Qualities of leaders in public purpose

What are the qualities you need to develop in order to be successful in public purpose? What are the qualities that current leaders in public purpose value in their teams and colleagues?

Being a public purpose worker usually coincides with a deep sense of pride in service, a need to provide a benefit to the community around you and contribute to the betterment of your world. It is a great thing!

So – IPAA Queensland took a moment with some senior leaders to ask them what qualities are essential to be a successful leader working in the public purpose sector. The answers are brilliant!

Rachel Hunter – (then) Acting Director-General, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, currently Under-Treasurer

I think leaders need a clear purpose, and it is a purpose that they need to understand (as it is their own direction) but that it is also clearly communicated to their team. Whether we call it vision, or mission. I call it purpose. What am I accountable for? Why this job? What is my passion? What drives me in my job?  

Then in terms of how you do the job, leaders must invest in people, particularly in the public sector. We are a people business. Understanding how to invest in people both as individuals and in teams; the support that nurtures performance within teams is important and having a sense of performance is imperative.

Achieving outcomes. Balancing always the culture, as a supportive, nurturing, high-performing culture and rewarding people, saying thank you – these are all characteristics of leaders I admire and certainly sets a standard that I aspire to.

Neil Scales – Director-General, Department of Transport and Main Roads 

One is authentic leadership which I now practice – this is the key thing. The other thing is resilience – you need to be resilient in this job. You also need to have a clear vision – this is what differentiates you. The vision for this place is ‘A single integrated transport network accessible to everyone’ because if you build that, the economy will go up. Because the network will connect people to people, people to places, people to healthcare, people to opportunities.  

There is a big transport logistics issue with moving things from paddock to port and back again. I have been on this journey for 30 years and it is easy to say this vision, but it is difficult to do.   If we had a single integrated network here everything is connected to everything else – commerce goes up because interactions go up, and the amount of journeys will go down – because people don’t need to travel as much. There is a lot about place-based economies in this space.

Committed to lifelong learning, being authentic and caring about your people and being resilient are also incredibly important.

Greg Hallam – Chief Executive Officer, LGAQ

Integrity – first and foremost. You need to be believable. You need to have clarity of your message, clarity of your thinking and being open.

I had wonderful training in the Treasury where it didn’t matter if you were the A05, or the Secretary of the Treasury, if you had the best argument – you won. That is extraordinary. It was a meritocracy. My first boss was extraordinary – very tough and very taciturn, but incredibly protective of staff and a fierce debater and protector of logic. If you could prove your case, present the arguments, the charts, the research, the math – you won the day. It was extraordinary as a young person. We were encouraged to be fearless and to put our arguments.

Resilience is also a key attribute as things aren’t always going to go your way.

James Purtill – Director-General, Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy

Courage under fire. People who stay cool and calm despite having every right to lose it and get angry – I really admire that. That would be a challenge for me.

Integrity is also important – and there are those values that are immutable.

If I had to pick one, the ability to stay calm in those environments, and then not impart that craziness downward. To be able to let people feel reassured that no matter how nuts it gets, you are there for them, thinking clearly and not being rushed. I wouldn’t say that I am a total poker face, but there are senior people in the public service, some of my colleagues who are great at absorbing that pressure and not passing it on. Some of our senior cabinet ministers are equally skilled in this – the level of respect they have for public servants – it hasn’t always been that way. They are a pleasure to work with, even when the going gets tough.

Michelle Lees – General Manager, Department of Human Services

To me, the leaders I admire the most are the ones that are passionate about serving the public. They really care about supporting people to be the best they can be, they are genuine and authentic, so they bring their whole self to the role and they are respectful no matter who they are dealing with.

When thinking about the qualities I am keen to develop, the top two are impact and influence. Those people who are considered and you know when you meet them, they are not always the one doing all the talking, but when they do talk, they are worth listening to. That is really important as a public servant when you are trying to influence policy development and effectively convey messages to others – you have got to be able to do the 5-minute elevator pitch. Those that can communicate in a way that is powerful and impactful.

Ian Stewart – President, IPAA Queensland and former Queensland Police Commissioner

Honesty, integrity, confidence and wisdom, insight. A willingness to always help, competence, the ability for those leaders to learn from their mistakes and give authority to others to make mistakes. Innovation and always preparing for change.

What a great list of qualities, and ones that are fitting for all public purpose workers to develop!

About IPAA Queensland:

IPAA Queensland is the professional association for people engaged in public purpose work.

Our mission is simple. We promote and enhance the professionalism, capability and integrity of public administration and pride in service.

We do this through a program of thought leadership forums and events that enable our members to build their connections, challenge their thinking and keep informed about contemporary issues.

Becoming a member of IPAA Queensland demonstrates your personal commitment and contribution to public purpose work and offers you exclusive development and networking opportunities. To read more articles like this, check out our blog, and to watch the Irene Longman Oration in full, join today and access the full back catalogue of IPAA Queensland events.