Broader spans of control pushing out specialists


The push for specialists to move into management jobs has seen a diminution of specialist talent in the public service. Managing is a distinct skillset, so don’t assume people skills are learned by osmosis.

The shift towards generalist skills in the public service in recent years may have had some negative impacts.

The increasing expectation that one must become a manager to remain in the senior ranks has undermined specialist knowledge in the Australian Public Service, according to public sector human resources experts. “The risk is we waste a lot of money on people who don’t know what they’re doing, just as a sheer business case.”

The push to broaden spans of control, which started with gusto about five years ago, has led to specialists leaving the public service, says HR consultant Tanya Hammond.

In an effort to make organisational structures more “efficient”, people who were employed as specialists have increasingly been told they need to be in charge of other staff in recent years. This inevitably means some people unsuited to managing others have ended up in management positions — to the detriment of both their subordinates and themselves.

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  • David Smith

    The APSC counts all EL2 and EL1s in an agency in that agency’s management profile regardless of whether they are a specialist or otherwise. This has then led to a false debate about span of control with little consideration for the complexity of particular roles. The genesis of this debate really goes back to the removal of professional and technical classifications in favour of the “one size fits all” APS classification structure. In agencies that require deep technical mastery it presents a real problem often with the even more ridiculous outcome of outsourcing.