr Fredericks said.
The public service had improved in allowing collaboration across its departments and agencies, he said.
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"That's been both led from the top because of the sort of culture of previous secretaries to really drive that," Mr Fredericks said.
"And frankly, I think it's been led by our staff who know that there's greater understanding and learning to be had by reaching across and finding a peer in another department."
Mr Fredericks said necessity had led to innovation in his department during the COVID-19 crisis.
"In my view, it's a case of preserving that mentality to want to continue to innovate," he said.
The flexibility of public servants pivoting to new tasks during the crisis had been a key to the bureaucracy's success in responding to COVID-19.
"There was a group of public servants in my department whose career was essentially around public policy," he said.
"Within two weeks they had pivoted so that they were driving the relationships with the private sector and dealing with the private sector."
Mr Fredericks said he wanted to "hang onto" the flexibility among his department's staff to pivot when needed, saying it was "now a precious commodity that we have".
"To be perfectly frank, from my own perspective, there's a benefit because as the priorities of government change, I have a greater capacity to move highly intelligent, highly capable people in to meet those capabilities."
Department of Education, Skills and Employment secretary Michele Bruniges told the podcast the Australian Public Service should keep the "authorising environments" that had grown in its response to COVID-19.
"Some of the work has been very late nights, an extraordinary effort by a whole range of public servants right across the APS," she said.
"The question for me is how do you take the good bits out and make it sustainable so every night's not like that? And how do you make it work so it works well and we hold the momentum going forward?"
Dr Bruniges said the COVID-19 pandemic had made staff expand their comfort zones.
"It's very important that the environment and culture of collaboration be at the fore and that people get used to working in a different way."